Troubleshooter: 5 things you should never do to a frozen vehicle
Snow and ice make it easy to damage a thawing car. Remember these steps to keep your ride happy
For all its beauty, winter brings a unique set of challenges to everyday travel. When dealing with the worst that Old Man Winter can throw at us and our rides, there are some easy ways to cause a lot of damage when trying to get into, and start, and warm-up our commuting chariots.
Don’t boost a cold, dead battery without first checking to see if it’s frozen. If you get in, hit the key, and are rewarded with no sound at all out of the starter (not even the dreaded click-click-click), don’t rush for the booster cables without first checking the battery for evidence of freezing. When lead-acid batteries freeze, their sides will usually bulge out from the expanding force of the liquid as it turns solid. Hooking up a booster to a battery in this condition can risk fire and explosions. If your carmaker decided to hide the battery from view, and getting at it in sub-zero temps isn’t something you want to do, your safest bet is to assume it’s frozen and call roadside service.
Don’t yank on the handle of a frozen door with both hands. First, if you didn’t realize it, most of them are made of plastic and other non-metal materials. When they get cold, they can get brittle like most plastics and they are fairly easy to snap off. If the door is that frozen, there’s a good chance that forcing it could also tear the weather seals, which can cost hundreds of dollars to replace in some vehicles. Try the other doors first, and if you’re successful, start the vehicle and let it warm up. If not, try some auto-paint-safe de-icing spray or a blow-dryer to thaw things out.
Never pour hot water on a frozen vehicle. This might seem like an easy way to thaw an ice-coated vehicle, but as soon as that water cools back down you could be in for some serious trouble. Glass and plastic will crack when shocked with such different temperatures, and hot water seems to have a knack for getting into all the wrong places and freezing, simply making matters worse.
Don’t race to hit the wipers as soon as you climb in, and get into the habit of making sure the wipers are turned off before switching off the ignition. If the wipers are frozen to the glass and their switch is left on when you return to start the car, the motors’ attempts to operate will stress both the motor and linkages and may even tear the rubber blades. On older vehicles with some wear, this can mean a broken linkage, stripped mount, burned-out motor, or a combination of the three.
Be careful not to hit the window switch without being ready to shut it off if the car is snowy or frozen. Auto-down power windows are a popular feature that makes it easier for drivers to lower their window with one push of the button, as they ready for payment at a toll-booth or drive-through window. But if the glass is frozen shut, the switch will continue trying to pull the window down, leading to strained motors, warped window regulators, and/or snapped clips where the glass is held to the lifting frame. If you’re not sure whether your door window glass is frozen, keep your finger near the switch and pull it up quickly to shut the auto-down feature off if nothing moves with the first tap.
This goes for power mirrors as well. If snow, rain, or ice has frozen your mirrors in place, hit the mirror defrost and wait for them to free up. Like your windows, forcing it could snap a clip — or worse.