Winter for many parts of the country experience temperatures below freezing and the issues that come with it. Keeping yourself and your family comfortable and safe during the cold months is one thing, but then you have to worry about your home and your car. A cold weather issue with an automobile can really be a headache and costly to deal with if it’s an emergency. We decided to put our top 5 tips for keeping your vehicle safe during the cold months.
- Batteries Fail in the Cold Weather- It never fails that your car tends to break down at the worst time. Did you ever wonder why? A car battery is under less stress during warm months as it is easier for the starter to spin the engine over. As it gets colder it can drop the performance of the battery and can also be put under additional stress due to the difficulty to spin an ice cold engine over. We suggest testing your battery every fall before the cold weather hits. A cheap battery load tester can quickly test your battery for its performance under a load or many local auto parts stores will test your battery for free. If you have a seasonal car that doesn’t get driven often we suggest investing in a trickle charger or battery maintainer to keep the batteries topped up during the cold months. Some of the more sophisticated chargers will only charge when they see the voltage drop and the rest of the time will sit idle to save electricity.
- Check your Engine Coolant Level- Engine Coolant works great to keep your engine from overheating when running, but it has limitations when it is cold out. During each oil change we suggest to check the coolant level. Low coolant level can cause an engine to run hot during the summer and also can cause low heat output inside of the car during cold months. This is because your heat works off of a heater core (a tiny radiator under the dash or on the firewall) that flows hot coolant through it and a fan blows over that hot heater core to push the warm air into your vents. If your coolant level is too low there won’t be enough hot coolant flowing through the heater core to produce hot air. If your coolant is full and you still aren’t getting hot air out of the heater make sure that the engine is up to operating temps and the heater controls and blower motor are working.
- Check Coolant Rating- Once a year it is a good practice to test the temperature rating of your coolant. Specifically we’re referring to how low of temps your coolant can handle before it begins to freeze. Frozen coolant in your cooling system or engine can cause catastrophic failure to the engine or cooling system. This is caused by the expansion that occurs when fluids freeze and could even crack the engine block or head(s), or radiator if it gets bad enough! A cheap coolant tester can be purchased at most auto parts stores or a friendly auto garage or parts store will test for you. The test only takes a few seconds and is very easy to perform. If your coolant is reading anywhere close to positive temperatures we suggest flushing and replacing it for peace of mind. This test is especially important on collector cars or seasonal vehicles that only get driven in the warm weather as they can freeze while sitting in cold storage and cause issues that you won’t notice until it is warm again.
- Warming Your Car Up- In the old days of carburetors you needed to let a car warm up for an extended period of time before jumping in and driving it as the car may run poorly or could lack performance. In modern times cars now have electronic fuel injection and many sensors that automatically adjust to the climate and help the vehicle run the same regardless. This means there isn’t as much of a reason to let your vehicle warm up for extended periods of time. Letting your car warm up for 1-3 minutes is totally acceptable. Anymore time will just be a waste of fuel and won’t help much as a car will warm up quicker by “using it” and the higher RPM’s seen when driving. The only upside to letting a car warm up longer is the comfort of jumping into the car and it is warm inside, but we assure you that will happen quickly if you start driving a couple minutes after starting instead!
- Pack a Winter Survival Kit- Winters can be unpredictable and things can happen unexpectedly. We suggest packing a kit of items that you might use in a worst case scenario. Our favorites include a small (or fold up) shovel, heavy gloves and knit hat, a blanket, road salt or kitty litter, a GOOD LED flashlight or work light , a heavy tow or ratchet strap, and an extra change of cloths. You never know when you or someone else might need these and it’s always a good idea to be prepared!