The 4 Most Common Cold Weather Car Problems

A car driving in the desert sun that could be sustaining warm weather damage unknowingly.

Winter weather can wreak havoc on your car. Whether it’s slippery tires from icy roads or thickening fluids from subzero temps, the winter months come with a host of potential vehicle problems. 

Minimize damage to your vehicle and prevent emergencies that occur in colder weather by taking preventive measures before weather conditions get too extreme. Below are the four most common winter weather car issues and step you can take to avoid them.

1) Dead battery

Freezing weather reduces your battery’s capacity, mostly due to an increased power demand from starter motors and accessories like headlights and windshield wipers. Extreme cold weather can make your car battery work harder for your car not just to start, but also to continue operating. Signs of a dying/dead battery include:

  • Engine is slow to crank (i.e. start up) or won’t crank at all
  • “Check engine” light is on
  • Electrical equipment is inoperable

Preventative measures:

  • Get your battery tested each time you do a routine service, especially before temperatures plummet.
  • Park your car in a garage during frigid temps, if possible.
  • Don’t overuse electrical equipment such as your heater, headlights or rear screen demister.

2) Flat tires

Cold temperatures cause rubber to contract, resulting in more space between rubber and rim. It's this extra space that allows air to leak out of the tire. For every 10 degrees that outside temperatures drop, tires can lose up to one pound per square inch (PSI). Your vehicle may have reduced tire pressure or flat tires if:

  • The steering and tread feel off or uneven
  • The “check engine” light is on
  • The car’s speed reduces for no apparent reason
  • The tires look deflated

Preventative measures:

  • Get new tires before colder temperatures hit. If you live in a place with extreme winter weathers, consider replacing regular tires with snow tires.
  • An alternative to buying snow tires is to put snow chains on regular tires–check for any local regulations regarding snow chains.
  • Check tire pressure more often and add pressure when tires start to feel deflated.

3) Thickened fluids

As temperatures drop, car fluids (antifreeze, oil, transmission) start becoming thicker and more viscous.

Signs of thickening/thickened fluids include:

  • Lack of smoothness when operating car
  • Car overheating
  • Malfunctioning car equipment

Preventative measures:

  • Switch to thinner fluids in winter.
  • Replace/change fluids to their appropriate levels before temperature levels drop.
  • After starting your engine, let your car idle for up to a few minutes before driving to allow fluids to warm up.

4) Coil/compression springs

Coil springs (sometimes referred to compression springs) are a mechanism designed to store energy, then release when called upon to absorb shock. This provides stability to the car and prevents damages that might otherwise occur from constant impact with the road.

The metal that makes up a coil spring may weaken during wintertime, making it easier to break under too much pressure (e.g. extremely bumpy roads). Signs of worn/broken coil springs may include:

  • Excessive car bouncing when driving over bumps
  • Car may not be "even"; it may lean lower on one side
  • Lack of smoothness in car's handling 

Preventative measures:

  • Drive slower, especially on bumpy roads.
  • Avoid driving over bumps, potholes, and uneven surfaces if possible.