Here comes Old Man Winter
Although you might enjoy driving through the snow-covered Currier and Ives scenery while listening to Johnny Mathis’ rendition of “Winter Wonderland,” Old Man Winter can wreak havoc on your car and make you pray for sunshine.
Here are five common winter damages and what you can expect to pay to repair them.
Rust and corrosion take their toll
Given how much salt is spread on our nation’s roads in winter, it’s no surprise that corrosion problems become an issue this time of year.
“Typically, people will see the rust that appears on a car’s rear quarter panels,” says Steven Fisco, president and owner of Fisco Auto Body Inc., in Franklin, Wis. “But doors are actually the worst because they rot on the inside, and you don’t see that damage until it gets really bad … it will get started and grow in those places where you have two layers of metal pinched or welded together.”
The cost of proper repairs will vary depending on the extent of the damage and where it is located.
“If it’s on the exterior surface of the car, it’s going to require much more care and work than if it is on the inside of a doorjamb, where the finish work doesn’t have to be so perfect,” says Fisco, adding that repairing rust damage on a door will typically cost around $750. Repairing rust damage on other body panels can run $350 per panel.
There’s no escaping winter’s slush and road salt; the best defense is to wash your car frequently.
Don’t be locked out by frozen door locks
Moisture and cold aren’t a good mix — and it’s not uncommon to have a vehicle’s door locks freeze after a winter carwash or after a spate of damp warm weather that’s followed by a cold snap. Many have dealt with this pesky problem simply by heating up their car key to thaw out the frozen lock mechanism.
“And that’s the worst thing you can do,” says Pat Goss, master technician of PBS’ “MotorWeek.” “The only safe way to unfreeze a lock is to use an alcohol-based product, like Lock De-Icer.”
Keys on modern cars have transponders built into them. If you heat such a key, you will damage the electronic component, Goss says. “Then you’ll have to get a new key and have the system reprogrammed, and that can cost you anywhere from $85 to as much as $500 if you happen to own an expensive, high-line car.”
Frozen locks are an indication that the lock mechanism isn’t properly lubricated and protected from penetrating moisture. Goss says all car locks should be lubed with a graphite-based lubricant several times a year and immediately after using any alcohol-based lock de-icer.
If you live where subzero winter weather is common, old or improperly diluted antifreeze can be a time bomb waiting to destroy your engine.
“Anytime a cooling system freezes, that’s the worst thing that can happen to it,” says Randy Burns, owner/manager of Gordon’s No. 1 Auto Service LLC in Franklin, Wis. “You could then end up dealing with something as simple as popping the radiator — and that actually is the best-case scenario — to a devastating situation of cracks in the engine block or cylinder head.
With the plastic end caps in many of today’s radiators, the best outcome would be to have those parts crack, says Burns.
“That offers the freezing water a place to expand, and that radiator repair will run from $350 to $600, depending on the type of car. If the damage is to the engine, you’re looking at replacing it with a new crate or rebuilt engine because it would be cost-prohibitive to track down and repair what cracked. That can cost more than $4,000,” Burns says.
Prevention is simple and inexpensive. “Have your cooling system checked regularly, and flush and replace your antifreeze, according to the recommendations of your owner’s manual,” says Burns.
Learn to jump-start a battery
Any major change in temperature can push a borderline battery over the edge, so jump-starts are a common winter sight. Many drivers cart around basic booster cables in case they might need to give or receive a “jump.”
“Old-fashioned booster cables are deadly for modern cars,” says Goss. “They can do hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in damage to the electronics on the modern car.”
Even if you connect correctly, the mere disconnection of regular booster cables creates a voltage spike. “That voltage spike through the system will then damage, usually not destroy, all sorts of different components. And it’s usually much later — weeks or months later — before that component fails during use,” Goss says.
The best protection against misadventures with jump-starts is to have your battery tested twice a year in the fall and spring, says Goss. If it no longer passes muster, replace it with a new battery that offers the best balance of maximum cold-cranking amps and reserve capacity (the ability to hold a charge over time). That will get your engine running and keep it running.
Windshield chips and cracks
Winter’s freeze-thaw cycles are unkind to paved roads, and when a roadway turns to gravel, its debris can cause damage to your car’s windshield. Also, windshields take on a more concave shape in cold temperatures, and winter windshield chips and dings can spread in a horizontal fashion.
According to a study by the Motor Industry Research Association in the United Kingdom, chips are likely to spread more than 80 percent of the time at temperatures of 14 degrees Fahrenheit; those tested at 32 degrees Fahrenheit were almost 60 percent likely to crack.
Fortunately, unlike in the past, most windshield damage of this nature can be repaired if it’s dealt with via the timely application of specialized resin.
“We can repair cracks of up to 6 inches today,” says Dave Erwin, director of repair services at Safelite AutoGlass in Columbus, Ohio. “If the damage can be covered by a dollar bill, there’s a very good chance that we can repair the windshield safely and successfully. … The process takes about 30 minutes and the average windshield repair cost is around $100.”
If the windshield must be replaced, it will cost $150 to $350, depending on whether you own a car, van or light truck-SUV.