Debunking 5 Cold-Weather Car Myths
Cold out, eh? Feeling a little overwhelmed by the frigid
weather? Tired of not being able to see out of the windshield, of sliding all
over the road? PM's winter guru Mike Allen, born and raised in Michigan's snowy
Thumb, answers cold-weather queries and debunks winter car myths.
1) "Will carrying sandbags in your trunk really improve
Well, that depends on what you drive. Back in the days when
the average car was a front-heavy, rear-drive sedan with marginal bias-ply
tires, sure, a hundred pounds of ballast might have made the difference to help
you crest that snowy hill. Most cars today are front- or or even all-wheel
drive, and even today's big rear-drive iron has a better weight distribution
and way better radial all-season tires. Ballast in the trunk will only hinder
traction on front-drive cars and is likely to make you oversteer on slippery
surfaces. If you must ballast your rear-drive car or truck, add the ballast as
far forward as possible; you'll still get the traction but not the extra mass
so far back.
2) "My mom was telling me how everyone at her office
goes out at lunch to run their cars for 10 minutes or so, the theory being that
if it starts at lunch, it will start after work. True or False? Is this good
If the car starts in the morning after cold-soaking all
night, it certainly should start after 8 hours parked in the office parking
lot. If you've got a garage baby that won't start after a day out-of-doors and
needs to be started every 4 hours, maybe it's time to change the plugs and get
it running right. If you start a cold engine and idle it for 10 minutes every
day, you stand the chance of diluting the oil with unburned fuel that never
gets a chance to burn off. That could cause premature engine wear--not to
mention needlessly burning up some expensive gasoline.
3) "I don't know if it's because "anything that can
go wrong, will go wrong" but why do so many batteries die during the
winter? I know a few people that have had car batteries die, two of them
because the cables came loose. Is this just a coincidence or is it a result of
Winter is tough on batteries, for two main reasons. The
engines are far harder to turn over because all the oil inside them has turned
to molasses. This demands much more current from a battery, and to add insult
to injury, that battery cannot produce its normal amount of energy because of
the cold. The chemical reactions that generate electricity are slower at a
lower temperatures. Your point about cables loosening is partially related. The
huge current demands of the starter motor--200 to 400 amps--can cause the
battery clamps to heat up if the connection at the clamp to post isn't perfect.
When the car starts, the connection will cool off. And that leaves a poor
connection. And a poor connection can prevent the battery from getting fully
charged. A discharged battery, unlike one that's fully charged, can freeze,
damaging it internally.
That said, while more cars won't start on cold winter
mornings, more batteries actually fail during the summer months, when intense
heat cooks out the electrolyte, boiling the battery dry.
4) "I noticed that after a few days of heavy snow, the
wiper squirters stopped working. I thought it was because they had frozen. My
aunt says it's because of sediment in the tank that clogged it. What's the
likely cause, and how do you prevent it?"
The washer nozzles would freeze right away, not after a few
days of subzero temps. And the sediment your aunt is sure is in the reservoir
would clog up the nozzles regardless of the temperature. It's probably snowmelt
reflux. Normally, there's a check valve in the washer-nozzle line to keep that
blue fluid (actually just alcohol and some dye) in the lines after you stop
washing the windscreen. If the check valve goes bad, the fluid will run back
into the reservoir when you stop running the pump. And it can suck melted snow
or ice back into the nozzle. Replacing the check valve usually fixes this.
5) "When it's really cold, the windshield wipers
accumulate ice no matter how well I scrape them and even when I have the heat
on high, blasting the windshield. In the middle of my commute, the wipers will
start streaking, greatly reducing visibility. Is there anything I can do to
prevent this? Additives to my fluid? Special wiper blades?"
Extreme weather can overpower the freezing point of the
washer fluid, turning it to slush on your windshield. So, the most important
thing is to keep the windshield as warm as possible by turning the defroster on
to the warmest temperature setting and highest fan speed. Fresh wiper blades
might help, or at least try cleaning the blades that you have of accumulated
road film by wiping them with mineral spirits and a paper towel. Treating the
windshield with Rain-X will leave less washer fluid on the glass to freeze. As
a last resort, use methyl alcohol instead of washer fluid in the tank. Washer
fluid is already 40 percent methyl alcohol and 60 percent water. If you
increase the concentration of alcohol, it will depress the freezing point. You
can buy methyl alcohol in the paint department of the hardware store, or
sometimes you can find it in the housewares section of a big-box store, labeled
as fuel for chafing dishes. Just pour it into the washer reservoir.
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Written by Mike Allen Jan 27, 2009 @ 7:00 PM Cars Automotive