Brrrr…it’s cold out there. But those freezing temperatures don’t just affect us. They can also impact our cars, some even to the point where they may not start or function.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you know what to look for, and what to do, to ease the effects of frigid temps on your vehicle.
Check your tires.
A lot is riding on your tires. You want them to grip the road in all conditions, whether dry or wet, snowy or icy. However, as temperatures dip, so does the pressure in your car’s tires. That underinflation can result in serious safety issues. Underinflated tires can cause your car to lose traction, and slip and slide in wet conditions. The tires’ treads can wear unevenly. You could even be at risk for a tire blowout. Having the right tire pressure helps with a safe ride and also improves gas mileage.
What to do: Check your tire’s air pressure at least once a week and fill your tire as needed to manufacturer’s specifications. Consider getting winter tires that perform better on snowy surfaces if you live in a place with frigid temperatures.
Check the battery.
Batteries help start our cars and power electrical features. Most batteries use a chemical reaction with lead acid to generate the electric current. In freezing temperatures, this reaction is slower and your battery’s power is reduced. That means it may not have enough “juice” to start at all. This is especially true for older or weaker batteries.
What to do: If your car doesn’t start immediately, turn off the lights, heater, radio, phone chargers, and anything that is powered by your battery. Try starting your car again to see if that helps. If not, use jumper cables to get your vehicle going. In general, keep battery connections clean and free of corrosion, which will help it work to its best potential. Also, consider a battery warmer. Finally, replace your battery if it is more than 3 years old. If you’re unsure of your battery’s life, have it tested. Many auto shops offer that service for free.
Are you driving an Electric Vehicle (EV)? Cold can affect your battery too. There’s less energy for acceleration and your range may decrease. Preheat your EV before going out. Be prepared for longer charging times in winter months.
Check your fluids.
Freezing temperatures can affect your car’s oil, coolant, and transmission fluids. When it’s very cold, these fluids become so thick that the engine cannot circulate them, or has to work harder to do so. Without these essential fluids, your vehicle cannot operate properly or sometimes at all. With a lack of oil, your engine isn’t lubricated. With a lack of transmission fluid, your car struggles to switch gears. With a lack of coolant, your engine can overheat. The frozen coolant can also crack and damage your radiator hoses.
What to do: Let your car warm up fully before driving. Switch to low-viscosity oils, or synthetic oils, which flow more easily when it’s cold. Make sure there is a proper ratio of antifreeze (coolant) to distilled water. An improper mix can have a higher freezing point. You can check your coolant’s freeze point with a refractometer. Also, winter is a good time to have your transmission fluid checked and replaced if needed.
Fill your gas tank.
Gas will not freeze unless it’s 100 degrees below zero. But water in your gas tank or lines can become ice that clogs the system. The ice can make it hard to start your car or give you a sputtery ride. It also can leave you stranded with your car unable to go anywhere.
What to do: Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid this problem. If you do get stranded with a frozen fuel line, you can get your car towed to a warm location. You also can try adding gas and/or fuel line antifreeze to the tank.
Let screens warm up.
You may notice your liquid crystal display (LCD) screens being slow in the cold. That’s because the molecules in LCDs slow down when the temperature drops.
What to do: Wait for the car to warm up, and the screens should resume their normal speed. You can install an engine block heater to help things along or park in a warmer place like a garage to minimize the cold’s effects.
Clear your windshields.
On a cold day, your breath could condense and freeze on the inside of your windshield. Keep your windshields as clear as possible with the defrost function. Windshield washer fluid also may not work as well in the cold. It may be unable to spray because it’s frozen.
What to do: You can buy windshield washer fluid that is made for cold temperatures. Even so, it could freeze, so make sure your car is warmed up before using it. Also, check that your car’s defrost system is in good working order.
Check the rubber on wipers and doors.
Freezing temps can cause the rubber on your windshield wiper blades to become brittle. They could easily tear or crack, which creates blurry windshields—a recipe for car accidents. In addition, doors can freeze shut in cold temperatures, which is an added annoyance.
What to do: Consider buying winter wiper blades that are made to hold up to cold temperatures. Make sure you replace your wiper blades when they are worn. For frozen car doors, try using silicone spray on the rubber door gaskets to keep them from freezing shut.
Check your belts and hoses.
Older serpentine belts may be brittle and can break when they get cold. They also may be so cold that they don’t bend as they should. Cold weather can also take its toll on your coolant hoses. A bad belt can continue to function but there often are signs that it is failing and needs to be replaced. Listen to noises your car may make to indicate that and other problems.
What to do: Have your mechanic check the drive belt system and coolant hoses at every oil change. Replace parts when they show signs of wear and tear.
Remember, your car is one of your greatest investments. Keep it well-maintained all winter long and don’t forget to protect it with the right insurance.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.
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