How Does Cold Weather Affect a Car?

How Does Cold Weather Affect a Car?

Winter is coming, and for many people that means the beautiful sights of snowfall, the holidays, sweatshirts, roaring fires, and much more. But if your car could talk, it would tell you just how much it dreads the months ahead. You see, cold temperatures can have many negative effects on your vehicle, especially if you enter the colder months without proper winter preparation.

What Can Cold Weather Do to Your Car?

Cold weather can cause problems for your car if you don’t take the time to get your car ready to handle the winter temperatures. The most obvious place it affects your car is in your battery. Cold temperatures slow down chemical reactions, which means that your car battery will become sluggish and appear to be far lower than it actually is. Most modern batteries are designed to deliver an abundance of power at what is considered a “cold crank” temperature, but older batteries or batteries which are further into their lifespan may even fail to start your car on a particularly frigid and frosty morning. Even though the battery’s charge may not have changed, it will still respond much slower and may not provide the power to start your vehicle.

When the temperature is cold outside, your car’s computer has to adjust the air-to-fuel mixture in order to ensure the engine continues to run properly. When the air is cold, it becomes dense, which means the car will then have to compensate by drawing in less air and using more fuel with each stroke to prevent it from stalling out. This is perfectly normal, but for about the first 20 minutes or so after turning your engine on during cold temperatures, your car is going to burn more fuel than normal.

Likewise, while the engine is warming up, you’ll want to avoid turning on your heater. It might be freezing cold outside, but turning on your heater siphons off that much-needed heat your engine is producing, preventing your engine from getting to a comfortable operating temperature. It might be cold outside, but try to avoid turning your heater on for the first 15 to 20 minutes to let your engine really get up to a comfortable temperature.

Short trips are particularly hard on cars during cold temperatures. If you’re just driving a short distance to drop your kids off at school, the car never fully gets to the right temperature, which means you won’t be able to burn off any accumulated water vapor. This not only causes sludge to build up in your engine, but rusts out your exhaust system. Give your engine time to warm up before heading out on your trip. This is one situation where a remote keyless engine start can have a serious advantage.

Finally, your windshield will be particularly vulnerable to cracking. When your windshield is covered in frost, shocking it by pouring hot water can cause a sudden jolt in energy, causing the materials in your glass to crack. Whatever you do, do not use hot water or a sudden blast of hot air to clear away the frost.

Winter Preparation

So what can you do to make sure your car is ready to handle the icy conditions of winter? Here are a few things to consider.

  • Add rubbing alcohol, defroster or another anti-frost substance into your windshield wiper fluid. This fluid not only prevents your washer fluid from freezing, but also rapidly melts any ice or frost on your windshield without the crack risk.
  • Change your oil and fill it with a thinner oil. When motor oil gets cold, it thickens. Combined with a cold battery, starting your car for the first time on a cold day can be a real chore. If your car normally uses a 10W-30 oil, considering going down to a 5W-30 or even a 0W-30 (yes, that’s a zero) as they’re far less prone to viscosity when cold, while still maintaining a decent thickness and protection when at temperature. If you ever have any questions, ask a professional auto repair expert or consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
  • Check your tire tread and pressure. Cold weather means the pressure in your tires is going to decrease. Make sure they stay within operating guidelines for maximum safety and performance, particularly on slippery roads. Likewise, check your tires and make sure you have enough tread. Tires that are low or balding are exponentially more dangerous on icy or slippery winter roads.
  • And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, let your car warm up. It’s as simple as that, yet the difference a proper warm-up cycle can make on your engine’s performance plus your car’s longevity and reliability is impossible to understate.

About Christian Brothers Automotive

Christian Brothers Automotive provides more than just trustworthy auto repair and maintenance services from ASE-Certified professionals—we also offer a customer service experience that you won’t find anywhere else. We strive to make your experience one that you’ll remember and keep coming back again and again for. Whether it’s transparent and upfront advice about your vehicle or simple things like a courtesy shuttle ride or a comfortable waiting area, we want to make your visit to our local shop a positive one.

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Posted by, Christian Brothers Automotive

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