Wearing coats, boots and hats helps protect you from howling winter winds and sub-freezing temperatures. You may not realize, however, that cold weather also affects cars. Knowing more about common vehicle issues that arise in winter and understanding how to handle them is essential. You can easily resolve some problems, while others may require professional service.

Here’s a list of frequent wintry weather issues for your car, what to do and tips for preventing them.

Dead battery/car won’t start

Starting your car on a chilly day only to find that the engine won’t turn over is frustrating. If the battery is older, it could be dead. Try jump-starting the vehicle. If it starts, you should drive the car to the nearest mechanic or service center to have the vehicle inspected and the battery replaced, if necessary.

If the battery is new, thick engine oil, a bad starter or alternator, faulty spark plugs or frozen fuel lines might cause the car not to start. Tow your car to the nearest service center or mechanic to accurately diagnose and resolve the problem.

Prevention tips: In a USA Today report, AAA Spokeswoman Marilyn Buskohl recommends getting a new battery every three years. To prevent spark plug failure, have them inspected during regular maintenance services and replace any corroded, worn or cracked plugs. To prevent frozen fuel lines, park the car in a warm location — like the garage — and keep the gas tank as full as possible to minimize excess air that leads to frozen lines.

Frozen windshield wipers

All drivers must rely on the windshield wipers to clear rain, ice and snow off the windshield while driving, and it’s impossible to drive in adverse weather conditions when they fail. Unfortunately, wipers wear over time and are especially subject to freezing, cracking or tearing during frigid weather. If you have faulty wipers, replace them as soon as possible.

Prevention tips: Always have the service tech check wiper and wiper blades during maintenance service to proactively identify and repair any issues. You can also opt to buy special wiper blades for winter use. Finally, before driving your car, clear ice and snow from the windshield and test the wipers to make sure they are working.

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Low tire pressure

Tire pressure changes as temperatures rise and fall. Per Firestone, tires gain or lose “1-2 PSI (pounds per square inch) for every 10 F change in temperature.” If the mercury plunges during a cold snap, blizzard or polar vortex, your tire pressure also drops and can lead to poor gas mileage, longer stopping time or tire damage.

Prevention Tips: In newer cars, pay attention to the low tire pressure warning lights. In older cars, visibly check your tires for deflation. Inflate low tires with an air pump at your nearest gas station (be sure to follow the recommended tire pressures in your vehicle owner’s manual). You can also take the car to a tire shop or service station for inspection and to get the tires inflated. If you live in a heavy snow region, you can also consider switching to snow tires for winter.

Frozen locks

Getting locked out of the car when water freezes in the locks is a frustrating, common winter weather vehicle issue. Trying to resolve the problem independently or calling roadside assistance for help can be time-consuming.

Don’t force a key to enter or turn inside the lock. Doing so can break the key off in the lock and damage the lock itself. According to Mr. Locksmith, don’t attempt to melt the ice with hot water, either. Instead, spray the lock de-icer into the lock or make your own de-icer “with 2 parts rubbing alcohol and to 1 part water.


Prevention Tip: To prevent locks from freezing, lubricate them with WD-40 to remove moisture.

Serpentine belt squeal or breakage

Per Firestone, the serpentine belt keeps multiple vehicle parts running smoothly, including the power steering pump, alternator and air conditioner. In newer cars under “ideal conditions,” serpentine belts can last 60,000 miles to 100,000 miles. Serpentine belts can fray, crack and wear over time. Older belts get brittle, and when it gets cold, they often squeal or break.

Prevention Tips: To avoid a vehicle breakdown and other unforeseen damage, the Car Care Council recommends checking the serpentine belt during routine maintenance and replacing it with any signs of wear or damage, or according to the vehicle owner’s manual recommended replacement schedule.

As you prepare for winter, recognizing and preventing common cold weather issues with your car can help keep you safe on the road and, hopefully, prevent costly, unexpected repair bills.

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