Photo by Rico Van de Voorde
Originally Posted On: AAMCO Blog | Keeping Your Vehicle Healthy This Winter
The cold and harsh conditions of winter can take a toll on your vehicle. Prepare now by taking these steps to ensure that your ride makes it to warmer weather.
Cold weather can lead to problems when you hit the road, and you have likely had experience with one or two of these issues when the temperatures plummet. Slow starts, engine trouble, dead batteries, sluggish transmission shifts — the list of winter weather car problems continue to grow as winters become increasingly harsh and unrelenting.
Your vehicle is designed to keep moving in the winter months, but without the proper care and maintenance, it will become increasingly difficult for your car to keep up. Here are some of the top issues that your vehicle may face this winter, as well as tips for keeping your vehicle alive and well in the cold.
Winter-Related Mechanical Transmission Issues
Your vehicle’s transmission is an essential and complex combination of gears, clutches, pumps, fluid, and hydraulics, which are critical for helping the transmission shift between gears. In cold weather, the transmission can face a variety of issues that prevent it from functioning correctly. If left untreated, these problems can spiral into costly damages that will put your car on ice for good.
The cold temperatures can cause older transmission fluid to thicken up. This important fluid drives the hydraulic system to engage the transmission and smoothly shift gears in your car while accelerating and decelerating, so a lack of proper fluid viscosity and movement can cause problems quickly.
Cold temperatures and lack of proper fluid maintenance can cause clutches and gears in the transmission to perform poorly, especially as the metal elements contract at lower temperatures. Any water that may have leaked into the transmission areas, such as hood seals, vent tubes, and even a slightly leaking transmission cooler located inside your radiator, will cause various problems that can be expensive to fix.
Ensure that your transmission is up to par by visiting a trained Automotive Transmission Technician at your local AAMCO, who can quickly diagnose any signs of trouble and perform other essential tasks, such as checking your fluids and checking related systems of your vehicle.
With colder weather and fewer long trips in the car, your engine may often pay the price. If not appropriately maintained in frigid temperatures, the oil in your vehicle may thicken to a consistency that is harder to push through the oil passages and into engine parts that depend on this essential fluid. This can lead to lack of lubrication, aggressive metal to metal contact, and eventually overheating and damage in the engine, which can affect the transmission and other related systems.
During the winter months, hot exhaust and cold temperatures cause water vapor will build up in the exhaust system when the temperature rises . Therefore, short trips can cause the engine to work harder without adequate time to warm up and can cause rusting in the exhaust system due to the lack of water vapor burn-off.
To help keep your engine running smoothly this winter, park in climate-controlled or less exposed locations. Combine more trips into one to allow your vehicle to warm up a bit before driving and operate at proper temperatures for longer, and avoid letting your vehicle idle for too long — as this can do more harm than good.
Depending on your vehicle’s make and model, you may have an all-wheel-drive (AWD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) drivetrain. Vehicles that feature AWD or 4WD often perform better in slick, icy conditions, but the drivetrain’s axles, CV joints, and driveshaft must be regularly inspected and maintained for peak performance.
Clunking noises, vibration during acceleration, strong vibration from the floorboards, or resistance around turns can be signs of a failing drivetrain. As an essential part of the complete transmission and engine system, keeping those parts of your vehicle well-maintained can help your drivetrain continue operating at peak power to provide increased safety and control in the winter.
Brakes are a vital part of safe driving, regardless of the season. However, brakes are prone to more wear and tear in the colder months. With increased braking, sliding on ice or snow, and frequent exposure to road salt and grime, your brakes will be doing double duty.
For dependable and safe brakes, always seek a Trained Auto Technician for routine brake checks and replacement. Keep your vehicle’s undercarriage clean before and after each winter season, as salt can have a corrosive effect on your braking system and other metal components, such as your fuel lines.
Cooling System & Radiator
In your vehicle, coolant is responsible for keeping your vehicle’s essential mechanical parts cooled off while operating. Depending on the season, the heat generated by your vehicle’s engine and transmission can vary.
In the winter, antifreeze is also essential for keeping your water pump lubricated and preventing the freezing of the coolant and damage to metal components. Always check your antifreeze levels and fill with the proper ratio based on your region and climate; typically, 1:1 coolant and distilled water. Use the wrong balance, and you could end up with frozen coolant in the engine that can lead to cracks and damage.
Radiator and Hoses
Similarly, cold temperatures are tough on all parts, especially those made from metal and rubber products. Ensure that your radiator is in good shape with no leakage and your hoses are soft and pliable, clamped tightly, and prepared for the weather fluctuations. Visiting a trained technician to service your vehicle’s cooling system for winter is always a good idea.
Other Parts to Keep in Mind
The glass in your windshield is built to withstand extreme temperatures but is not indestructible.
If you find your windshield covered in snow and ice this winter, never attempt to clear it off with hot water. The sudden shock of temperature change can lead to small cracks that can expand over time. Instead, utilize an ice-scraper made of plastic — never metal — and an alcohol-based de-icer spray to help with difficult icy spots.
Winter temperatures can cause the air pressure in your tires to decrease. This can lead to dangerous underinflation that increases the likelihood of premature tread wear, difficulty steering, tire overheating, and even blowouts if they get too worn. Get in the habit of checking each tire’s pressure and overall condition regularly during the winter, and don’t forget your spare. There is nothing worse than having a flat tire only to find your spare flat, too.
While winter does a doozy on car batteries, the summer heat has a far greater effect on a car battery’s longevity. Once winter rolls around, the battery may already be compromised, leading to sluggish performance or a suddenly dead battery in frost weather when you can least afford it. Low air temperature significantly decreases a battery’s capacity when it needs to work its hardest to accommodate a higher load on the electrical system (e.g., starting a cold engine with thicker oil, using windshield wipers, window defrosters, heating the cabin, using headlights more often). Also, shorter trips in the winter can cause the battery not to fully charge, further increasing the risk of failure. Check your battery periodically to make sure it’s clean (dirt acts as a conductor and can drain a battery over time) and free of any corrosion. Knowing the warning signs of a dying battery, such as dim lights in the cabin when starting, difficulty starting your vehicle (especially in freezing conditions), and other electrical components not working, can help prevent battery failure at an inopportune time.
Don’t Get Caught in the Cold This Winter
As the essential parts and elements listed above deteriorate in the winter, you drastically increase the chances of experiencing a malfunction or breakdown. Not only can vehicle failure in any of these areas lead to a costly repair bill but finding yourself stranded on the road can be dangerous.
While you can take steps to keep your car maintained during the winter, some accidents or breakdowns are simply unavoidable. Make sure you have a fully charged cell phone and carry an emergency kit in your vehicle equipped with essentials such as extra jackets, blankets, nonperishable food items, heating pads, bottled water, and flares. It is also a great idea to keep a contact list for roadside assistance companies should you ever need help.
Drive with Confidence This Winter
The best tip for preventing winter car issues is to keep up with your vehicle’s regular maintenance. Anytime you notice problems with your transmission, engine, brakes, or other parts listed above, contact your local AAMCO to help take care of any issues before they become dangerous and costly problems.
As you continue to learn more about how your vehicle operates and how to avoid issues, you will increase your confidence in your vehicle and your ability to navigate any situation safely.