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How Subzero Temperatures Effect Your Vehicle

Updated: Jan 30

The reality of living in the Midwest is that your car will be exposed to harsh winter weather each year. Here are some things to be aware of in the colder months, compliments of CarWise



Roughly two-thirds of all Americans live in states where below-zero temperatures are possible during winter. The Midwest is notorious for subzero temperatures and teeth-rattling wind chills. Not only are those frigid conditions hard on drivers, they can also have a devastating effect on a vehicle’s performance and appearance. Fortunately, it is possible to protect your ride by better understanding how subzero temperatures affect it in the first place. 

Bitter Cold Targets these Car Areas 

Your car’s engine, electrical system and fluids can all stop performing optimally once the temp dips below zero degrees Fahrenheit. In a nutshell, these are some vehicle areas that are vulnerable to bitter cold: 

Your Car Tires

For every 10 degrees the temperature drops, your tires lose 1 PSI (pounds per sqaure inch) of pressure. If you don’t check them regularly, your tires can get under-inflated and cause handling issues; not to mention the tread will wear out faster.  

The Vehicles Battery

Your battery’s electrical output can diminish by up to 50% once temperature drops below zero. The older your battery, the greater the odds that it won’t turn over one freezing cold morning when you’re already in a hurry. To ensure cold weather starts, keep all connections clean, tight and corrosion free. If your battery is over 3 years old, it’s probably time for replacement.

Oil For Your Car

The colder it is, the thicker your oil becomes. As temperatures near -20 F, engine oil can get so thick that the oil pump struggles to circulate it. Drivers in subzero climates should switch to a low-viscosity oil in the late fall based on manufacturer recommendations found in the owner’s manual. 

Your Cars Fuel Line

Gasoline itself won't freeze until temperatures reach -100 degrees F. However, any moisture trapped in your fuel tank can ice up and clog your fuel line when it’s 32 degrees or colder. One of the simplest ways to prevent that from occurring is keeping your gas tank at least half full all winter. On frigid days your gas mileage will drop because the engine is running less efficiently.


The Cars Exhaust System

When taking repeated short trips in extremely cold weather, your car’s engine typically doesn’t have enough time to warm up sufficiently and burn off water vapor. As a result, engine sludge can build up and pass through the exhaust system - causing it to prematurely rust.  

The Vehicles Engine Block

If your antifreeze is old, it may not protect the engine’s components from freezing like it should. This can cause cracking to the engine block, resulting in very costly damage. Always make sure that your engine has plenty of antifreeze and/or coolant in it by checking the overflow reservoir, and that it still offers protection down to -40 degrees F. 

Your Cars Windshield

Never pour hot water on your windshield to melt ice because the glass could crack. Blasting hot air from your defroster on a frozen windshield can also crack it, so de-ice yours instead with a commercially available deicer that’s specifically designed for auto glass. Ordinary rubbing alcohol is another safe deicing option. Subzero temperatures can also cause rubber windshield wiper blades to get brittle, crack and tear. 

LCD Display Screens For your Vehicle

If your vehicle has a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, it may get a little sluggish when your ride’s been sitting outside in extreme cold for a while. That’s because the molecules inside the liquid crystals slow down significantly when exposed to subzero temperatures. Unfortunately, other than installing an engine-block heater there’s not much you can do to speed up the screen until your engine heats up.   

These Car Repair Shops Have the Cure for Winter Car Accidents 

Golden Hammer Collision Center is I-CAR and ASE certified, which means they have the highly trained technicians, driver-trusted services and high-tech equipment to repair your vehicle promptly and reliably. We speak directly with insurance companies, so you don’t have to, and warranty their repair outcomes to put your mind at ease.

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