Cold Weather & Your Car

December 6, 2016

Cold weather is definitely not your car’s best friend. 

You can do yourself and your car a favor this winter by keeping an eye on a few key factors:

Battery Life

The car battery provides the jolt of electricity needed to power all of the electrical components in your vehicle. On average, a car battery might last three to five years - but driving habits and other factors (such as exposure to extreme elements) can shorten battery life.

Among the more obvious signs that your car’s battery might need replacing include a slow cranking engine, a check engine light, or a rotten egg smell around the battery. However, because car’s today are so dependent on steady current flow, any flashing light on your dashboard (from ABS to airbag sensor warnings) might signify a faulty battery.

Also, if the battery is over three years old you may want to check it annually to assess its efficiency - especially if you live in an area that experiences cold winters. Most batteries can handle the cold pretty well, but have optimal functionality between 30° and 90° F.

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Cold weather will cause your vehicle’s fluids - oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, etc. - to become more viscous (to thicken) and, thus, to move more slowly. 

If you live in a region characterized by particularly cold and biting winter temperatures make sure your antifreeze will do the job. Keeping your coolant mixture in a 50/50 ratio of antifreeze and water will keep your coolant from freezing unless temperatures drop well below zero. Colder conditions may necessitate a 60/40 or 70/30 ratio of antifreeze to water.

Also, make sure that you’re using an oil formulated for winter use: 5W-20, 5W-30, and 10W-30 all provide good oil flow at low temperatures. To play it safe though, make sure you check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Tire Pressure

Tire pressure drops by about 1 pound per 10° of temperature. Make sure all the drivers in your house know to check the guidelines in the vehicle owner’s manual or tire sticker attached to the inside of their vehicle’s door to determine the correct tire and air pressure for their vehicles.

Fortunately, most cars today (well, any car manufactured after September 1, 2007, at least) are, by law, equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). The TPMS should alert the driver when one or more of the vehicle’s tires is significantly under-inflated.

Spark Plugs

Check your car’s spark plugs. The spark plugs provide the continuous ignition that keeps your car moving. Signs that the spark plugs might need cleaning or replacing include a rough idle, trouble starting the car, high fuel consumption, engine surging, engine misfiring, and lack of acceleration.

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Windshield Wiper Blades & Windshield Washer Fluid

Extreme cold can definitely cause your wiper blades to crack; but the most common wiper blade problem car owners have in the winter is bent blades caused by the buildup of ice, snow, residue, and frozen wiper fluid on the windshield. To be on the safe side, you might want to change your blades before the winter - and inspect them regularly, especially if they start to smear or streak.

Now, about windshield washer fluid . . . rumor has it that some people in warmer areas just might use plain old water in place of windshield wiper fluid. IF you are one of those people, and IF there’s any chance that temperatures where you live could go below freezing (especially at night), please replace your water with actual windshield washer fluid. Windshield washer fluid is less likely to freeze in your reservoir (and, thus, crack it) than water.

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Most importantly, keep in mind that this is definitely NOT a comprehensive list of all the things to watch out for in cold weather - just a starting point for winter car care.

Oh! And one more thing. Salt. 

Salt might help preserve food, but it certainly does NOT help preserve your car.

Wash those Winter Blues Away

If you happen to live in a region prone to snow and ice, you’re going to want to watch out for the effects of road salt on your vehicle. Whatever the brine solution used - whether magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium acetate, calcium magnesium acetate, or sodium chloride (salt) - you can rest assured that it will NOT be good for your vehicle.

Road salt can easily melt ice - and just as easily corrode your car if you’re not vigilant.

Washing the outside of your car is the most obvious preventative to corrosion. But make sure that you also flush out your car’s or truck’s undercarriage. Road salt and other chemicals tend to entrench themselves in your shock absorbers, door panels, wheel wells, and other crevices below your vehicle.

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