Weathering the Winter Blast: Readying Your Car for Cold

Posted 11/27/23

During the sweltering days of summer it can seem like winter will never arrive, and then suddenly your are rooting through your car’s trunk trying to find that infernal ice scraper. When it comes to weather extremes—from the sweltering to the frigid—it’s important to prepare your car for whatever is coming down the pipeline. Luckily, many of the stresses of winter can be protected against with a little bit of preventative import car maintenance—whether you tackle it in your own garage or take it to your favorite local auto repair shop.

Cold Weather Problem 1: Dead Batteries on Cold Days

If you aren’t aware that your battery is getting weaker, you will certainly find out on the first very cold day of the season. Why are cold batteries such a problem? According to HowStuffWorks, when the weather is colder, the chemical reaction that takes place inside of the battery is slowed down. This means that the battery is producing fewer electrons on cold days than it is on warm days, and there is less power to give to the engine to start the car up. 

How do you combat a cold battery? The most direct way is to keep it warmer. Keeping it in a protected or heated garage is naturally the best option. If you are regularly in extreme weather situations, a battery heater is a relatively inexpensive solution, but be sure to do your research. You don’t want to put a faulty heating element on your car’s battery. If you do find that your are stranded, usually a friendly neighbor with a newer car battery than yours and a sent of jumper cables will get you back on the road. Though your old battery may work in warmer weather, it will be worth the peace of mind on cold days to get it replaced.

Cold Weather Problem 2: Road Salt Related Corrosion

It’s a mixed blessing when you are headed to work on an icy morning after the salt truck driver has been hard at work making sure that the roads are no longer slick for your commute. Sure the salt breaks up the ice, but it will also break down just about everything in the undercarriage of your car (as well as anywhere else the salt touches). The salt will happily corrode holes in your exhaust, muffler, and anything else it can. 

Though there is no way to completely prevent your daily commuter from coming into contact with road salt, you can reduce the effect that the salt will have by washing your car regularly. Most automatic car washes have an option that will give you an undercarriage wash as part of the routine. And barring that, even just hosing your car off periodically will help.

Cold Weather Problem 3: Frozen Stuck Windshield Wipers

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a garage, it is never great to wake up to your car covered in snow, ice, or anything in between. Warming your car up before you start removing snow can definitely make it easier to get the wipers moving again, but this is another cold weather problem that can usually be prevented before it happens.

The simple solution is to prop up the windshield wipers on winter nights. Your wipers won’t be stuck to the windshield—but they and the windshield may still be covered in whatever sort of precipitation you were lucky enough to receive. There are a number of windshield covers that are available to either hook over your side-view mirrors or be closed in the car doors that cover up both the windshield and the windshield wipers in one. Instead of waiting for the car to defrost, you can immediately remove the ice from the windshield with the cover.

Cold Weather Problem 4: Fluctuations of Tire Pressure

Another usual scene on one of the first really cold mornings in winter is turning your car on only to find the tire pressure warning light lit up on your dash. The air in your tires will contract slightly when it has been exposed to freezing temperatures, so the morning after the first hard frost of the year your tire pressure will be lower than it was the last time your checked it in August.

Taking care of the tire pressure light is usually pretty easy. If you don’t have an air compressor available, many gas stations have compressors available in their parking lots, many of which are free to use. When you open your car door, there should be a diagram that indicates what pounds per square inch (PSI) your tire pressure should to be filled to. The suggested psi for the front tires of a car is often different from the rear. Once you’ve topped off, it may take a mile or two for your car’s tire pressure sensors to recalibrate and turn the warning light off. If you still can’t get it to go off after filling it to the correct weight and driving for a few miles, you may need to contact your favorite auto repair shop for help.

Cold Weather Problem 5: Chilly Fluids Giving You A Bad Time

Most of the fluids in your car are meant to withstand a variety of temperatures. For example, the gas in your tank isn’t going to freeze in the Cincinnati area unless something completely wild happens. Gasoline doesn’t freeze until it reaches around -40F, and the coldest temperature ever recorded in Cincinnati (in 1977) was a balmy -25F. A typical antifreeze mixture is still good to go up to -35F. There is at least one fluid you might want to think about, however, especially if you have just moved from the South.

Windshield wiper fluid in particular can vary widely as to what temperature it is rated for. For example, some washer fluid that is marketed as bug remover is only rated for temperatures above freezing. If you moved from somewhere warm, and have have bug juice in your windshield wiper reservoir, you are going to have a hard time cleaning the windshield when the temperatures drop. It’s a good idea to get an all purpose windshield washer liquid—one that is good for bugs and freezing weather.

Cold Weather Problem 6: Frozen Screens Slowing Things Down

These days many important functions in your car are locked into the touch screen display. There can be some problems with touch screens when it gets cold outside. LCD displays are particularly susceptible to lagging or not responding to touch when the weather gets cold. The Liquid Crystal that makes up the Display screen can become sluggish in extreme temperatures, and unfortunately the only way to make it work as it is supposed to is to gently warm it up along with the rest of your car. 

Give Yourself Extra Time and Keep Your Tank Topped Off

Whenever it comes to driving in extreme temperatures or weather, the simplest and most basic rule of thumb is to give yourself extra time. We’ve all seen the person trying to drive to work looking through a hole scraped through the frost on their windshield roughly the size of a postage stamp. Don’t be that person. Give yourself a little more time to warm your car up in the morning, which can include scraping the windows or cleaning the snow off. Keep your tank topped off—not to prevent the lines from freezing, but in case you get stranded and need to stay warm.