6 Ways Winter Is Tough on Your Car

You probably shouldn't let your car end up like this. motorangel/Shutterstock

Driving in winter can be hazardous, with snow reducing your visibility and ice making the roads so slippery. Your car shouldn't add to your winter woes, but the elements can conspire against you and your auto.

Preventive maintenance is essential year round, but this is especially true in winter. If you spent the warmer months slacking, you can still take some steps now to combat winter's harsh effects. Here are six ways that winter weather can wear on your car and how you can fix them.

1. Be aware of your battery. Batteries are crucial to your car's overall ability to function, and keeping an eye on it in the winter is particularly important. When the temperatures get really cold, batteries can't deliver as much current as they're supposed to. This is particularly the case if your battery is getting on in age. While you should change your battery every three to five years, depending on where you live and how much you drive, a battery that worked OK in warmer months can cause some winter morning woes. Be sure to also check your battery for any corrosion, and double check the spark plugs.

Keeping your car warm is the key to keeping your battery happy. About 30 degrees Fahrenheit is the lowest temperature a battery can handle. As such, parking your car in a garage, heated or unheated, will likely help your battery survive the below-freezing temperatures. If you don't have access to a garage, Your Mechanic suggests parking under an open carport near a warm building, or even under a tree — just that much cover can make a difference the next morning.

A motorist pours antifreeze into a car during winter
Antifreeze is an important part of keeping your car functioning during the winter. Syda Productions/Shutterstock

2. Auto fluids need all the help they can get in the cold. Cold temperatures can also make your car's fluids — such as the oil, antifreeze, brake, transmission and wiper fluids — less efficient. Oil can become thicker, and that will impair its ability to do its job making sure parts move as they're supposed to. So be sure your car's fluids are at recommended levels.

For oil, consider something with a lower viscosity than you might otherwise. A 5W-20 or -30 oil should do the trick, according to the Chicago Tribune, but check your auto's owner's manual first to see what the manufacturer recommends. As for the antifreeze, a 50/50 mix of water and the coolant should be fine, but make sure it's half of each; you don't want too much water in the mix since that will increase the chances of the fluid freezing.

The same holds true for windshield wiper fluid. Windshield wiper fluid intended for winter has more alcohol in it than water, which lowers the freezing risk and the risk of your windshield getting covered in sludgy cleaning fluid. Popular Mechanics suggests using methyl alcohol as a last resort if you can't find a winter fluid mix.

And while you shouldn't worry about your gasoline freezing, keeping a full tank of gas in the car will help prevent any condensation that can build up in the fuel system from freezing. Frozen condensation can make it more difficult for the fuel to get to where it needs to go.

Snow-covered cars along a winter street
It'll take more than just the wipers to get the snow off these windshields. Pekka Nikonen/Shutterstock

3. Windshield wipers aren't always enough for winter weather. Speaking of windshields, those wipers may just not be up to the task of removing snow or ice. Wintry materials may tear the rubber on the wipers, according to Toyota of North Charlotte, rendering the blades pretty useless for making sure you can see between the rain and snow.

Weather-worn blades should be replaced, and you should use some other method for removing snow and winter grime from your windshield. Your standard windshield scraper should work just fine. If you need to actually wash your windshield — and you should, if you just put on new wipers — avoid using hot water if the windshield is frozen; this could cause the windshield to crack. Wheels.ca recommends alcohol-based sprays or just normal rubbing alcohol to safely clean off your windshield.

Tires with snow in the treads on a snowy day
Your tires can help keep you safe on winter roads, so make sure they're up to snuff. Anna Grigorjeva/Shutterstock

4. Tires perform better with some pressure. As the cold temperatures compress the air, so too will it compress the air in your tires. For every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the weather dips, your tires lose one pound per square inch of pressure. According to Car Talk, tire pressure is important for braking, cornering and your car's overall stability — all things that are important on icy roads. Too much pressure and your tires bounce off the road. Too little pressure and they'll get worn down and overheat. Check your car's ideal tire pressure in the owner's manual.

Additionally, you may want to consider winter tires. All-season tires can be fine in winter if they have adequate treads, but if you're an particularly snow- or ice-prone area, winter tires will serve you better as they are designed specifically to handle those conditions.

A salt truck applies salt to an icy road
Road salt is great for safety but can be too much for your car's undercarriage. Paolo Bona/Shutterstock

5. Road salt can cause issues for your car. Ah, road salt. This mixture commonly deployed on streets before or after snow and ice have arrived lowers water's freezing point, making it easier for the ice to melt. It also helps provide some limited traction on slippery roads. Repeated exposure to salt, however, can lead to rust, especially to your vehicle's undercarriage, which faces the most exposure. The result can be rusted or corroded exhaust systems, mufflers and brake systems, among other parts.

Keeping the underside of your car safe from salt isn't easy, especially if you're in an area that frequently uses road salt. AccuWeather has two suggestions. The first is keeping your car clean during the winter months by taking it to car washes that have an under-spray. This reduces the chance for the salty mix to eat away at the car. The second is taking the car to a collision shop before winter begins to have the underside of the car treated with an oil spray that combats the salt.

A car idles by a snow-covered road
Letting your car warm up before driving it in the winter isn't necessary these days. Khanov Ilnar/Shuttering

6. Warming up your car before you get start driving. If you drive anything made before the late 1980s, you need to warm up the engine a bit to get it going. Those were the days of carbureted engines that relied on getting the correct mix of air and fuel into the engine. But now we have fuel injectors and sensors that make sure enough fuel gets into the engine, and they do it under a minute. So letting the car idle for a stretch of time is relatively pointless. The best way to warm up your engine is to just start driving. You don't want to immediately gun it all the way up to 60 or 70 mph, but a steady low speed will get your engine purring in no time, no matter how cold it is.

The benefits to this are financial and environmental. It may be cold in the car when you get in there, but a little bit of chill is a small price to pay for a car that takes a winter storm in stride.