The most common winter car failures and how to avoid them

The most common winter car failures and how to avoid them
The most common winter car failures and how to avoid them

Winter is hard on all of us. The cold weather, dark days, rain, snow and wind can leave the hardiest of us feeling run down, and the same is true of our cars.

Recent weeks have proved that, with the RAC reporting its busiest day in seven years during the cold snap earlier this month as it logged seven breakdowns a minute on December 11.

New analysis of repair data has revealed the car parts most likely to let us down over the winter months, with the usual suspects such as the battery and alternator joined by suspension components and glass.

Five most common winter repairs

1. Wing mirror
2. Battery
3. Coil spring
4. Alternator
5. Starter motor

The effects of the cold, appearance of new potholes plus the grit on the road and even the strain place on electrics by using lights and heaters more all contribute to some parts packing in with far more regularity than in summer months.

Andrew Jervis, co-founder of ClickMechanic, which analysed its repair records to come up with the data, said: “Many motorists forget to take care of their vehicle at this time of year. Cold conditions can cause an array of expensive problems for your car and, with a little TLC, potential repair bills can be reduced and the repairs themselves may last longer.”

Here’s a rundown of the most common failures, why they happen and what you can do to avoid them:

1. Wing mirror glass

Increased odds of its breaking in winter: 4.3x

Signs it needs replacing:

  • Glass is broken/scratched
  • Casing is broken/scratched

Why is it breaking and how do I extend its lifespan:

Icy roads, sadly, mean more drivers losing control and being involved in collisions. Even if these are fairly minor, wing mirrors are often the first casualty. In fact, drivers are actually more than four times as likely to damage their wing mirror glass in the winter compared to the rest of the year, so it’s a very common problem.

The only remedy would be to take more care on the road and reduce speed when necessary. Damaged wing mirror glass should be replaced as soon as possible, particularly if it restricts your vision.

2. Battery

Increased odds of its breaking in winter: 1.8x

Signs it needs replacing:

  • The car’s engine will turn over slowly prior to starting or will not turn over at all
  • None of the electrical equipment works
  • The battery’s terminals and connectors show signs of erosion
  • A pale blue or white powder has appeared on parts of the battery

Why is it breaking and how do I extend its lifespan:

Despite lasting longer in the colder climate, winter’s freezing temperatures actually causes the battery to lose power. The colder environment means the engine will require more power to start up and continue to run.

You can prolong your battery’s charge by switching off electrical items such as the heater blower, the headlights and the rear screen demisters for a few minutes prior to switching the engine off. Short journeys during winter will also place additional strain on the battery, so bear that in mind when popping down to the shops.

3. Coil spring

Increased odds of its breaking in winter: 1.7x

Signs it needs replacing:

  • The car will bounce excessively after driving over a bump
  • The car leans to one side or one corner is lower than the others
  • You may feel a difference in the car’s handling
  • You may hear odd noises, such as a banging or even a ‘twang’ when turning the steering

Why is it breaking and how do I extend its lifespan:

The coil springs act as support for the shock absorbers. They smooth out any bumps or irregularities you encounter on the road’s surface and, as such, they will eventually wear over time. They are also made of a ferrous metal, meaning they will suffer from corrosion. Most coil springs are coated in a plastic sleeve, however, this sleeve will suffer from nicks and scratches from road debris, which allows water to seep in and erode the metal.

During winter, the metal becomes brittle and will be more likely to break under shock, such as from speed bumps and pot holes. This can lead to expensive damage if a worn spring reaches this stage, so it should be seen to as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms. Regularly washing debris off of the springs with a hose can help to prolong them.

4. Alternator/alternator belt replacement

Increased odds of its breaking in winter: 1.6x/1.3x

Signs it needs replacing:

  • A battery warning light has appeared on the dashboard
  • The dashboard/interior lights are not as bright as usual
  • The battery does not charge or has run flat
  • A squealing or screeching sound comes from the engine

Why is it breaking and how do I extend its lifespan:

The alternator charges the car’s battery, which in turn powers all electricals. As such, it too takes additional strain in the colder months when more power is needed to run the vehicle. The first and major indication that something is wrong will be the sight of a small red battery sign on your dashboard that doesn’t go out within a few seconds of starting the engine.

There’s not much you can do to prolong the lifespan of an alternator. However, it is important to give it the best chance of working efficiently by avoiding deep water and ensuring that the belt which drives it is in good condition. Should you start to hear a “squeal” on start-up or when driving, the belt may require adjusting or even replacing.

5. Starter motor

Increased odds of its breaking in winter: 1.3x

Signs it needs replacing:

  • The engine does not start or you have issues making it start
  • The starter motor makes more noise than usual when you start the engine
  • You can hear a clicking noise when you turn the key

Why is it breaking and how do I extend its lifespan:

As the name suggests, the starter motor starts the car – which is known to be a common issue during the wintertime. This is because in a colder climate, more energy is needed to turn the starter motor and power the engine, putting additional stress on both it and the battery.

The starter motor will, once again, wear with time, and like the alternator, there is little you can do to generally prolong the life of a starter motor. However, if your vehicle is reluctant to start, avoid continually trying to run the starter motor without giving it chance to cool down. For guidance, you should only use the starter motor for 30 seconds and then let it cool for 30 seconds before re-trying it. You should also, once again, avoid deep water, ensure that your undertray is secure and check that your battery is in a good condition to give it the best possible power source to use.

 

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