Five Ways Winter Damages Your Car
People sometimes choose to stay at home during winter, avoiding cold temperatures and bleak skies. Others enjoy the recreational and vacation opportunities winter brings and travel across the country. Unfortunately, when the temperature gets below zero Celsius, that freezing winter weather affects your car.
When we leave our homes, we bundle up in layers to protect our joints and muscles from the winter weather. Our vehicles do not have that luxury. Like our cold body tissues, vehicle parts shrink, and rubber components can stiffen, crack, rip, or even break when exposed to extreme cold.
Understanding the threats posed by winter weather conditions helps vehicle owners take the right steps to prevent or diagnose temperature-related problems.
Here are five ways winter can affect or even damage your car, and what you can do to prevent, or solve, these problems:
A dead car battery is a common problem during winter. The car’s battery works best around 26 Celsius; below-freezing temperatures will reduce its starting capacity. The battery will need to supply more electricity than it normally does to start the engine; in extreme weather, it could require as much as twice as much current to start.
Car batteries typically handle cold temperatures well for around three years. After that, they’ll experience additional problems when cold weather hits, and eventually will die.
-Use an electric battery blanket to keep it warmer and protect its cranking power.
-Keep the battery terminals free from dirt, grime, and corrosion.
-Allow the alternator to charge for at least a minute before turning up the in-car heater, or turning on the lights.
-Keeping your car in a garage can help it start in subzero temperatures.
-Have a professional check the health of your car’s battery, especially before a long trip.
-If the battery is over three years old, consider buying a new one before the start of the cold season.
Most tires perform optimally under a set air pressure. According to auto experts, however, tires can lose about one pound per square inch (psi) for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit drop in temperature (or 1.6 psi per 10 Celsius degrees).
Driving a car with low tire pressure can result in uneven wear, reduce the car’s handling, or even cause a tire to blow out — any of which could lead to an accident. Underinflated tires also have a significant impact on fuel economy, resulting in increased running costs for your car.
-Always use winter tires during winter driving conditions.
-Follow the manufacturer’s recommended cold inflation tire pressure when driving during the winter (typically in the owner’s manual).
-Monitor local weather conditions, and adjust tire pressure accordingly. Reduce tire pressure to compensate for a bump in temperature; and increase tire pressure to maintain grip on the road during colder weather.
Many local road departments use salt and sand to melt the snow and ensure that the roads remain passable. Although this helps keep roads safer to use, it can damage your car. Salt is highly corrosive, and accelerates the rusting process on metals.
Corrosion occurs when the electrons are transferred from one substance to another. As the snow melts, water speeds up the electron transfer, causing salt to more quickly corrode the metals, and causing the paint to chip or flake, which in turn exposes more of the metal to the corroding salts in a feedback loop.
-Wax your car before winter.
-Wash your car thoroughly as often as possible, especially the undercarriage.
-Avoid driving through large puddles.
-Spray an oil solution pre-treatment on exposed metal to prevent salt and water from sticking on the surface.
Lower Fuel Efficiency
Freezing temperatures can decrease your car’s fuel efficiency. As petroleum products (e.g. gasoline, automotive oil) get colder, their viscosity increases, which makes your fuel pump work harder to provide fuel to the engine. Cold weather also reduces the effective grade of your gasoline; winter gas typically has 1.5 to 3% less energy than summer gas.
Winter air is denser, increasing the aerodynamic drag on the car. All these factors lower fuel efficiency, and can seriously impact your vehicle’s wintertime performance.
-Parking in your garage can increase the initial temperature of the engine.
-Use the manufacturer’s recommended oil for winter driving. Some automobiles require a specific type and grade of motor oil for different seasons. Your owner’s manual lists the grade and type of oil your vehicle needs during winter.
-Minimize wind resistance by removing accessories (like roof racks) when not in use.
-Avoid frequent use of seat warmers and defrosters.
-Drive less by combining trips whenever possible.
Thickening Automotive Fluids
Your car’s various fluids (e.g. oil, power steering, antifreeze, brake, and transmission fluids) can also thicken, reducing their effectiveness in cold temperatures. Increased viscosity reduces these fluids’ ability to flow through your car as designed by the manufacturer. This is especially a concern for your transmission fluid; a cold transmission may not shift gears quickly, or may make an audible ‘clunk’ noise when shifting. This is called “slipping,” and it should stop once the transmission is properly warmed up.
-Check all the fluid levels; change fluids if necessary, before the temperature starts to plummet.
-Park your car in a garage during the winter months, if possible.
-Warm up your car for as much as 10 to 15 minutes in extreme cold before driving.
If your transmission still slips after the car has warmed up, see an auto mechanic immediately. Your transmission fluid could be leaking, or there may even be a more serious issue with your transmission.
Regular inspection and maintenance are key to preventing damage to your vehicle during the winter season. Follow your car’s recommended maintenance schedules, and record the dates for important maintenance tasks (like oil changes) on your calendar.
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