Skip to content

Freeze Warning: How Does Cold Weather Affect Your Car?

A warning sign on a digital board during a snowstorm. Winter doesn't just make it difficult to get around, but colder temperatures can have a drastic effect on your car.

Wondering how does cold weather affect your car? You’ve almost certainly noticed changes in your vehicle’s behavior once winter weather sets in, but there may also have been a few things that happen behind the scenes of your commute that aren’t as immediately obvious. Let’s take a quick look at how the plunging thermometer can impact your automobile.

Reduced Fuel Mileage

When asking how does cold weather affect your car, you might not have thought to check your fuel bill — but unfortunately, it’s one of the areas where winter can have the greatest effect. Gasoline engines operate far less efficiently the further past freezing you go, especially during their initial warm-up period. In fact, during short winter trips, a motor may not ever reach standard operating temperature, causing it to use considerably more fuel than it would on a summer’s day.

Dead Batteries

Cold temperatures are murder for car batteries. The cold is one of the most common reasons for a battery losing its charge and leaving motorists stranded, due to the manner in which the chemical reaction inside the battery is slowed. By zero degrees, a battery could be down to as little as 60 percent of its original charge, which might not be enough amperage to turn over your engine when you hit the ignition.

Flat(ish) Tires

Car in snow, but how does cold weather affect your car?

When any matter gets cold, it contracts — and this is true of the air molecules inside your vehicle’s tires, too. The colder it gets, the more chance you have of running on partially deflated tires, which can lead not just to reduced fuel mileage, but also increased wear and less grip and handling capability in emergency situations. If your tire looks a little low on a particularly frigid morning, that’s not an optical illusion — that’s a tire that needs a shot of air.

Frozen Fuel

Moisture in your vehicle’s fuel lines is never a good thing, regardless of the season, as it can eventually corrode lines, pumps and other components. In the winter, however, moisture easily turns into ice, and those ice crystals can block the intake of a fuel pump to the point where you can’t get your vehicle started in the morning. Cold weather hard starts — especially if the tank is nearly empty, allowing moisture to condense and accumulate inside of it — can often be traced back to iced up lines and pumps.

Winter isn’t an easy season for cars, as cold weather can affect your vehicle’s fuel system, tires, battery and fuel economy. If you’re planning on winterizing your car, focusing your attention on these items will help you avoid a poorly-timed breakdown during a snowstorm.

Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how cold weather affects your car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *