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Three Areas of Risk For Your Vehicle During Winter Weather

Story & Photography Provided by Dave Barnett, Owner, Christian Brothers Automotive Greenwood

Winter is here and the cold temperatures take their toll on various systems of cars and trucks. Below are three effects that arctic air has on your vehicle that could leave you out in the cold.

Battery

Your car relies on its battery to operate all its electrical systems. The largest demand on the battery is the energy required to start the engine. When temperatures drop, the ability of a standard lead-acid battery to produce electrical current decreases significantly. A battery that easily starts a car in a warm garage may fail to start the same car when it has been sitting outside for a while. Because of this, many people are surprised and confused when their car leaves them stranded on a cold afternoon. The condition of a battery can easily be tested with a battery load tester. Many local repair shops can test your battery for free. Take advantage of this service and replace a weak battery before it leaves you out in the cold.

Coolant

Even on the coldest winter day, after running for a while, your engine generates so much heat that it needs to be cooled. Engine coolant, often referred to as antifreeze, is liquid that transfers heat produced by the engine to the radiator, where it is convected into the air. While coolant does its work at relatively high temperatures while the engine is running, it must remain stable when the engine is dormant. This means the coolant must not freeze in cold temperatures – hence the name antifreeze. Coolant in good condition remains liquid at negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. When coolant breaks down, or when the water concentration is too high, the freezing point may rise to the point where the coolant freezes. When it freezes it expands, and when it expands, catastrophic failure can occur. Before your car will ever be left in cold temperatures, have the coolant tested. If the freezing point is too high, have the cooling system flushed and fresh coolant installed.

Tires

Some of the most critical parts of a car are the tires. They are responsible for transferring the forces responsible for accelerating, braking and turning. Maintaining the proper air pressure in your tires is important for optimizing these dynamic actions of your vehicle. As ambient air gets colder, the air pressure in your tires tends to drop. Under-inflated tires may become dangerously under-inflated when the thermometer dips. The rubber material of tires also tends to become harder and less pliable in cold weather, which means reduced traction, even in dry conditions. This means longer stopping distances and a greater likelihood of sliding while turning.

Check the air pressure in each tire, including the spare, regularly, and more often in the winter. Even if your car has a tire pressure monitoring system, it is wise to check the pressure occasionally with a tire gauge to ensure that the system is providing accurate measurements. Installation of dedicated winter tires is a great investment, as such tires are made with special rubber compounds that remain compliant in cold temperatures, and provide better traction than conventional all-season models.

With some basic precautions, your car should provide many safe and reliable miles in a winter wonderland. Happy Travels!

Dave Barnett is the owner and operator of Christian Brothers Automotive at 4985 West Smith Valley Road in Greenwood, Indiana. Dave is a mechanical engineer by trade, and he and his wife Colleene live in Greenwood with their two children, Haniah and Preston.

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