Cars, like people, don’t function as well in cold weather. With another arctic air mass hitting the Midwest, temperatures are expected to bottom out at 20 degrees below zero on Monday and Tuesday nights, with a wind chill warning through Wednesday morning. Wind chill is expected to be 40 below.
Your car doesn’t like it anymore than you. Because most employers frown on hibernating, we’ve compiled a list of subzero precautions to increase the odds of your car functioning in extremely ridiculously arctic temperatures.
If you don’t have time to visit the mechanic, there are some things you can do on your own to optimize your vehicle’s performance.
Change the battery. Mechanics recommend changing it every 3 years, though you could get away with 5 years, depending on how much you drive and how you drive. If you see a mechanic, have him or her check the battery and replace the spark plugs.
Make sure the cables are not loose. With the engine off, see if the cables can slip free from the nodes. Don’t yank, but be firm. Tightening the nut is easy to do and can save you from a mid-drive battery loss that requires you to get out of the car and take off your gloves.
Check for corrosion. If there is a white powder, not unlike the dead skin of dried winter hands, around the nodes or the clamps then that could be a sign of corrosion. If you can’t get a new battery, then at least clean the nodes and clamps with baking soda, water and a toothbrush. Loosen the cables, clean the nodes and clamps, then dry it and retighten.
Under the hood:
While you’re there, check the status of your S belt, or serpentine belt. It’s the big one that is immediately visible at the front of the engine. The visible, or back side, has grooves like a tire. If they’re cracked or worn, then it might be time to consider changing it so it doesn’t snap in cold cold cold weather.
Fill your fluids:
Spend a buck and get a “winter blend” type of windshield wiper fluid. Winter blends have a greater concentration of alcohol and less water, so less likely to freeze.
Fill your antifreeze. If it hasn’t been flushed in a few years, then it could use it. Green-colored antifreeze is the most common; whichever color you choose, don’t mix colors. Coolant and antifreeze are interchangeable terms. Coolant is typically sold premixed, that is it is half water, half antifreeze, as it needs to be. Antifreeze can be pure and needs to be mixed. Check the bottle; it’ll tell you.
Check your oil. If it’s due for a change, consider refilling it with a lower viscosity oil. On the bottle it lists two numbers, or grades, the first for low temperature viscosity, the second for high temperature. 10W-30 is a common designation. The higher the number, the more viscous, or thick it is, the less fluid it is especially in cold temps. So you might want to consider 5W-20 or-30. That ‘W’ stands for winter, according to Valvoline and other sources.
Visibility is key in all forms of driving, but winter conditions can limit visibility, and not just because of your faux-fur hood. If your blades have done just a mediocore job with the snow, it’s only going to get worse with the freeze. Winter wipers do a better job of swatting away moisture and can be had for under $20 for the pair.
Having the correct tire pressure is essential for proper handling. A temperature change of just 10 degrees can cause a ten percent reduction, or constriction, of air in tires. So tire pressure can be affected from day to night temperature. Check the optimal tire pressure of your vehicle on the label inside the driver’s door frame or in the owner’s manual. DO NOT USE THE PSI on the TIRE! That’s max capacity for the tire, not for your car’s specific load.
Additional preventative measures:
Some mechanics recommend adding a can of Heet or other fuel-line antifreeze to the gas tank to eliminate water from the fuel lines. If your fuel lines are already frozen, this won’t help.