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Cold Weather Damage to Cars: 5 Unexpected Hazards

A parked car covered in snow

Cold weather damage to cars can happen in ways you might not be able to predict when the temperatures first start to slide in the early winter months. Fortunately, most of the potential headaches brought on by the mercury dropping can be headed off by proper maintenance and by staying alert to the signs your vehicle gives you that things might need a little extra attention.

Check out these five unexpected hazards related to cold weather driving.

1. Frozen Engine Block

Not adding enough coolant to your vehicle is one of the primary ways cold weather damage to cars occurs. Although antifreeze is intended to resist winter’s chill, the mixture between coolant and water in your car’s radiator is crucial to avoiding any freezing in cold temperatures. If there’s not enough antifreeze present, you could be looking at extensive engine damage, up to and including a cracked block, as the water in the cooling passages freezes and expands.

A simple coolant testing tool is the easiest way to determine just how long your antifreeze mixture can go before it starts to ice up. If it’s not ready to face the predicted nighttime lows in your area, then it’s time to add more antifreeze to the mix.

2. Brittle Trim and Plastic

Smiley face on windshield

Cold weather damage to cars can happen in a moment of carelessness when something that wouldn’t have been a problem during the summer suddenly leads to replacing parts. Low temperatures can make trim pieces inside and outside your vehicle much more brittle than normal, especially if they’re made of plastic, which makes them more vulnerable to snapping or cracking. Take extra care when cleaning snow off of your vehicle, especially around headlights, chrome and taillights.

3. Dead Batteries

Old batteries with weak cells are easy prey for Old Man Winter. Although battery life averages three years in cold climates, testing your battery’s resilience every fall will prevent you from a nasty no-start surprise on a chilly morning. You may also want to consider investing in a basic block heater to ease the cranking load on the battery.

4. Thickened Fluids

Just like your muscles might feel stiff in winter’s cold, the oil, transmission fluid and power steering fluid resist movement in subzero weather. Thickened fluids take longer to warm up to operating temperature when it’s freezing outside, which means you need to be more mechanically sympathetic than normal for those first few miles. Expect stiffer shifts and a more resistant steering wheel, and keep the revs down until the temperature gauge reads warm.

5. Torn Wipers

The rubber on your wiper blades is rugged enough to deal with road grit and grime, but it’s still vulnerable to freezing up in the wintertime. One of the less serious types of cold weather damage to cars, a wiper blade that’s stuck to the windshield can often tear when pulled away from the glass, causing it to streak and smear when in use. Keep an eye on your blades and replace as needed.

Winter can be a drag, but it doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your car. Pay attention to warning signs and give your vehicle the maintenance it needs before damage becomes serious.

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on different types of cold weather damage to cars, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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