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How To Avoid These Common Car Failures This Winter

There’s nothing more depressing than hopping into a car on a blistery cold morning to find out that something isn’t working. Windshield wipers are cracked, the car is making some kind of squealing noise, or even worse, the car just won’t start. This is especially discouraging if you don’t have a warm garage to try and fix your problem. So why wait to have problems when you can avoid them beforehand? These tips will help you watch for car failures this winter, and how to avoid them entirely.

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Dead car batteryBjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock

Dead car battery

Although car batteries last longer in the colder climate versus the sweltering heat, there can still be quite a few issues that occur when it comes to car battery failures—especially if you live in an extremely cold environment. Don’t wait until the last minute to save your battery with jumper cables this winter. Instead, save your battery’s lifespan by purchasing battery insulation. Some may say having a bigger battery is better but turns out having a smaller battery with an insulator can actually last you a longer period of time. It can keep the device warmer on cooler days, and cooler on hotter days. However, it’s smart to take care of your car battery and especially think about replacing after five years of use.

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Failing alternatorFamily Handyman

Failing alternator

Sometimes the battery is actually not the issue when it comes to car failure—the issues could actually be your alternator. The alternator is responsible for charging your battery and takes the additional strain in the colder months. Your car will warn you with a red battery sign on your dashboard, so don’t assume it’s a battery issue quite yet. If this happens, test your alternator with a voltmeter. To test, your battery voltage should be between 12.5 and 12.8 volts with the engine off. If it’s below that, you should change your battery. If not, start the engine and check for increased voltage readings. Higher readings are good for your alternator (typically 13.5 or 1.5 volts), but if it doesn’t reach that it’s probably no longer good. The best thing you can do to avoid this is to check the levels of your car battery/alternator before experiencing a dead car early in the morning. Here’s how to replace an alternator if you need it.

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Worn windshield wipers

Worn windshield wipers

Freezing temperatures can certainly cause wear and tear on your windshield wiper blades. If you haven’t already, consider purchasing a set of winter wiper blades to avoid any tearing or cracking—especially if your wipers are old and worn. It’s recommended to actually switch out wiper blades every six months to avoid any type of damage. In the name of safety, here’s how to change windshield wiper blades. This may also be a good time to clean out and repair the windshield washer.

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Brittle serpentine beltsFamily Handyman

Brittle serpentine belts

If you’re not familiar, a serpentine belt is a continuous belt used to operate multiple peripheral devices for an engine including the alternator, power steering pump, water pump, air conditioning compressor, and more. You want to check that the serpentine belt is in good condition since it can easily become brittle or even break in freezing temperatures. Typically you can find out if the serpentine belt is having issues if you hear terrible noises (typically sounds like squealing).

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Starter motor malfunctionswavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Starter motor malfunctions

If your engine isn’t clicking on, there’s probably an issue with your starter motor. Since the starter takes more energy to turn on in colder climates, it’s common to see this issue in the winter. To avoid this type of failure, you should check the starter drive gear or the engine’s flywheel. Damaged teeth and excessive wear mean it may be time to replace. If you do come across issues with starting your car, there is still hope to get it running! Here’s what to do if your car won’t start.

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Freezing windowsFamily Handyman

Freezing windows

Although unfreezing your outside car windows is fairly easy to do, dealing with frost on the inside is a whole other story. This has to do with issues in your defrosting and general heating functions within the vehicle. If this is what you’re experiencing, you’ll need to either recalibrate the heating system or replace the actuator.

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Broken side mirrorsFamily Handyman

Broken side mirrors

Experiencing broken or scratched glass or casing on your side mirrors from the cold or excessive wear? If this is you, they are surprisingly easy to fix all on your own. Here’s how to replace side view mirror glass, or even to replace a window side mirror altogether.