Just when you think you’ve seen your last snowfall or cold spell, Mother Nature plays another trick on you. Winter weather can make it difficult for our cars to run efficiently or even run at all.
I’ve had my fair share of car repairs over the last several months. While I like my auto repair garage, I’ve seen it enough. On my last visit, Jeff told me that winter weather does crazy things. Things that never leaked before, might start. Batteries, alternators, and other components work very hard during winter months and take on significant wear and tear.
Here are some things to watch on your car.

1. Battery and alternator. It’s common knowledge that it takes a good battery to start your car during the winter months. However, what many people don’t know is that the alternator plays a key role in maintaining proper battery health. The alternator is like a mini generator. The purpose of it is to recharge your battery after each start of your car. On a regular winter day, your alternator may need up to 20 minutes of drive time to recharge it. But on an extremely cold day, it may need even more time.
Recently, I had my daughter Hannah’s car towed because she was stranded on a Saturday night. Thank goodness I purchased roadside assistance through my West Bend policy. It made the situation less stressful.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know the warning signs for a bad alternator. While Hannah told me what she was seeing on her dashboard, I didn’t think much about it. Here are some warning signs:
Battery image. If you see a battery image on your dashboard, this doesn’t mean you have a battery problem. It’s an alternator problem. Depending on the severity of the problem, the light may flicker on and off. Consider shutting down some systems in your car that may not be necessary, such as heated seats. When this light comes on and stays on, it means it’s having a tough time meeting your vehicles electrical needs.
Dim or flickering lights. Because the alternator can’t keep up with your car’s electrical needs you may see dim or flickering headlights. You may also see multiple dash lights flickering on and off. Hannah told me her dashboard was going crazy. She said, “Dad, my dash is lit up like a Christmas tree.” After she told me this, I gave her the worst advice ever, which was turn off the car to see if it resets. The car was dead.
If you have a fairly new battery and suddenly it’s dead, you may have an alternator problem.
Weird sounds coming from under the hood. A growling or whining sound may indicate there is a problem. I did hear a whining sound, but I just attributed it to the fact it was 50 degrees below zero with the windchill.
2. Tires and other components. Unfortunately, it’s tough for road crews to keep up on repairing potholes. It seems like they pop out of nowhere. Unsuspectingly hitting a pot hole can be scary and expensive. If you’ve recently hit a pothole, here are some things to watch for:
Tire puncture;
Bent rims;
Suspension damage;
Steering out of alignment; and
Exhaust system damage.
For tips on how to avoid potholes, check out my blog, “Watch out for that pothole! 5 tips to avoid them.”
Please note that cold air can cause tires to lose tire pressure. It’s dangerous to drive with under-inflated tires. Under-inflated tires can lead to tire failure, poor handling, and buying tires more frequently. Consider checking your tires on a regular basis with a tire gauge or keep an eye on your car’s monitoring system.
3. Fluids. Fluids such as oil and antifreeze are critical for our cars. As temperatures drop, fluids thicken making it difficult for your car to run efficiently. Mysterious leaks due to cold weather can cause a critical failure to an important component of your car. If you find fluid on your garage floor, pay attention to what color it is.
Red – transmission or power steering fluid
Green – antifreeze
Blue – windshield washer fluid
Brown – motor oil or brake fluid
Based on the make and model of your car, colors may vary.
4. Windshield Wipers. Windshield wipers are a crucial component on your car. Especially during the winter months when experiencing snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain. Cold weather can cause the rubber to become brittle and tear or crack.
When cleaning your windshield, use caution when scraping and cleaning around them. If your wipers are stuck to the windshield, consider turning your defrost on to loosen the ice and snow. A torn wiper blade can make for a miserable commute.
Lastly, consider changing windshield wipers every 6-12 months. I recently bought a pair for my daughter’s car from an auto parts store and they installed them for me.
To learn more about the different types of windshield wipers, check out my blog, “No more mistakes when replacing windshield wipers.”
5. LCD screens. If your car is equipped with an LCD screen for the infotainment system cold weather can cause it to run slow or not appear at all. This recently happened to my daughter’s car. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do other than let your car warm up. I must admit, it’s difficult to turn on the heat when nothing appears on the screen.
6. Paint. Road salt does a great job keeping our roadways clear and safe for drivers. However, it can be very damaging to your car’s paint and underlying metal components. Certain types of salt can cause paint to chip. Salt can attack dents and dings and cause exposed metal to rust more quickly. Depending on our weather, my wife and I try to wash our cars on a weekly basis. We have an affordable car wash that does a good job cleaning our cars. The other benefit of washing your car regularly is it keeps the salt residue off your jacket and pants.