When the first snowflakes of the season fall and the temperatures drop in Vermillion, students who drive to classes experience some difficulties. Cars, like humans, don’t particularly like the colder weather.
The most common problem associated with colder temperatures: cars that won’t start, said Bob Dykstra, owner of Bob’s Sinclair Services in Vermillion.
Winter weather is hard on batteries because the oil inside the car turns to a molasses-like substance, which causes more power from a battery, according to Popular Mechanics. However, because of the cold, the battery is not able to produce as much power. That’s when issues occur.
Dykstra said while battery problems usually show themselves during the winter, the heat of the summer is actually more damaging than the cold.
“Batteries don’t like the cold, but the cold doesn’t actually ruin the batteries. The battery has less power in (the cold) and it takes more power to turn the engine over,” he said. “It is actually the hot summers that ruin the batteries more than anything. It has to do with the chemicals and the lead in them. They don’t like the heat either.”
The temperature under your car’s hood is generally hotter than the outdoor temperature. According to Automotive Training Center, if it is 90 degrees outside, car engines can be around 140 degrees. This excessive heat can cause battery fluid to evaporate, which further speeds up corrosion.
“These effects from heat during the summer might not cause your battery to die immediately, but they can jump-start the deterioration and decrease the average life span,” the article stated.
The winter weather then demands more energy the dried out battery can produce. This is why jump starts are some of the most common service calls during the winter months, Dykstra said.
People often think, Dykstra said, they should start their car every few hours during the winter to keep the battery warm to make it easier to start when leaving. He said this can actually damage the battery more.
“Some people will go out if it’s going to be real cold and start their cars a couple of times throughout the night, but that’s a waste of time,” he said.
He said that starting a car multiple times throughout the night runs the battery power even lower and will only speed up the need for a new battery.
In an interview with USA Today, Mike Calkins, manager of technical services at AAA, confirmed what Dykstra said. Calkins said 95% of cars today don’t use carburetors, so letting your car warm up before you leave is not necessary.
He said installing a block heater, which keeps the engine from getting cold, is a better way to extend battery life.
Unfortunately, Dykstra said, dead batteries are an unavoidable problem during the winter and even with a block heater can still happen.
“You really can’t prepare for it. (Batteries) are either good or they aren’t,” he said.
Car batteries should be replaced every three years, but sometimes even new batteries have issues, Dykstra said, issues that usually show up in the winter months.
Still, Dykstra said Bob’s Sinclair does not see an increase in customers unless it is extremely cold.
“We are just as busy in the summertime as we are in the winter, but if it’s below zero, it’s another deal,” he said. “Today’s weather doesn’t really change anything though.”