Cold Weather Crutches

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by Eric Peters EricPetersAutos.com

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You think it’s hard on you when it’s 10 degrees outside?

Think about your car.

You may feel cold. Your car is cold. If it’s 10 degrees outside, that’s the temperature of your car. Its engine. The oil in the engine. Everything else, too. Now imagine being subjected to sudden extremes of pressure, friction and rapid heating. Hammered by explosions, bathed in frigid oil. From stationary to more than a thousand up and down cycles every 60 seconds — and that’s just at idle. To even approximate this in human terms, you’d need to do something like jump into Lake Michigan buck naked in January — and breaststroke like Michael Phelps without showing any signs of strain.

I am grateful I’m not a piston… .

And your car will be grateful if you’re kind to it when it’s cold. Gratefulness that will be expressed in longer life — and fewer problems during that life. Here’s what you can do:

Park inside, if you can

My father-in-law has a two car garage… full of garage sale junk. His cars were parked outside. I finally nagged him into clearing out the junk, so his cars could stay indoors — where it’s 15-20 degrees warmer on a 20 degree day outside by dint of being inside — and enclosed. Subjecting a car to cold start conditions — among the most abusive conditions a car typically experiences — is much less abusive when it’s not quite so cold. The car’s parts will warm up faster, too — which is better for them — and for you (the heater/defroster gets going more quickly). Plus, you won’t have to chisel your way into the car with an ice-pick and scraper.

Get a block (or radiator) heater if you have to park outside

In meat locker areas — the places where it gets really cold (the negative numbers) — the locals know that without a block heater, their car might not turn over tomorrow morning — much less actually start. In extreme cold, battery power may be half what it would be at room temperature — and that cold-gimped battery is trying to turn over a reciprocating assembly that’s bathed in cold-congealed oil. During WWII, the Germans resorted to building fires underneath their tanks to try to keep them start-viable in -30 conditions. The more technologically sophisticated (and safer) approach is to use a block heater — typically, an electrically heated magnetic pad that you slap onto the oil pan — and plug into a standard household outlet. There are variations on the concept — such as a heating element that you insert into the dipstick — or the radiator. But the idea is always the same: Keep the temperature of the engine from descending to absolute zero — well, whatever the outside temperature happens to be.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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