In the middle of winter, the last thing that you want to deal with is the fallout of not having done the proper winter car maintenance before parking your car. That might look like a dead battery. It could be engine damage due to cold exposed fluids. You might even put yourself at risk for little critters who nestled into your car for hibernation.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to think about when parking in winter than simply locking up and leaving your car. This season, why don’t we all tackle the winter car maintenance tasks together to avoid the more miserable winter driving tales? Here at Spacer, we’ve put together the ultimate winter car care guide so that you know exactly what needs to be done before you start to see snow, rain, and ice.
So, brew up your favorite warm winter beverage and let’s talk about car maintenance!
First, get to know your car battery
One of the most common car issues in winter is a dead battery. And it’s also one of the most frustrating. All you want to do is start the engine to blast the heat, but your car will simply not turn on.
Why does this happen?
Well, just like your cell phone and other electronics, car batteries are vulnerable to functioning issues when they’re exposed to cold. In fact, a car battery will lose around 60% of strength in temperatures of zero degrees.
But that’s not the whole explanation. The fact is, we tend to use up our batteries faster during the colder months. We turn the heat on high, we use our windshield wipers, and because of those short, gray days, we use our headlights and bright beams more often. All of this puts more of a strain on the battery.
So, you can see the problem. We’re asking a lot of batteries that are already weakened by the cold. Luckily, there are a few simple fixes.
For one, you’ll want to make sure that you park your car inside a garage if possible. And if you don’t have a garage of your own, you might consider renting one in your neighborhood. All over the US, from snowy Boston to freezing rain-filled Seattle, you can find affordable, warm parking options for your car through Spacer.
Another winter car care tip to save your battery would be to go easy on the battery-draining functions, especially when you’re just turning on the car. That means unplugging any electronics and waiting to turn on the seat warmers, heat, and infotainment systems.
Finally, don’t let your car sit for too long in the cold. Car experts suggest that when your car is in storage, you turn the engine on once a week to keep the battery from dying. But for winter car maintenance, you’ll want to do that more often – about once a day or every couple of days. And if that’s not possible, then a car parked in storage should have the car battery removed or plugged into a charger.
Winter parking can also affect your fluids
As we all know from our high school science classes, fluids change when exposed to cold. When it comes to your car, that could mean frozen fluids in the cooling system, decreased viscosity in your oil, and ice in the fuel line. Those all sound pretty bad, but how cold does it have to be for you to factor them into your winter car maintenance tasks?
Well, as you probably already guessed, if your region experiences freezing temperatures, ice accumulation is possible in your car. That’s why it’s important to make sure that your engine gets the appropriate winter car care. And while there are some tasks that you can do on your own, like topping off your coolant and making sure to add windshield washer fluid specially made for winter, it’s also a good idea to have a pro inspect the rest. They’ll be able to identify any leaks and provide some winter vehicle maintenance tips for your unique car.
Now, how about issues with oil? To be sure, oil tends to thicken in cold temperatures, and once you start dipping below zero degrees, you’ll notice a significant sluggishness in how your car operates after it’s been parked for a while. For most regions, there’s not a ton that you have to do about it, other than making sure to drive slowly until things are running smoothly again. Some car experts also suggest making the permanent switch to synthetic oils, which are less susceptible to thickening in the cold.
Finally, we come to fuel issues. As with oil, there’s not too much to worry about, unless you’re living in really extreme climates where the temperatures can drop to negative 100 degrees, at which point, even fuel will freeze. For the rest of us, just make sure to keep your tank filled at least halfway to reduce the risk of water moisture build up.
A quick physics lesson on winter tire pressure
We’ll keep it simple: hot air expands and cold air compresses. That’s the long and short of why your tire pressure tends to dip during the cold winter months. It’s also why checking your tire pressure more often, about once per week, is always on the list of winter car maintenance tasks. Otherwise, you could be dealing with handling issues on the road.
If your car is parked in storage, definitely check and fill your tires before driving again. In our recent article, What To Do With Your Car When You’re Not Using It, we talked about some of the other considerations to have in mind when parking your car in long term storage. The kind of “flat spotting” risk that we covered in that article will only be worse in the winter months. So, keep checking and keep refilling those tires as need be.
A few final winter car maintenance tips
We’ve covered the three big winter factors: the car battery, fluids, and tire pressure. There are just a few more things to think about when it comes to parking in winter:
Long term parking can attract hibernating critters. If you’re going to be leaving your car for a while, make sure to prevent nesting animals from making a home in your exhaust pipes by plugging them with aluminum foil or steel wool.
Put a winter car kit in your car before parking in long term storage. When you come back to your car after a while, you’ll want to know that you have everything you need for winter driving: snow chains, a shovel, an ice scraper, etc.
Remember the windshield ice removal no-no’s. If you come back to your car with a layer of ice and snow on the windshield, resist the temptation to pour hot water on it to make ice scraping easier. Glass tends to crack with extreme temperature changes.
Let go of the myth that you need to warm up your parked car before driving. Modern cars don’t need to sit idling in the garage for a half hour before driving. According to the Washington Post, that practice actually wastes gas without providing your car with any payoff. Instead, you can start driving within minutes of turning on the car, just take it easy on the gas pedal.
And that’s that! With these simple winter car care tasks, you can be ready to park your car this season! If you have more questions about winter car maintenance, or have some vehicle maintenance tips to share with us, reach out to the Spacer team!