How Does the Cold Weather Affect My Engine?

Published: 11/25/2010 by AutoShopit

How Does the Cold Weather Affect My Engine?

Cold weather. Brrrrrr! Just as we change our clothing and activities from season to season, as cold weather rolls in, it’s important to check and maintain our engines. Let’s examine some cold weather engine basics, the checks and maintenance areas you need to focus on, as well as what to share with your auto repair shop when dealing with cold weather.

As always, we stress safety and recommend that you follow the manufacturer’s periodic service recommendations for your vehicle. These and other specifications and data are usually listed in the owner’s manual. Pay special attention to the cold weather information in the manual.

  • Safety – First, last, and always, assure the safety of all personnel and property. If you don’t know what you’re doing around an engine, BEWARE! There is a risk of injury or other damage when dealing with engines. Learn, understand, and follow all safety precautions.
  • General Inspection –With the engine turned off and cold (not run for at least three or four hours), inspect in, on, near, and around the engine for obvious signs of wear or trouble, such as cracked, frayed, or shredded fan belts and wires, leaky hoses, oil and other deposits, disconnected fittings or components, loose or missing parts, and anything that would seem out of the ordinary.
  • Battery – Cold weather makes it harder to start your engine, beginning with the battery. Examine the battery terminals for proper tension, improper wear, acid build up, etc. Check the battery for leaks, cracks, or other signs of trouble. Even with a “maintenance-free” battery, carefully wipe the battery top and terminals with a clean cloth, remove the caps from the battery, and take a look in there to assure that the lead plates are covered with fluid. Again, follow manufacturer’s recommendations, which usually entails filling the battery case to the top of the lead plates with distilled water.
  • Tune Up – Cold weather is a challenge to almost any engine. Usually a complete tune-up should be performed every year or two, again, depending on manufacturer’s recommendations, climate, and driving conditions. Your complete tune-up should include, at a minimum, spark plugs and wires, distributor cap and rotor, and other components as necessary, such as a new ignition control module.
  • Engine Oil and Filter – Check the engine oil level and condition. In cold weather, too thick an engine oil can cause hard starting. Check the owner’s manual for your vehicle and follow the recommendations for cold weather. Depending on climate, a different viscosity motor oil may be needed, such as a 0W-20, 5W-20, or 5W-30.
  • Fuel System – When cold weather arrives, adding a container of fuel-line anti-freeze is usually a good idea, especially for sub-zero temperatures. Change the fuel filter at least every 12 months or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.
  • Antifreeze – Cold weather can wreak havoc on your antifreeze and cooling system if not properly checked and maintained. Check the condition of the antifreeze with a hydrometer. Inspect the upper and lower radiator hoses, heater inlet and outlet hoses, overflow tank and associated hoses or tubing. Always use a good quality, proper type of antifreeze, specifically rated for your climate. If any water is needed with your antifreeze, best results are obtained with distilled water, as it is free of minerals and other items that can cause harmful deposits to your cooling system.
  • Belts – Cold weather and under hood temperatures can adversely affect the belt or belts that operate the water pump, cooling fan, alternator, air conditioner and power steering pump need to be checked. If you notice that any belt is cracked, frayed, shredded, or otherwise suspect, replace it and properly set the tension.

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