5 Ways Winter Negatively Affects Your Vehicle (And What to Do About Them)

As Game of Thrones famously warned, “Winter is coming.” And while you probably don’t have to worry about what winter will do to your kingdom or dragons, you should be thinking about what it means for your vehicle and car maintenance plan.

Why Winter Car Maintenance is Essential

Winters in Cleveland range from brisk to brutal — often within the same season. Although this year’s predictions call for a slightly milder winter, you’re still in for some cold, wet weather. Temperatures are just starting to dip, and this period before the truly cold weather sets in is the perfect time to make sure your winter car maintenance is complete. 

If you’re wondering whether you really need to give your car some extra attention right now, the answer is yes. Take a look at five ways winter affects your vehicle...

Problem 1: Winter is tough on tires.

Changing temperatures have a direct effect on your tire pressure. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, your tire pressure drops by one pound. While underinflated tires won’t necessarily keep you from getting on the road, they will wear faster, reduce your fuel economy and reduce handling and traction — critical for wet, wintery roads. 

Solutions:

In addition to making sure you’re entering the season with tires that are inflated to the correct pressure, make sure your tires have sufficient tread to handle treacherous and changing road conditions. You might want to consider switching to winter tires, which have a grip designed to accelerate, corner and stop more effectively on snow and ice than regular tires. Your mechanic can help you decide whether winter tires would be a good choice for you.

Problem 2: Winter is a menace to metal.

In the North, road salt is one of the main products used to clear snow and ice from roads. While it does its job extremely well, it doesn’t stop eating away at things once the snow and ice are gone. As you drive on salted roads, your car picks up salt, which starts corroding the metal in your undercarriage and even inside your engine. (It can also do nasty things to your paint job.)

Solutions:

Before the weather gets extreme, get a thorough car wash, complete with a good wax job. Waxing your car creates an extra layer of protection between your paint and whatever you pick up from the road. Once winter hits, make it a habit to wash your car once a week if you’re driving on salted roads. Even a quick drive through a touchless car wash or a good hosing down at home is better than letting the chemicals stay on your vehicle.

Problem 3: Winter is brutal on batteries.

There are few things more annoying than getting in your car on a cold winter morning and having it refuse to turn over. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common car problems during winter weather. Batteries lose about 35% of their power once temperatures reach freezing, and by the time it gets down to 0 degrees, your battery will have lost more than half of its original power. Adding to the problem is that starting your engine in cold weather can take up to twice as much energy as starting it in warm weather. If your battery is more than a year old or already losing some of its power, it could make for some unpleasant surprises this winter.

Solution:

Avoid having to jump start your car by getting your battery tested — along with your engine’s starting and charging functions — as part of your winter tune-up.

Problem 4: Winter is wicked to windshield wipers.

Windshield wipers are one of those car parts that you don’t think about — until they aren’t working properly. Weather is one of the main factors that contributes to the degradation of your wipers. The summer sun and blazing UV rays can damage the rubber blades and cause them to split, but so can extreme cold. The rubber can freeze to your windshield, and breaking the blade loose from ice can destroy the integrity of the rubber and the effectiveness of your wipers. That’s especially dangerous because you depend on them to provide visibility during snow, sleet and other winter weather. 

Solutions:

Wipers that leave streaks can impair your visibility and lead to accidents, so they should be replaced at the first sign of wear. Also, never try using your windshield wipers to remove ice or snow from your windshield; that can cause the rubber to break down more quickly and could even cause the wiper arms to bend. Bent wipers may skip across the windshield and fail to clear important areas — like your field of vision.

Problem 5: Winter is fatal to fluids.

Oil, windshield washer fluid and antifreeze each perform different tasks for your vehicle, but all of them are important. Before winter sets in, it’s crucial to make sure they’re ready for cold temperatures. Conventional oil can thicken during cold weather and flow more slowly through your engine. Wiper fluid can fall victim to plummeting temperatures and end up freezing in the fluid reservoir. And antifreeze can be the furthest thing from your mind during summer months, but it’s a must during Ohio’s cold winters. It keeps the fluid in your engine’s cooling system from freezing, expanding and damaging your engine. 

Solutions:

If your car uses conventional oil, consider switching to synthetic oil this winter. It is thinner, so your car will start easier during cold winter months. You’ll be doing your engine (and your battery) a favor. 

Frozen wiper fluid can be avoided by using a de-icing windshield washer fluid that has alcohol and a small amount of antifreeze. This helps melt snow and ice on your windshield and keeps the fluid from freezing in the reservoir. 

Make sure you top off your antifreeze before the season starts or, if it’s time to replace the fluid, have your mechanic flush the radiator.    

Don’t Ignore Your Winter Car Maintenance Checklist

If your car isn’t winterized and ready for these five winter threats, it’s time to give it some TLC. Taking care of it now will be much more convenient than waiting for something to go wrong.

Stop by your local Rainbow Muffler & Brake location to receive a free diagnostic inspection. We’ll help get your winter car maintenance taken care of as quickly and safely as possible!

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