University of Missouri Extension
Cold weather is hard on cars and trucks, but a little preparation will keep vehicles running well throughout winter’s coldest days.
A simple checklist starts with the battery. A cold car battery can’t deliver as much current. If your car has an aging battery, you might want to have it load tested to see if it will be up to the job. “It should have at least 12.5 volts measured across the terminals,” said Bob Schultheis, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist.
“A load tester, available at auto parts stores, may be a worthwhile purchase for checking sealed, maintenance-free batteries,” Schultheis said. “Many auto parts stores will test batteries for free or for a nominal charge.”
If the battery cell caps are removable, pry them off and check the acid level. Add distilled water until the liquid “puckers” in the fill hole of each cell. Replace the caps, then either use a battery trickle charger overnight or run the engine for 15-20 minutes at road speed to restore the battery charge.
Corrosion can build up on the battery terminals, making the vehicle hard to start. Remove the battery cables and clean any white or green corrosion from the terminals, cable ends and battery top using a paste of baking soda and water, Schultheis said. Rinse with water and dry the battery surface. Scrape away oxide buildup on the electrical connections using a wire brush, sandpaper or knife. Reattach the cables and spread a thin film of grease on the connections to slow future corrosion.
Motorists often overlook antifreeze maintenance until the radiator freezes up or the car overheats. Experts recommend flushing engine coolant every two years and replacing any radiator hoses and engine drive belts that are more than 4 years old to avoid sudden failures. Check the owners’ manual for the proper antifreeze and refill the radiator with a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water to restore engine protection to minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tires can also cause problems as temperatures fall. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires lose about a pound per square inch of air pressure. If you last refilled tires when temperatures were above 90 degrees, at near-freezing temperatures your tires will be running at least 5 psi low, increasing tire wear and reducing gas mileage.
“For the best ride, inflate to the pressures recommended in the vehicle owners’ manual or on the driver’s door frame,” advised Schultheis. “Better gas mileage is possible at higher pressures, but do not inflate beyond the maximum pressure printed on the tire sidewall.”
During periods of cold weather, change the engine oil and filter according to the “severe service” maintenance schedule in the vehicle owner’s manual. “Use a multigrade oil such as SAE 10W-30 or 5W-20 to give easier winter starting. The owners’ manual will give the recommended SAE grade and API service classification number,” Schultheis said.
Don’t forget windshield wipers. Check the washer nozzles for plugging and aim. Insert a straight pin in the nozzle to adjust aim. Replace weatherworn blades more than a year old. Scrub your windshield clean of grit and grime before running new blades to avoid damaging them. Replenish washer fluid with a solution that gives freeze protection.
If a car or truck continues to be a challenge to start, it’s probably time for a tuneup. Check or replace air, fuel and smog filters. Clean and re-gap spark plugs. Vacuum-check the engine and fine-tune any electronic carburetion or fuel injection controls.