Category Archives: wisconsin winter car tips

Why is my car slow to start in cold weather?

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woman trying to repair broken down carWhen the weather is frigid, it can be hard to convince yourself to head out into the freezing cold. It can even feel like your car doesn’t want to go out—especially when your car is slowly cranking. A car slow to start doesn’t have to be a normal part of cold weather; if it is, there are a few key reasons why your car starts slowly on a cold winter morning.

Why is a car slow to start in winter?

When the temperature drops, engine oil turns to the consistency of molasses. It takes more power to turn over an engine when the oil is sludge. If a battery is low on power, the result is the slow cranking of the engine on a cold morning. Eventually, the battery stops working.

Car batteries can decrease in power due to age or the heat. Summer heat can cause battery fluid to evaporate, damaging the battery’s internal part and decreasing battery performance. Older batteries can also lose power over time; car batteries should usually be replaced every 3-5 years. (Schedule an appointment to get a new battery installed.)

Slow cranking is only one sign of a dead battery. You can also tell if a car battery needs to be replaced if it needs to be jump started on a regular basis. Some cars also have a dashboard warning light that comes on when battery power is low.

In extremely rare cases, cars might not start in cold weather because of moisture in the fuel lines. Put simply, condensation can get into the fuel lines. The moisture can interrupt the flow of fuel and cause a slow start (or no start at all).

Older vehicles with carburetors can also have issues in the cold weather. This problem primarily occurs after the car has been sitting for a long time.

Sometimes, the slow start of a car has nothing to do with the cold weather. A slow-starting car can be caused by old spark plugs, which should be replaced every 30-100,000. (Ask your mechanic if it’s time for the spark plugs to be replaced.) A failing starter or corroded wiring can also cause a car to start slowly (or not at all).

How can I keep my car starting smoothly in the cold weather?

To avoid the annoying slow start of a car in cold weather (and other winter breakdowns), use these cold weather car maintenance tips:

  • Have the battery checked on a regular basis. A mechanic can test the battery to determine when it is low on power.
  • Regularly schedule oil changes. Ask your mechanic how often the oil should be changed.
  • When the temperature drops, check the tire pressure on every tire (including the spare). Frigid temperatures cause a sharp drop in air pressure (use these step-by-step instructions for checking tire pressure). Make sure to check the spare tire as well, so it is in good shape in case of a flat tire.
  • Make sure car fluids are topped off. Add checking the oil and antifreeze level on a regular basis. Both of these fluids are essential for a smooth-running car.
  • Pack an emergency car kit. A car kit may not stop a car’s slow start, but it can be helpful if a battery suddenly goes dead or the car breaks down. Use this list of emergency car kit essentials to assemble a complete kit—and don’t forget to pack cold weather gear that can keep you warm when you get stranded in the freezing weather.

12 Winter Breakdown Tips

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car winter breakdownNo one wants to be stranded by a winter car breakdown, but sadly do they do happen. When they do happen, it’s nice to have a trusted local car repair shop. These winter car breakdown tips are for that in-between time when you’re stranded on the side of the road. You know what we’re talking about: when the car suddenly starts making odd noises, or stutters (no gas?), or won’t start. You’re stuck. You’re stranded. Here’s what to do while you wait for help:

  • Keep up with required maintenance to avoid breakdowns (use these car maintenance tips to prevent winter car breakdowns).
  • Try not to stop on a curve or hill.
  • Turn on your flashers so you are visible to other cars.
  • Pull over as far out of the road as possible without getting stuck.
  • Carry the name of your trusted roadside assistance provider.
  • Keep your cell phone charged so you can make an emergency call.
  • When calling for help, give as much information as possible about your location (i.e. closest businesses, closest highway exits, etc.)
  • Always carry an emergency car kit.
  • Stay with your vehicle.
  • If the vehicle still runs, turn it on periodically for warmth. (Make sure the exhaust pipe does not get blocked by ice or snow.)
  • If the road is slippery, be careful about getting out of the car (both for your own safety and because of other cars coming).
  • Get the vehicle towed to your trusted car repair shop ASAP so you can get back on the road.

