cars parked in snow

How Cold Weather Driving Can Take a Toll on Your Vehicle

When the temperatures start to drop, you might begin to feel a twinge in your bones that lets you know in no uncertain terms that winter is on the way. Believe it or not, your car is similar. Therefore, it’s important to bear in mind how a dipping thermometer and increased precipitation during the winter months can do very real damage to your vehicle.

Fluids Tell the Tale

There are several liquids that your car needs in order to run smoothly. They include oil, coolant, brake and transmission fluid and windshield wiper solution, to name a few. When it gets cold, these fluids thicken. Once they are no longer at their optimal density, your car’s performance can suffer.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to minimize these cold-related consequences is to allow your car to warm up for 10 to 15 minutes before you drive it if the mercury plunges below freezing. The heat this produces will help to restore these components to their correct density. Furthermore, you can buy oil, fluid and coolant blends specifically designed for the winter that will be much more resistant to thermal changes.

Winter Wipes Out Wipers

Have you ever attempted to use your wipers without first scraping off your windshield after an icy or snowy night. The results can be dramatic; the encrusted, frozen liquid that is caked on your windshield’s surface can get so hard that it can actually break your wipers.

Although it’s probably the last thing you want to do on those chilly mornings, your best solution to this problem is to give it a little elbow grease and thoroughly remove the ice with a scraper before attempting to engage the wipers. Also consider purchasing winter wipers, which are equipped with an ice-resistant rubber covering.

No Spark in Your Plugs

It’s easy to forget about spark plugs, but they’re pretty important. If yours aren’t in great shape when the cold comes, you could easily find yourself with a car that stubbornly refuses to start. It doesn’t cost a lot to replace them, so be sure to have them examined and changed out if needed before the snow flies.

Roll Into Winter On Good Tires

Snow, ice and sleet can have a detrimental effect on your tires. Therefore, you should have them checked to be sure they’re in good condition. Furthermore, winter temperatures can lower the pressure in your tires because cold air is of a higher density. Your mechanic can check to be sure that you have the proper air pressure as either too much or too little can lead to unsafe driving conditions. The result can be uneven wear, a shorter life for your tires and even a blowout while you’re driving. Regular all-season tires begin to harden and experience a reduction of traction. Therefore, studded or winter-specific tires are recommended if you plan to do a lot of driving in this colder season.

That being said, wrapping your tires in chains is not recommended for most types of driving. Unless you are spending your time on rural roads that are not ploughed and have several inches of snow on them, tire chains can result in a rough driving experience, can damage your car and the road and are not necessary. Furthermore, they are tricky and annoying to install, requiring you to lay out the chains in front of your car and then drive over them in order to attach them.

To add to the irritation they cause, these chains must be removed when you get back into the city or reach a cleared area of road. Moreover, a chain can damage the inside of your wheel well if it breaks. Finally, many communities don’t allow tire chains or only let you use them during specific times of the year, so check to be sure you are in compliance with your local laws if you do decide to use them.

Charge Into December With a Good Battery

In a way, your battery is the beating heart of your vehicle. If it isn’t working, you won’t go anywhere. When temperatures go on the downward slide, your battery has to work harder each time you start the vehicle. That’s because its starting capacity is reduced. Age also has a marked effect on your battery’s performance. If it is four years old or older, you should seriously consider replacing it before the really cold months come. If you don’t, you could end up in a very tough spot on one of the chilliest days of the year.

Prepare For Those Leaks

Winter driving is a constantly fluctuating proposition. You start from your cold driveway or cool garage, and the vehicle heats up as you drive. You park outside for a while; precipitation freezes and then thaws once you get things up and running again. The metal and plastic parts of your car collect ice and condensation during these thermal changes, and ultimately ice enters areas such as your power steering, transmission and brake systems. As you can imagine, ice does not move through the lines in these systems with the same ease as does its liquid form, setting the stage for damage and leaks. In order to minimize the chances of this happening, mechanics recommend that you flush and replace all of your fluids as autumn draws to a close as well as warming up your car for several minutes before driving.

Withstand the Salt Assault

Road crews apply a cocktail of chemicals to pre-treat driving surfaces and to deal with ice and snow during and after it falls. While their hard work definitely makes highways, streets and roads much safer, the salt and other chemicals they use can do a nasty number on the exterior of your vehicle. Salt, for instance, has a tendency to adhere to your car’s undercarriage, wheels and brakes. If left there, it will eventually begin to corrode the surface.

Although you might feel like washing your car is a losing battle during this time of year and may be tempted to forego it altogether, regular cleaning can be one of the best ways to alleviate the detrimental effects of road salt and grime. At least once per month, you should focus on the car’s underbelly. This is because the sub-parts of cars are totally open and vulnerable to salt as well as all of the elements. The problem is made worse by the fact that most people simply park their cars in a garage after exposing them to road salt without taking steps to clean it off. The rot and corrosion that results can do damage not only to your paint but also to your car’s frame, coil systems, muffler and exhaust. Never wipe the salt away with a dry cloth; this will lead to scratching of the surface. If you plan to do a lot of winter driving, also consider taking your vehicle to a collision specialist in the autumn to receive a pre-treatment with an oil-based under-spray that can help to prevent the corrosive effects of road salt.

Probably the most damaging of these issues is automotive rust, which is made exponentially worse by repeated exposure to road salt. If care is not taken to regularly remove salt, it can cause sub-frame damage as well as hydraulic brake system leaks. If you already have minor damage to your car’s finish, consider applying automotive touch up paint to the affected area. It can be purchased in the exact shade of paint that your vehicle received when it came from the factory.

Maintain Your Flexibility

Flexibility isn’t just important for human joints; it’s also essential when it comes to your car. Just as the cold can cause stiff knees and sore backs in men and women, it can lead to the freezing up of vital automotive components such as door and trunk locks, handles, door and window seals. Lubricating your seals with a spray that is available from your local automotive store can be a big help. Before it gets cold, give your locks a preventative dose of WD-40.

As you can see, cold weather and precipitation can take a very real toll on the performance and condition of your vehicle. For that reason, preventative maintenance is particularly important. In addition, your preemptive planning should extend to what you carry. Never leave home without a fully stocked emergency kit in a duffel bag to be stored in your car’s trunk. It should contain first aid items, flashlights, jumper cables, gloves, salt, a snow shovel, drinking water and food. That’s because no matter how many steps you take to prepare in advance, you can never predict when or to what extent Old Man Winter will strike.