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Tuesday Tip: Five Ways the Cold Weather Can Damage Your Car

Posted by Jess Stoeckeler on

‘When temperatures dip below freezing, vehicle car can suffer. Highly rated auto mechanics discuss what to watch for on your car when winter hits.

When it’s freezing cold outside, we don’t leave our homes without bundling up in layers of clothes, a heavy coat, hat and gloves.

Unfortunately, your car doesn’t have that luxury in winter — unless you want to scare your neighbors, jokes Donald Otto, owner of highly rated Bear Automotive in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“The neighbors would commit us to an asylum if they saw us put a coat on our cars,” Otto says.

Auto experts say the cold weather can cause damage to all parts of vehicles over time, especially when the temperatures dip well below zero.

“Everything [is affected],” says Brian Vaupell, general manager of highly rated Jessup’s Automotive Services in La Grange, Illinois. “Anything made by metal doesn’t like cold. Metal will shrink in cold temperatures.”

Here are five of the biggest ways cold can affect and damage your vehicle.

  1. Thickening fluids

In cold temperatures, your car’s fluids — oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, etc. — become more viscous, or thicken, which causes the fluids to move less freely, Vaupell says. He likens it to a bottle of maple syrup.

“If you pour maple syrup outside in the winter, it won’t move,” he says. “In the summer, it will come right out.”

Vaupell recommends starting the car for 10 to 15 minutes in below-freezing temperatures to warm it up.

Otto, meanwhile, says it’s a good idea to change your fluids before temperatures plummet, and to make sure the fluids are at the proper levels.

“Fluids are not thin enough in their cold state to be forced through internal seals, which can cause them to tear the seals or cause internal issues,” he says.

  1. Dead battery

During a cold stretch last winter, Vaupell says 150 cars were towed to his shop because of batteries that died as a result of cold weather.

When temperatures plummet, your car’s battery works harder to start the car because its starting capacity is reduced in below-freezing weather.

If the battery is three or four years old — regardless of the type of battery — consider buying a new one before winter, Vaupell says, or take it to an auto mechanic so they can check its capacity.

“If it’s four years old, I would replace it,” he says. “It’s the cheapest insurance you can get.”

Mechanics say if your have access to a garage to store your vehicle, use it.

  1. Tire pressure

In extreme temperatures, tire pressure can fluctuate. In cold temps, tire pressure can decrease at rest and increase when the car is moving.

“If the [tire pressure] light comes on, inspect the tire,” Vaupell says.

Vaupell says a common complaint he receives from customers in winter is the air pressure light coming on.

Driving with low – or too much – tire pressure can lead to uneven wear and a shortened lifespan for the tire. It can also lead to a tire blowout on the road.

  1. Leaking

When water seeps into cracks in the road, the pavement chips away and potholes can form during a constant freeze-thaw cycle.

Similar damage occurs to cars. Otto says metal and plastic will collect condensate when it constantly goes from cold to warm and back to cold again.

“Condensation turns to water, which turns to ice,” he says. “Ice in the power steering, brake and engine transmission systems can and will cause leaks in high and low pressure systems, when the ice cannot move through the lines and orifices in all major systems.”

Leaks in the steering and brake system can be potentially hazardous if a malfunction occurs.

Otto recommends flushing all the fluids before winter and warming your car up before driving.

  1. Salty situation

Snow isn’t the only problem drivers deal with on the roads. In order to melt all of the snow, road crews use salt.

Salt can stick to your car’s metal components and, if left there, can cause them to corrode, especially the undercarriage, brakes and wheel wells.

Experts advise washing your car frequently during the winter months to eliminate salt, including at least once a month to the underbelly of the car.

Don’t use a cloth to wipe salt away, as the salt can scratch the car's paint.’

-Angie’s List, 11/25/2014 & Photo by Steve C. Mitchell

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