Jonathan Hopkins checks the battery on his car
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Jonathan Hopkins checks the battery on his car at Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Auto Skills Center Dec. 13, 2017, on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. The center provides work bays for community members who want to perform repair and m... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Jonathan Hopkins checks under his car for possible problems
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Jonathan Hopkins checks under his car for possible problems at Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Auto Skills Center Dec. 13, 2017, on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. The center provides work bays for community members who want to perform... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Tom Corbitt shows areas where drivers should look at during maintenance checks
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Tom Corbitt, the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Auto Skills Center program manager, shows areas where drivers should look at during maintenance checks while looking at a car at the center Dec. 13, 2017, on Chièvres Air Base, Belgi... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
A car is elevated on a work bay
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A car is elevated on a work bay at Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Auto Skills Center Dec. 13, 2017, on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. Community members can use work bays at the center to perform repair and maintenance work on their c... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- Experiencing car problems is never easy. Whether it is a dead battery, flat tire, worn-out brakes, bad engine or another part failure, these unexpected issues are hard to deal with especially during the winter months.

However, simple car maintenance can prevent some of those problems.

"The best way to avoid finding yourself stranded, because you need a jump-start, or worse, stranded and facing massive repair bills due to a cracked engine block, is by completing a thorough maintenance check on a regular basis," said Tom Corbitt, the program manager at Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Auto Skills Center on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium.

Here are some tips on how to take care of your vehicle during the winter months:

CHECK YOUR TIRES

The dreaded tire pressure monitoring system, or TPMS, light can turn on when the system senses low tire pressure. Some systems may be sensitive during sudden temperature changes. When the light comes on, drivers should immediately check the pressure and then add air as needed to meet the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure. Many gas stations have machines where people can add air to tires for a nominal fee. However, please keep in mind that tire pressure is measured differently in Europe than in the U.S. While Americans are used to filling tires based on the pounds per square inch, or PSI, Europeans use kilopascals, or kPa, instead. Check your car's owner manual to ensure that you use the right measurements for proper inflation.

It is also important that your car has the right tires for driving in Europe. According to Corbitt, all season radial tires, which typically display the "M+S" symbol, which stands for mud and snow, on the sidewall are acceptable in all European countries that currently mandate winter tires. Belgium and The Netherlands do not have this rule. However, nearby countries such as Germany and Luxembourg do in addition to other countries in Europe. Specific regions, such as in the mountains, may require actual winter tires or snow chains. As a general rule, this winter-tire requirement lasts from Nov. 1 to the middle of April.

FILL VEHICLE FLUIDS AS NEEDED

Preventative vehicle maintenance, such as checking the fluids, can help you avoid being stranded or having expensive repair bills. The main fluids to check are engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid and windshield washer fluid. Your car's owner manual should provide timelines, either by months or mileage, for when to replace the fluids.

For coolants, Corbitt recommends to use a proper antifreeze mix of half water and half antifreeze. The ratio optimizes the freezing and boiling points of the radiator fluid. Don't put excessive amounts of fluid in the radiator as it won't help with warming the engine quickly.

WARM THE CAR CORRECTLY

During cold days, it may be tempting to start your car and wait for it to warm up as you stay indoors. However, according to Corbitt, this method does not warm the engine efficiently and is frowned upon. Since 2014, leaving the engine running when your car is parked is forbidden in Belgium and violators can receive fines. "The most effective way to warm the engine, and thereby get warm air blowing through the cabin, is to drive the car," said Corbitt.

Another bad habit to avoid is pouring hot water on the car to defrost the windows and windshields. This can result in shattered glass, especially if the window already has a nick or crack in it. Instead, Corbitt recommends covering the windshield with a piece of cardboard, sun shade or an old sheet to provide frost, ice or snow build-up on the car.

"Keep in mind, it is always best to clear all of your windows completely before driving the vehicle for line-of-sight and safety reasons," said Corbitt.

DON'T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE

It is never a good idea to wait until the last minute to get repair work done, especially if someone else is performing the job or if parts need to be ordered in. "The most common issue we see in the Auto Skills Center from a maintenance failure perspective is brakes that have been ignored for far too long," he said. "Generally, these are the same customers requesting brake inspections one or two days prior to leaving on an epic European road trip." As stated above, performing preventative maintenance is key, and parts, such as brakes, should not be neglected.

If you have questions or concerns about your car, the Auto Skills Center staff is there to help. "The staff is always ready to listen, look, evaluate and recommend," said Corbitt. The staff can perform repairs and preventative maintenance work. In addition, people work on their cars by renting work bays, tools, machinery and diagnostic equipment for a nominal fee.

"You have the opportunity to perform maintenance and repair on your privately owned vehicles with professional quality tools and equipment in addition to skilled and experienced assistance, out of the weather and for a fraction of what it would cost on the economy to have it done for you," he added.

The MWR Auto Skills Center is located in Bldg. 20186 on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. The center is open to all U.S., DOD and NATO cardholders. For more information on the center's hours of operation and services, visit www.chievres.armymwr.com/programs/autoskills or call DSN 361-5796 or +32(0)68-275796.

Related Links:

U.S. Army Europe

U.S. Army Garrison Benelux

U.S. Army Family and MWR: Chièvres Auto Skills Center and Equipment Rental

USAG Benelux Facebook

U.S. Army Installation Management Command