Cold Weather Car Maintenance You Shouldn’t Forget

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truck driving in wisconsin winterWinter weather driving in Wisconsin is inevitable, and so is the impact on our vehicles. Cold Wisconsin weather is hard on drivers and their cars. The frigid cold weather temperatures can do a number on cars, leaving drivers stranded in the cold weather—or worse, in the ditch. Avoiding snow banks (as in, being stuck in them) is a key reason to schedule an appointment to get essential cold weather car maintenance done before the first day of winter (or at least before the Wisconsin snow storm).

Battery Test

Contrary to the popular myth, the heat of summer is harder on vehicle batteries than the cold. Hot temperatures can cause battery fluids to evaporate and do permanent damage. Winter temperatures turn vehicle fluids to the consistency of molasses, requiring more power for starting up. Batteries can start to signal they are failing, such as rough starting or needing an occasional jumping.

What to do: Before the temperatures bottom out, ask a mechanic to test the battery. It can also be wise to track the age of the vehicle battery, which tends to fail 3-5 years after purchase.

Windshield Wipers

This cold weather car maintenance tip may seem insignificant, but can be very important when driving in winter conditions. Windshield wipers in good condition can make driving in one of our famous Wisconsin winter storms a lot easier. Good visibility is essential when snow is flying and slush is being thrown on the windshield.

What to do: Swap your old windshield wipers for new ones before winter starts. Use this video and blog as a guide. If any assistance is needed, ask a mechanic to install new windshield wipers at the next oil change.

Brakes

When the roads are icy, stopping safely is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity. Worn brakes can be a main contributor to a car accident, especially when conditions are hazardous. Sometimes, there are overt signs of worn brakes, such as a squealing or grinding sound, longer stopping distance, or a vibrating brake pedal. In other cases, the signs are not obvious.

What to do: Ask a mechanic to do a visual check of the brakes before winter. This can easily be done when snow tires are mounted or during a tire rotation. If the brakes are worn, get them replaced as soon as possible for safe driving.

Tires

Tires play a significant role in safe winter driving, because they are the primary contact between the vehicle and the road. Bald tires (tires with low tread) do not channel water correctly, which is especially important during slushy winter driving conditions. Tire pressure can also be lower during the cold temperatures, which can also play a part in safety and gas mileage.

What to do: Do a visual inspection of the tires (or ask a mechanic to check the tires). Look for inadequate tire tread, cupping, uneven wear, and punctures. To check tire tread, do the penny trick. Place a penny into the tread of the tire, then check to see how much of Abraham Lincoln’s head is visible above the tread. If Lincoln’s head is completely visible, the tire tread is low and the set of tires need to be replaced. Because tires can wear unevenly, place the penny in several places around the tire. On a regular basis, check the tire pressure to ensure that it is kept at the optimal tire pressure.

Fluids

Cold weather driving can become more difficult with low vehicle fluids, making this cold weather car maintenance task a required and regular check. All vehicle fluids should be kept at optimal levels to avoid break-downs and safe winter driving.

What to do: Check the antifreeze level in the reservoir to avoid engine overheating (use this video about checking the antifreeze level in a car). Regularly check the oil level so the engine is properly lubricated and can run longer. For optimal visibility, check the windshield washer so the windshield stays clean during a hazardous winter driving. If the vehicle needs an oil change, ask the mechanic to check all vehicle fluids at the appointment.

Emergency Kit

This winter weather maintenance task is easy (and can even be done inside). A car emergency kit can be invaluable when stranded on an incredibly frigid day or during a snow storm. Because these situations are unpredictable, stock up an emergency kit before the temperatures dip below freezing.

What to do: Pack a waterproof container with the essentials: a shovel, towing company card/phone number, flashlight, blanket, first aid kit, jumper cables, jack and lug wrench, boots, rags, and hand sanitizer. Keep the emergency kit in the vehicle at all times in a convenient and accessible location.