Tips for avoiding car trouble when it's cold and snowing

Extremely cold temperatures can often lead to car issues, like dead batteries, fluids thickening, underinflated tires, and more. Here are some common car problems you should watch out for this winter, and what to do if you encounter them.

Dead batteries

Extreme heat or cold can increase your battery’s rate of discharge, according to Advance Auto Parts. While summer heat often evaporates the water in the electrolyte mixture, winter temperatures slow the chemical reactions inside the battery.

“People often have battery issues when it’s cold, because it takes more power to turn the starter,” said Eric Sarrow, the service manager at Blatt Tire & Auto Repair. “You should check your charging system before the winter, because the cold is really tough on electrical systems.”

It’s always a good idea to have your battery tested before the winter, but some common signs of a dying battery are dim headlights, an unusual-sounding horn, or a smell of sulfur or rotten eggs.

One way to avoid dead batteries is to keep your car in a garage for the winter, even if it’s not heated. But if you find yourself dealing with a dead battery, you can always try to start it with a set of jumper cables attached to a running car’s battery before calling the tow truck.

Tire pressure

Another issue that car owners frequently run into is underinflated tires, according to Sarrow. Most tires lose about 1 pound per square inch (psi) for every 10 degrees of temperature dropped.

“When something is cold, it’ll contract,” he said. “So if you go from 80 degrees to 40 degrees, you’re going to lose a few pounds of pressure. That’s why, when a cold snap happens, it’s important to add some air to your tires.”

It’s especially important to make sure your tires are properly inflated, because of all the snow and ice that will be on the roads this weekend. Many gas stations are equipped with air pumps. Check out www.freeairpump.com for a gas station near you that pumps air for free.

Prevention

Unfortunately when it’s this cold, there’s not a lot you can do about avoiding cold-weather car issues. Problems your car already has will likely be exacerbated, or you’ll notice ones that weren’t there when the weather was warmer.

If you’re afraid that the fluids in your car will freeze, you can purchase an engine oil heater. Another thing you want to make sure you have are good wiper blades and a full washer bottle, according to Jonathan Kisela, the assistant store manager at Meineke Car Care Center.

“You want to be able to get all the ice and salt off your windshield without breaking your wipers,” he said.

Getting your antifreeze checked is another important to-do. Antifreeze usually lasts between three and five years.

Kisela also stressed the importance of having a full tank of gas in this weather, since gas lines can freeze when it’s this cold. Cars are 12 percent less fuel efficient in the cold, which is only exacerbated if you let your car idle to heat up, a common myth. Your car only needs 30 seconds of idling before you start (gently) driving, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Your engine will actually heat up faster while it’s moving. The EPA also recommends taking off roof racks or other accessories that would cause wind resistance.

“The most important thing you can do is to regularly check your car before the cold happens,” Sarrow said. “Being preventative about this kind of thing is really the best approach.”