In most parts of the country, winter means dealing with frigid temperatures, snow, ice and salt-covered roads. At first glance, this may not seem like it has much to do with your car or your driving. However, the truth is that winter can present serious dangers when you’re behind the wheel and expose the vehicle itself to serious damage. Pay attention to these 10 common winter car problems and you’ll be prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
1) Dead Battery
As cold temperatures set in, car batteries lose their energy. When your battery is dead, so is your ability to start your car. If you’re experiencing issues with your battery in freezing temperatures, make sure to warm up your engine for a minute or two before attempting to get started – that way, you give yourself time for it to power back up. Also, keep in mind that starting a cold car can drain any residual power left in a dying battery. Replace car battery if necessary.
2) Low Tire Pressure
A low tire is one of those problems that could cost you time and money. And, if it happens to be on a freeway in winter when temperatures drop, it could also cost you your life. Make sure your tires are properly inflated to avoid dangerous skids and crashes. Check your vehicle’s tire pressure monitoring system once a week for good condition by TPMS Programming Tool. There’s no standard number for how much air you should put into each tire, but TireRack recommends 33 PSI for passenger cars and 35 PSI for light trucks or SUVs.
3) Bad Windshield Wipers
The worst part of driving in a winter storm is not knowing how bad your visibility is. It’s easy to get complacent when it comes to snow and ice, especially if you don’t live in an area that gets hit with big storms. If you start to see your wipers dragging across your windshield at highway speeds, it’s probably time to replace them—or at least flip your blades upside down. This way, they scrape more snow and less ice off your windshield.
4) Failed Spark Plugs
A failed spark plug (or set of plugs) can cause issues for your car no matter what time of year. If you see signs of trouble with your spark plugs, schedule a tune-up as soon as possible. Spark plugs can cost $30 to $100 a piece, so an overpriced tune-up is better than nothing at all. Make sure you use factory original parts; otherwise, your warranty might be voided and it’s only going to get more expensive down the line.
5) Corroded Parts
When exposed to extreme cold, your car can develop small cracks in some of its parts that weren’t properly insulated before they were put into storage. If you spot any rusted, frozen or cracked parts under your car when you take it out of storage for spring, consider having those corroded pieces replaced as soon as possible. Corroded engine components are more likely to fail when hit with fresh moisture and cold weather over time, which makes replacing them a safety concern for your entire family.
6) Thick Fluid
One of those winter-car problems is thick fluid. This can be caused by a number of things, but most commonly it occurs when you're driving in cold weather and don’t properly warm up your engine before driving away. It’s common for mechanics to ignore a little bit of buildup on an engine, but if you notice that it’s covering a big section of your windshield and obscuring your vision, stop at a mechanic as soon as possible; serious damage could have been done.
7) Worn Alternator Belt and Serpentine Belts
If your alternator belt is broken, it will not charge your battery and your car won’t start. If your serpentine belts are worn, they won’t turn properly to power all of your engine accessories like air conditioning and power steering. Remember to have these items checked and replaced by a qualified technician if necessary.
8) Frozen Locks and Door Handles
Locks and door handles are two things that don’t like to be cold. Because of our single-digit temperatures, when these pieces get too cold, they just won’t work—and unfortunately, you need your locks and door handles more than ever. Use WD-40 on all exposed locks to prevent them from freezing up; check out YouTube for tutorials on how to thaw your frozen door handle.
9) Slow Infotainment Screens
Leaving your infotainment screen on for a few minutes when you’re not actively using it can cause it to get bogged down and run slowly. One solution: power down your phone or music app before you get out of your car, says Joe DeFranco, owner of Performance Physical Therapy in New Jersey and founder of TrainingBible Coaching. I see people at Starbucks all day long with their iPhones on, he says.
10) Ice in Fuel Lines
Fuel lines are often exposed to freezing temperatures, which can cause ice to form inside of them. If ice buildup occurs in your fuel line, it could block or restrict fuel flow—which means you won’t be able to get your car started on a frigid morning.
As cold weather approaches, your vehicle will be called into action more often than at any other time of year. While driving in winter conditions is thrilling and beautiful, it also comes with its own set of potential problems. By preparing your car for winter and being aware of these common issues, you'll reduce your risk of trouble on the road. Now that you know how to identify a bad car battery and how to handle winter tire blowouts, you're ready to go out there and enjoy yourself!