Winter is here. That means we can expect a few months of cold temperatures. The Houston area is warmer than most places. However, we can still get frigid temps. It goes from very hot to freezing in just a few hours. These temperature swings can be difficult for our cars and trucks.
Here are some common cold weather problems and how to fix them.
Car batteries do not work as well in the cold. They lose ¼ of their power went temps drop below freezing, and the colder it gets, the more power they lose. In freezing climates, people have battery blankets, warms, trickle chargers, and other ways to keep their batteries functional. In Houston, most of us do not have those things.
The newer the battery, the less likely you will have this problem. So, if your battery is getting old, you may want to start the season with a new one.
If you find yourself with a dead battery, you can try jumpstarting it. Jumpstarting should start most cars. If you do not have a pair of jumper cables in your car, you should consider carrying them. Even if your battery is new, you may be able to help someone out.
To jumpstart a car, you need to get the batteries as close as possible. Usually, this means hood-to-hood. However, some vehicles have their batteries in their trunks.
Next, turn off all the accessories in both cars. That maximizes the power flow. Then, shut off the ignitions and remove the keys. It is a good idea to set the emergency brake.
Find the battery terminals in both cars. Battery terminals are metal posts on the battery. They have a positive and a negative terminal. The positive terminal often has a red cap. If unsure, check the vehicle manual or the internet to find the battery layout. You want to make sure you have the terminals correctly identified before proceeding.
Once you find the terminals, check if the cables are loose. A loose cable can keep your car from starting!
If the battery terminals are corroded, you want to clean them before attempting to jumpstart the car. You can remove corrosion easily, but do not use your bare hand. Soda, especially cola, can help you remove decay. It is not the ideal cleaner, but it works in a pinch to clean the terminals before jumpstarting the car.
Your jumper cables will have two clamps at each end. The clamps are red (positive) and black (negative/ground). You can use either end on the dead or the charging battery. Do not let the clamps touch while you are attaching them.
It is essential to then attach the clamps securely in the following order
- Red clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery
- Other red clamp to the positive terminal of the charging battery
- Black clamp to the negative terminal of the charging battery
- Black clamp to an unpainted metal part on the engine of the car with the dead battery
Once you have securely attached all clamps, start the engine that is providing the power. Then, start the vehicle with the dead battery. It may not start immediately. If not, let the charging battery run for a few minutes. You can press the accelerator (with the car in park or neutral and the parking brake engaged) to speed up the process.
Disconnect the jumper cables after the car starts or if it is clear that the dead battery will not start. You disconnect in the opposite order that you connected. Remember not to let the clamps touch while you are doing this. Remove
- Black clamp from the unpainted metal part on the engine of the car with the dead battery
- Black clamp from the negative terminal of the charging battery
- Red clamp from the positive terminal of the charging battery
- Red clamp from the positive terminal of the dead battery
Once you start the dead battery, driving the car for at least 20 minutes is essential. The longer you go, the more the alternator can charge it. When you park, make sure you can get another vehicle in to jumpstart your car if the battery dies again. If you have to jumpstart your vehicle more than once, it is time to test your battery. You probably need a new one.
Your battery is not the only thing that can lose power in the cold. Spark plugs can corrode and lose power. That can mean your car will not start. Of course, a dead battery, alternator, or starter can cause the same problems. If trying to jumpstart the vehicle does not help, it may be time to call a tow truck.
A mechanic can check your spark plugs and see if they are good. Of course, you can have us check your spark plugs before the cold weather arrives.
Low Tire Pressure
Another common cold-weather problem is low tire pressure. Tire pressure (PSI) drops 1 to 2 points every 10 degrees. So, an overnight cold front can mean low tire pressure in the morning. So can a trip to a colder place.
The best solution is to have a tire pump in your car. You can use an air compressor or portable pump to get your tires to normal pressure. Your recommended PSI is on a label on the driver-side door jamb. You can also drive to a nearby gas station to add air to your tires. However, if your tire pressure warning (TPMS) light goes off again, get your tire checked. Something other than the cold could be causing the problem.
You want your windshield wipers in good shape for the winter. Freezing rain can stick to your windshield. While it does not often happen in Houston, you want to be prepared if it does. Start the season by checking out your wiper blades. If they are older or beginning to show signs of wear, go ahead and replace them.
If we get a freak snow or ice storm, flip for windshield wipers up. That prevents them from freezing to the window. Once you defrost the window, flip them back down.
However, take care when defrosting the windshield. You will see some bad advice about how to defrost your car window. Never use hot water – you can crack your windshield or windows.
In areas with lots of cold weather, cars corrode faster. The cold does not cause corrosion, but the salt they use to melt ice and snow does. Here, we rarely need to salt the roads. However, if we do, it is crucial to wash the salt off your car. That is as simple as going through a car wash that cleans your chassis. You should also do this if you are road-tripping to colder climates where you will encounter road salt!
Most of your vehicle’s fluids should be able to handle low temps. If you have been using coolant without antifreeze, you may need to add antifreeze to your system. You also want a windshield wiper fluid that performs in low temps. Plus, even if you use regular oil the rest of the year, consider a full synthetic for the winter. Their lower freezing point avoids coagulation, which can be a problem in diesel vehicles.
Belts and Hoses
Belts and hoses are usually rubber and plastic. Both can get brittle in cold weather, leading to breaks or snaps. The best way to avoid this is to have them checked out before the cold weather. If you suspect a broken belt or hose, you must be honest about your DIY skills. Some people can change a belt or hose on the side of the road. Others cannot. Misjudging which one you are can lead to even bigger problems. So, when in doubt, call a tow truck or mobile mechanic.
If it seems like your infotainment screen is slower in cold weather, it is not your imagination. Freezing temps can slow down the crystals. Fortunately, this is a temporary problem. Once your car warms up, your screen should run at its average speed.
Avoid Winter Problems
If you want to avoid car problems this winter, bring your vehicle in for a checkup. We inspect its parts and tell you if we notice anything broken or worn. You can get the repairs or replacements ahead of time, helping you avoid car trouble this winter.