7 Worst Problems for your Car in Winter

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It’s that time of year when all you want to do is grab a warm blanket and hibernate in your bed until it passes. It’s that time when everything becomes more difficult, takes longer, and is literally painful because of the weather.

It’s called ‘winter’.

It may come as little or no solace, but your vehicle finds winter just as tough as you do. Every joint feels stiffer, every task is more difficult, and performance is sluggish. There is no easy way through winter besides shoving off on a five-month cruise, and that’s an option not available to your vehicle.

Preparation is the best prevention of vehicle problems in the wintertime, and the only way to be prepared is to be aware of the most common vehicle problems in winter. Here are the seven worst things for your car during winter.

Your Coolant Strength is Too Weak

Your engines water pump circulates coolant throughout passages, through the heater core, and through the radiator. The coolant, also known as antifreeze, is responsible for removing heat from the engine and dissipating it in the radiator. Although it may seem ironic to discuss heat dissipation in the winter, the task still needs to be performed. Engines produce mass amounts of heat, and temperatures will skyrocket if the antifreeze doesn’t flow whether it’s -40F or 100F outside.

Engine antifreeze prevents the fluid from freezing in the engine, which not only restricts the coolant flow but also can cause horrific amounts of damage to the whole cooling system. Making sure your coolant strength is good for -40F is excellent standard practice no matter what climate you operate in. The rule of thumb is usually mixing the straight antifreeze 50/50 with distilled water. If you are using pre-mixed coolant, obviously don’t mix it any further.

Spinning Tires When you are Stuck

If you’ve ever driven in snowy and icy conditions, you’ve likely been stuck or hung up in the snow with your vehicle and know the frustration associated with it. If you find yourself in this place, be very careful about spinning your tires. You may need to spin them to get traction and pull yourself out of a sticky situation, but be sure your tires won’t either suddenly grab the pavement, or jerkily move between the gears on an automatic transmission. Not only will spinning your tires wear your tires extremely fast, but the sudden grip on the tires from reaching pavement, or the sudden shifting from drive to reverse to drive to reverse can cause severe damage to your transmission. It can be as bad as a differential pin flying through the transmission case, so beware.

Your Engine is Flooded

Every winter driver believes they have a magic trick to starting a vehicle when it is extremely cold out, even when the engine block heater hasn’t been plugged in. And virtually every winter driver experiences the fallible, humiliating moment where they realize they aren’t a car whisperer. Starting a car’s engine in very cold temperatures doesn’t cause damage however. It’s the other effects that can be problematic. If the battery is a little too weak to crank the engine over quickly, if you stomp the gas pedal too much (on carbureted engines), or if your ignition spark isn’t strong enough to ignite the cold fuel easily, you can effortlessly flood the engine. This happens when more fuel is introduced into the cylinders than can be burnt, and the spark plugs are actually wetted with gasoline. Fuel seeps down into the crankcase and contaminates your engine oil, so you will likely need to replace the spark plugs and get a fresh oil change.

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Your Battery is Too Weak

This is the most common winter problem you can experience. Every parking lot during a cold snap features at least one freezing driver standing outside their car, their battery tied to another vehicle with booster cables like it is on life support. It’s such a simple system that all-too-often goes neglected until there is a problem. Whether there is an internal fault such as a bad battery cell, or if the battery just won’t hold a full charge anymore due to its age, your battery should be checked before the throes of winter to make sure it won’t cause you problems. A dead battery can occur in the worst times when help is not available, and you may be in potentially big trouble.

Your Windshield Washer Fluid is Frozen

All summer long, bug wash is readily available for windshield washer fluid with detergents that help dissolve those sticky, hard to remove bug guts from your windshield. It does a great job – until a cold snap. If you are left with a washer fluid reservoir full of bug wash when sub-zero temperatures hit, you’re in for a surprise. You may not think anything of it until then, but slushy, snowy, icy weather requires a dissolving washer fluid with antifreeze capacities. When ice and slush build up on your windshield, smearing it around with the wiper blades is never enough. You need the antifreeze spraying on it to break it up and to clean off your wiper blades. Not only will bug wash freeze solid in the reservoir, but it can quite readily crack the reservoir, washer hoses, and nozzles (water expands when it freezes, remember). That means a repair bill along with a purchasing a jug of winter-friendly washer fluid.

Your Wheel Alignment is Out to Lunch

Your wheel alignment is extremely important, but more so in winter months. When your alignment is fine and dandy, your car drives straight and steering is effortless. When the alignment is out of spec – especially the toe angle – the steering can pull to one side. No one needs the extra stress of trying to keep their car on the icy road any more than they have to. Not only is steering more difficult, but icy patches will act differently than dry patches, resulting in an uneven and harrowing steering feel. Also, stability control systems often use a steering angle sensor on the steering column to determine if the direction of your steering wheel matches the direction your vehicle is actually travelling. If the steering wheel is off center, your stability system may not operate properly or may be useless until the steering is corrected. Having an annual wheel alignment performed before winter is an excellent idea to ensure safe driving.

Your Tires are Worn Out

Though it may be the most obvious concern listed, so many motorists drive in the winter with worn out tire tread. A tire is considered worn out when there is 2/32nds of an inch of tread remaining. A simple test is to put a penny in the tread of your tire with Lincoln’s head pointed down. If the top of his head is even with the tread, you need to replace your tires right away. Worn tires can cause you to slide when braking, spin your tires when accelerating, and lose traction when cornering. Braking distances are extended significantly, increasing your chances of getting into a collision. Don’t just think of the implications it has for you; consider pedestrians and other motorists. If you can’t control your braking well, you can cause someone else harm or serious injury. Have your worn out tires replaced.

Everything listed here should be addressed in a pre-winter inspection. Don’t take unnecessary chances when driving in the winter. Your car’s condition, your safety, and the safety of the people around you is at risk.