So far, 2014 has been a cold year, and many drivers are feeling the effects that freezing temperatures have on their vehicles. In addition to the many hazards of winter driving, cold weather can negatively impact cars even when they aren't being driven. Owning a vehicle is already expensive, with loan payments, auto insurance, and gas. Mechanical problems can quickly worsen in the cold, and they can slam car owners with even more bills. What are some warning signs to look for and what can motorists do to ensure that their cars last until spring?
Batteries are often the first to shut down
At one time or another, most drivers have hopped behind the wheel only to find their battery running dry or completely dead. This can be especially inconvenient in the winter months and even dangerous when temperatures drop below freezing. A recent article from the Clarendon-Courthouse-Rosslyn Patch explained why drivers encounter more problems with their batteries this time of year. If temperatures reach zero degrees, not only will a car battery lose 60 percent of its energy, but an engine will require twice as much power to start up. This is not a winning equation for winter drivers.
Auto experts are not exclusively blaming cold weather for the winter surge of car battery problems. Patch also cited the use of personal electronics as a big factor in the early deaths of batteries everywhere. While the average car battery used to last 3 to 5 years, that number has diminished as more people use their vehicles as four-wheeled power outlets for their smartphones, tablets, and GPS systems. Drivers wanting to maximize the lifespan of their batteries should charge their phones before hitting the road and memorize directions ahead of time.
"While the car battery does not 'run down' immediately if a device is being charged and the engine is not running, it's capacity over time can decrease from the cumulative effect of multiple devices drawing current from it," Jack Reynolds, AAA Mid-Atlantic's Battery Program Manager, told the news source.
Other car-killing effects of cold weather
According to Wheels.ca, a weakened battery is only one of many problems drivers face when temperatures drop. Issues can arise from anywhere in a vehicle when the winter freeze sets in. Motor oil may thicken, causing sluggish engine performance and increasing the likelihood of stalls. It is a wise move for drivers preparing for icy conditions to change their car's oil as well as antifreeze, braking, and steering fluids.
Wheels.ca also noted that engines run less efficiently and all-season tires can even harden to the point where they lose their grip on the road. These problems can be made worse by drivers who make many brief, repeated trips in a day. Starting a car too many times in a short time span can lead to cracked engine blocks, which is an expensive setback for any driver. While opting for complete winterization is an expensive option, it can be worth it in the long run when these problems are dealt with early on.