As day follows night, you can be sure that cold weather will soon be here. Cold puts a strain on multiple vehicle systems that can lead to their failure and you being stranded during weather that can be not only inconvenient, but downright dangerous.
Here’s a look at those systems and what you can do to make sure you keep rolling in the cold.
Battery – In 2011, AAA received calls from nearly six and a half million drivers with dead batteries. Cold temperatures slow the chemical reaction in a battery, cutting the amount of electricity they put out. At 32 degrees (F), a battery loses about 30 percent of its power. At zero, a battery can lose 60 percent of its cranking power. This often can be enough of a power loss to keep your car from starting. Also, corrosion builds up on battery cables where they attach to the battery. This white, powdery substance can impede the flow of electricity, leaving you stranded. On top of that, batteries have a service life of three to five years, a lot less if they’re subjected to excessive heat. Batteries in cars in cities like Phoenix often last just a year-and-a-half. Batteries also lose power if they’re allowed to go dead. Rather than a harmless event that a quick boost will remedy, a dead battery suffers irreparable harm if it is allowed to go dead, much like the heart of someone who has had an attack. So, keep your battery’s terminals clean, stay alert so you don’t let it go dead, and if it’s anywhere from three to five years old, consider a new one so that you can make it through the cold.
Coolant – Also know as anti-freeze, coolant is the primary means of maintaining proper engine temperature. It flows through the engine absorbing the engine’s heat, then passes through the radiator where the flow of air created by the moving vehicle and a fan cool the liquid, which then flows back through the engine. Antifreeze is a mixture of water and an alcohol-based chemical that must be in the correct proportion to prevent freezing. If coolant freezes, it expands and can crack the metal of the engine, ruining it. Also, antifreeze has rust inhibitors to prevent the water in it from rusting the metal in the engine it passes through. For these reasons, you must have the proper amount of antifreeze and the correct mixture. An insufficient amount of antifreeze will lead to an over heating engine (even in the freezing cold). And the wrong mixture will not protect against really cold temperatures. A 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water will give the maximum protection against the cold.
Oil – Oil is the lifeblood of an engine. It lubricates the internal components and, unknown to many, also serves to keep an engine cool. In cold temperatures, the wrong oil can thicken into a goo that has a tough time circulating through an engine. When you try to start your car, the thickened oil has to first circulate through the engine before it will start, putting a strain on the battery in conditions that have already weakened it (see above). That’s why it’s recommended to switch to a lower viscosity (thinner) oil for the cold. A thinner oil has a lower number, so 0W10 is much thinner and flows more easily than 10W40. Also, synthetic oil, made mostly from man-made components, readily flows down to temperatures of minus 30 or 40 degrees, but it’s more expensive. Whatever oil you use, conventional or synthetic, it’s wise to keep it clean through regular oil changes and the correct viscosity for the season.
Tires – Government stats show that nearly half of all cars on the road are riding around on underinflated tires. AAA in 2011 received 4.2 million calls for flat tires, nearly all of them preventable. Basic science tells us that heat expands and cold contracts. This applies to the air in your tires. As the weather gets colder, the air in the tires contracts, lowering the pressure. In fact, for every 10 degrees the air temperature falls, a tire loses one or two pounds of pressure. (Tire pressure is measured in psi, pounds per square inch, with most car tires using about 30 psi.) Unfortunately, checking tire pressure is a tedious process requiring a good gauge and lots of bending and stooping. Doing this in the cold is doubly difficult. But, proper tire pressure is critical to safety with an underinflated tire too soft for good handling and offering no resistance to being damaged by bad roads. A flat in the cold is no fun. Take the time to check tire pressure, especially as it gets colder, and you’ll save yourself some needless inconvenience.
Other Important Winter Items:
Windshield wipers should be changed going into the winter season. The rubber in the wipers becomes brittle over time, leaving streaks when it rains. Wipers should be changed every six months, before winter and summer. Also, make sure you top off your windshield washer fluid with a winter formula to keep it from freezing in the cold.
It’s wise to keep a winter kit in your car. It should include these items:
A small bag of abrasive material like sand or non-clumping kitty litter.
Winter weather is no joke. Prepare yourself beforehand so you don’t wind up stranded.
Robert Sinclair Jr. AAA New York –Years of involvement with cars, combined with his skills as a public speaker, prepared Mr. Sinclair for his current position as the spokesman for AAA New York. For the past 12 years he has represented AAA with all national and local electronic and print media. Robert’s position dictates his being knowledgeable on a host of policy issues related to motor vehicle transportation.