Cold weather cars


A few years ago, I was talking to our mechanic. Just a general conversation about cars, and we came to the agreement that you needed to be careful trusting the noises you hear in February.

Now, before we wade too deeply along this path, a disclaimer. Neither of us was saying not to trust the noises being made. Neither of us was saying not to listen, or potentially more significant, not to act. You definitely should be listening to your car, throughout the year, and giving attention to things that donít sound right.

InsteadÖ considerÖ around me the high temperature four days from now is forecast to be zero. Thatís zero Fahrenheit. 32-degrees below freezing. The high temperature for the day. A reading not adjusted for wind or feels-like or whatever itís-even-worse-than-that measuring stick you might want to apply. Zero, with negative numbers for the low of the day.

Cars do not like starting when the thermometer reads zero. While there may be debates about the need to warm a vehicle up before hitting the road (and, there are), there can be little question of the ability to start the car and then immediately fire up the heater and expect warm air or a defrosted window.

Those of us familiar with snow can tell you about a very special kind. Almost like mashed potatoes. It has the right consistency and even the right feel. Usually youíll find it on the road, when the temperatures and conditions are right itís around, but it seems a bit more frequent when mushed around by tires and mixed with a bit of road salt. It changes the acoustics under your car. Drive over that stuff and everything seems a bit different and muffled. Youíll be convinced something is wrong simply because it doesnít sound normal.

We had a simply brutal month of February not that long ago. High temperature average for the month was something like 6-degrees. Low temperatures were negative numbers. Thatís for an entire month. Kind of weather that freezes cloth and makes it shred like a sheet of paper, makes rubber shatter like glass. Hard to believe the materials that make up a car arenít in some way changed a bit from the reactions they offer on a warm summer day.

My house is making noises. I hear some creaks in the attic, wind in the chimney, and the furnace keeps kicking on. Itís cold outside. Weather reports say colder is coming. Plus, the latest snow pile of all snow piles is due to arrive over the weekend. Hard to judge the scenarios the cars are facing when Iím trying very hard to stay outside only long enough o fetch the mail. (And being extremely grateful for Sunday when the mail wonít be delivered.)

Ever wonder how the same temperature can feel so different? Pick a day in mid-January and another in mid-August. Set the house thermostat to your choice. 68Ö 70Ö 72. On a snowy day with the wind howling and things hovering around 24Ö walk in and 68 feels pretty great, snug and warm. Sweltering humidity and the sun beating down without mercy as the readings approach triple-digitsÖ 68 is a cool blast of nirvana.

Back to the cars and soundsÖ

The point is, predicting the very worst of possibilities doesnít always work when itís ridiculously cold outside. Materials are different. Sounds are different.

Iíd like to investigate this a bit further, but I need to make sure everything in the garage is all set. Shovel where I can find it. Gas for the snowblower. I had all this stuff ready back in November, during the first storms, but this forecast sounds a bit different. And in the cold, sometimes you should listen.


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