How Does Cold Weather Impact Your Car?

Wherever you are in New Zealand, there are things you should know about winter driving and winter car maintenance. Even if you live in a region that doesn’t see any snow, winter temperatures can affect your car maintenance, performance and safety.

Petrol Cars

One of the ways that cold weather can affect your car is by reducing its fuel economy. Extremely cold temperatures can cause thickening of the fuel, which means that it doesn’t flow easily. It won’t freeze (it has to be minus 40 degrees for that to happen). But your engine needs to work harder in cold temperatures, so you may find you’re using more petrol in the winter.

There may also be more strain on your car’s battery in the winter as you use the electrics more. Things like the car heating, demister, rear defroster, heated seats and wipers all drain the battery. This is true for any type of vehicle, not just a petrol vehicle, so make sure you have your battery tested before winter sets in.

Diesel Cars

Diesel engines are harder to start in cold weather and can be impacted more in the winter than petrol engines. Diesel engines rely on higher temperatures to start, and as soon as the temperature drops, you may notice it becomes harder to start a diesel engine in the winter.

In very cold temperatures, diesel can start to form crystals that clog the fuel filters and fuel lines. There are anti-gel additives that can be used, as well as winter diesel blends you can buy if you live in a region where the temperatures get low enough to affect the diesel.

Electric Cars

Cold weather does affect an EV’s efficiency. Lower temperatures impact the battery chemistry, resulting in lower energy or power for acceleration.

Main Things To Consider While Driving In Winter

Car responsiveness

You might recall the instruction, “drive to the conditions”. What this means is that you need to adapt your driving habits and speed to the conditions you’re driving in. Your car may respond more slowly in the rain and snow. It may take longer to brake on wet or icy pavement, and your car may veer or swerve if you brake suddenly on wet or icy roads.

Driver responsiveness and visibility

You the driver may also respond more slowly in the rain and snow. This is because visibility is likely to be reduced. Make sure you clear your car panels, windows and windscreen of all snow and ice. Top up your windscreen fluid. And adjust your speed – even slowing down 5-10 kph can increase your safety significantly.

Following distance

In winter conditions, it’s important to allow more space between you and the cars around you. Not only will you need longer to brake, the other drivers will as well, so create a buffer when you can. Allow for more distance between your car and the car in front – while driving as well as when you’re stopped at a red light. If someone behind you cannot stop in time, you don’t also want to hit the car in front of you.

When driving on the motorway, don’t allow yourself to get boxed in. Leave room in front, but also try to allow for room to move sideways to the adjacent lane if you need to avoid a collision.

Slippery roads or black ice

When driving in the winter, you need to be prepared for conditions to change as you drive. It may be sunny and dry when you set off, but then you find yourself in the middle of a rainy spell or snowstorm. Be prepared for road conditions to change, and adjust your driving as needed.

Black ice is common in colder parts of the country when water freezes on the road. Despite its name, it’s not actually black – it’s clear ice that forms when water freezes. It looks black because of the tarmac, and it can be very difficult to see.

If you come across a slippery section of road or black ice, your car may swerve. Try to remain calm, and take your foot off the accelerator. Do not brake suddenly as that will probably make the swerving more severe. If you can, steer into the swerve to straighten the car out. Once the car slows down, the tyres will regain their traction.

Preparing Your Car for Winter Checklist

Regular maintenance

Make sure you’ve kept up to date with all of your vehicle maintenance appointments. You want to ensure that your car is in the best running condition possible before you head into winter when it is colder and wetter and it gets dark earlier (making it a bit more worrisome to have a breakdown if you’re driving alone).

Winter prep checks

Even if your car isn’t due for one of its regular maintenance appointments, it’s a good idea to book in to see us at Mt Roskill so we can check a few things before winter weather hits:

  • tyre check – air pressure, tread, wheel alignment, condition of the spare tyre
  • windscreen wipers and fluid
  • headlights, indicators, brake lights, fog lights, hazard lights
  • fluid levels
  • battery condition

Snow chains

If you’re in a region that gets a lot of snow, like many parts of the South Island, you might want to consider having snow chains in your boot. Make sure you know how to put them on – and practise doing so before you actually need them.

Roadside assistance

It may be worthwhile paying for an automobile roadside assistance plan. Breakdowns, flat tyres, engine failures are all a lot harder to deal with when you’re stuck by the side of the road in cold or wet weather.

Emergency supplies

Prepare for the unexpected. Put together an emergency supplies kit and keep it in your boot. This should include a first aid kit and a spare tyre, along with other supplies you might need if you’re stranded for anywhere from an hour to overnight. Include things like a blanket, torch/flashlight, spare water, food, a battery pack to charge your phone, flares, warm clothing – it all depends on where you drive. But if you are remote, the more prepared you can be, the better.

How To Clean Car Windows In Winter

If you park your car outside overnight, you may need to clear snow, ice or frost from your car windows in the morning. There are a couple of easy ways to clean your car windows in the winter:

  • Use a scraper – always use a plastic, rubber or silicone scraper; never a metal one as the metal can scratch the windows
  • Use water – if you don’t have a scraper, you can pour water over the windows – but make sure it is room temperature water and not hot water, as that could crack the windows or windscreen

How To Stop Car Windows From Fogging Up In Winter

If you’re trying to clear the windows from the inside, the easiest thing to do is to use the car’s demister, defogger or air conditioning.

You may not want to drive with the air conditioning on, but you need the cooler air to stop the glass from fogging up (it’s similar to your bathroom mirror fogging up when it’s too hot in the bathroom after a shower). Turn the air conditioning on to clear the fog from the glass, then gradually increase the temperature.

Does My Car Need Antifreeze In The Winter?

One of the key things that antifreeze does is maintain an accurate, necessary temperature for your vehicle parts all year round. In the hot temperatures of the summer, it helps prevent your engine from overheating.

In the colder temperatures of the winter, it aids heat transfer and protects your engine from corrosion. Believe it or not, your engine can overheat in the winter.

It’s always better to use antifreeze or coolant in the cooling system of your car instead of pure water. Water can freeze in the winter, so not only will it not help regulate the temperature systems of your vehicle, but as it expands when frozen it could cause your radiator or engine case to split. Antifreeze or coolant has a lower freezing point because it consists of a mixture of ethylene glycol and water or propylene glycol and water.

If you have any other questions about keeping your car driving safely in the winter, get in touch with the friendly team at Mt Roskill Collision Centre.

We can give you advice on how often you need to prepare your vehicle for winter driving conditions. One of the smartest ways to prepare your vehicle for winter is to book a car service appointment.

Call us on 0800 227 762 or email [email protected] for professional and friendly car servicing advice.