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Five Ways Cold Can Damage Your Car

By Jenna Abate, Staff Writer
February 18, 2014; 4:42 AM ET
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Some mornings you sit in your car and it feels like an eternity before it warms up. Believe it or not, your car can be affected by the cold much faster than you can. As the temperature drops, so do your chances of your car running properly.

Mark Cox, school director of Bridgestone Winter Driving School, and Tom Deutcsh of Lindenhurst Long Island Firestone Complete Auto Care agree these are five problems to watch for this winter.

1. Your Battery Can Die in Colder Weather.

Have it tested. This will prevent going out to your car and finding a dead battery. Keeping vehicles in a garage is one definite way to ensure they will start in subzero conditions. However, if you don't have access to a garage, it's important to check the health of your vehicle's battery before the cold arrives.

Deutcsh advised, "A typical battery can last an average of about three years and usually can handle the cold. Extreme cold pulls voltage from a battery, making it harder for your car to start. A typical battery is most comfortable between 30 and 90 F, so anything below that lower end will give you trouble."

2. Fluids Thicken During Dropping Temperatures.

Check all your fluids. This includes oil, antifreeze, power steering, brake and transmission fluids.

"When it gets cold, fluids thicken and that will make it harder for your car to get the fluids it need to run properly. Transmission is a big one. That fluid in particular needs to flow quickly, and your car won't function if it flows at a slow pace," Deutcsh warned.

3. Cold Air Will Take a Toll on Your Tire Pressure.

Cox said that most tires lose 1 pound per square inch (psi) for every 10 F of temperature drop. So, checking inflation as the air gets colder is critical. For example, a fully inflated tire at 70 F is five psi under-inflated at 20 F. Under-inflated tires do not perform well and are subject to damage or failure especially in snow and icy conditions.

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Cox explained, "A new winter tire is obviously best for winter use, but in deep snow even a half-worn winter tire gives the performance of a new all-season tire. A half-worn all season tire gives the performance of a summer tire, and summer tires should never be used on winter roads."

4. Your Wipers and Washer Solvent Will Fail.

Make sure to clean the windshield of your car before turning on your wipers. A lot of wiper problems come from windshields not being cleared first and then being turned on. Deutcsh often sees customers with wiper-related issues.

"Blades get torn and wiper transmissions break because extreme weather can overpower the freezing point of the washer fluid. They are just rubber and pressure from snow, ice and slush will break them. That's why you see people with their wipers tilted up when a snow storm is coming."

"It's also a good idea to set the heater and fan controls on defrost and high before you turn the car off at night. This reduces the chance of breaking switches and knobs in extremely low temperatures," added Cox.

5. Spark Plug Reliability Weakens During Winter.

A bad spark plug, ignition component or clogged filter may cause your vehicle not to start. "As temperatures get colder, you'll have a hard start so a bad plug or wires will affect reliability," said Deutcsh. Be sure yours are in top shape come the winter months.

Cox and Deutcsh say that knowing these five winter car problems can help you become better prepared.

"This year, I've seen a lot more battery and start issues but I tell everyone if they had just gotten regular maintenance and check-ups maybe these problems could have been avoided," Deutcsh said.

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