It’s that time of year again: Pumpkin spice lattes, holiday shopping, and piles upon piles of snow in front of your house for months on end. Winter can be a harsh mistress, forcing us to experience bitter cold and holiday shoppers. On top of that, the winter months can be especially damaging to your vehicle. There is a variety of ways this season can harm your car, and we’re going to break down not only what can happen, but what you can do to prevent it.
Freezing temperatures means that the elements of your car also freeze. For those of you who skipped science class, metal expands when heated, and contracts when cool. Unfortunately, this means that your engine is subjected to both extremes; hot when you’re driving, and cold when you’re not. Cracks and breaks in the metal are common in wintertime, due to this back and forth between temperatures. Fortunately, more modern engines are built to withstand this, but if you have an older car, make sure to get it checked and make sure to keep your coolant up-to-date.
In addition to the stress on the metal of your car, your tires also experience an adverse side effect from the harsh winter cold. Tires contract in cooler temperatures, and that means that your air pressure lessens. If you live in a place that gets snow, you should hopefully have all-weather tires, but if not, or if you’re not sure, make sure to have all-weather or winterized tires. You also need to check your tire pressure more frequently to maintain optimal inflation.
Batteries also suffer from extreme cold, as your typical cell thrives in temperatures between 30 and 90 degrees. So if you get below-freezing temps, it can take longer for your battery to turn over. If you have an old battery or haven’t replaced yours in a long time, it may be worth it to replace it before winter hits, so you don’t get stuck somewhere when it fails.
Finally, with the cold temperatures, your vehicle’s fluids can freeze up, causing all kinds of problems. Wiper fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid, these are all things that can thicken in cold temperatures, so it can be necessary to warm them up before you take off down the snow-covered road. This is especially true for transmission fluid, which starts to thicken at temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to check all your fluids more regularly during the winter months.
While all of this makes it seem like winter is actively trying to destroy your car, the effects of this season can be mitigated by just keeping your vehicle out of the elements. If you have a garage, that can offset most of the damage caused by winter weather. If, however, you don’t have access to a garage or covered area, just make sure to take extra time to get it started and let it warm up before you tear off. If you take the time to pay attention to your car, you can avoid any significant problems.