6 Common Problems Cars Can Experience in Cold Weather

Your car may be made up of two-plus tons of steel and metal, but that doesn’t mean it’s built to withstand cold or sub-zero weather.

Winter car maintenance can cause all sorts of headaches, such as dead batteries and tire problems. It's best to be prepared for the most common problems that may come this snowy season.

1) Dead battery

In freezing weather, your battery’s capacity is reduced, due mostly to an increased raw demand from starter motors and accessories like headlights and windshield wipers. In fact, if outside temperatures drop to -22 degrees, your car could lose up to 50% of its maximum battery potential. Extreme weather ultimately means your battery must work harder for your car to start.

Precautions you can take:

  • Always have jumper cables handy in the back of your car.
  • Buy a new car battery ahead of the season, especially if your current battery is over 3 years old (typical batteries last anywhere from 3 to 5 years).

2) Thickening fluid

Essential fluids that your car needs to work properly, such as antifreeze, oil, and transmission fluid, may become thicker in winter. This means dramatically reduced fluid mobility within your vehicle’s systems, which can cause any number of problems for your vehicle in the short- and long-term. 

Precautions you can take:

  • Change fluids to their appropriate levels before temperatures begin to plummet.
  • During freezing temperatures it’s recommended to let your car idle for up to 15 minutes to let fluids warm up.

3) Window wiper failure

Wiper blades are made of rubber and can tear easily and stop working as a result. This issue is amplified during winter, with the dramatic increase in rain, snow, hail, and/or sleet attacking your car’s windshield. Harsh weather can also freeze your washer fluid, rendering it useless.

Precautions you can take:

  • Always completely clear your windshield before activating your wiper blades.
  • If you know harsh weather is coming ahead of time, lift your wiper blades up and off the windshield to avoid them getting trapped under the excess snow.
  • Invest in strong winter blades, which are built specifically to handle extreme weather. These sell anywhere from $8 to $40, depending on size and quality, and can be purchased easily online.

4) Tire trouble 

Tires can face all sorts of issues during wintertime, including decreased pressure as temperatures become cooler, and poor traction as roads freeze and become icy. 

Precautions you can take: 

  • If you live somewhere with extreme winters like Minnesota or Michigan, it’s a good idea to replace all four tires with snow tires. These are better equipped to handle wintery conditions as they are designed to contribute to better grip and improved braking in the snow.
  • Install snow chains on your tires. Make sure to only install snow chains that are appropriate for your vehicle and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. (Some states prohibit snow tires, or may only allow them during certain time periods. Check here to see if there are any restrictions on snow tires in your state.)
  • Check your tire pressure more often and add pressure to your tires when they become low.

5) Corrosion from salt

Snowy roads usually go hand in hand with salty roads from road crews. While this helps prevent slipping, the salt can stick to your car and corrode its various mechanisms, particularly the underbelly, brakes, and wheel wells.

Precautions you can take:

  • During winter, get your car washed at least once a month to eliminate salt from the vehicle.
  • Be sure to not use a cloth to wipe away salt, since salt is rough and can easily scratch your car’s paint.

6) Frozen fuel lines

Wintry weather can produce condensation in your gas tank, creating water that freezes. This frozen water can ultimately prevent gas from feeding into your fuel line. The danger of freezing your fuel lines is increased when there is little or no gas left in your tank, as there’s more room for condensation to build up. 

Precautions you can take:

  • Don’t let your gas tank fall below half-full. Refill before or at that point.
  • You can also buy a gas line antifreeze and add it to your tank. Antifreeze can be purchased at most auto shops, gas stations, or online. Review the manufacturer’s information to ensure that the product is appropriate for your vehicle, and follow any manufacturer’s instructions for use. 

Guard against wintertime breakdowns

Sometimes even the best precautions can’t prevent unwanted car issues from happening. That's why the best defense can be a good offense for when the unexpected occurs. 

Vehicle Service Contracts (VSC) exist to help protect you against covered auto repair bills, which can quickly add up as your car is subjected more and more to extreme weather. So, as the snow falls this season, make sure you not only bundle up, but also cover your vehicle with a VSC plan to safeguard against the cost of potential cold weather breakdowns, repairs, and replacements. A deductible may apply. Keep in mind that breakdowns that occur before you buy a VSC aren’t covered, and many plans have a 30-day and 1,000-mile waiting period before coverage takes effect. See plan terms and conditions for full details of eligibility requirements, coverage exclusions, and claim limits.