Piston Slap: A Snowpocalypse Kills Old Cars?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap a snowpocalypse kills old cars

TTAC Commentator Pete Zaitcev writes:

Dear Sajeev:

Here’s a qustion that’s not “what car should I buy”. My town had a “snowpocalypse” event: it was 65F for a week, then an inch or two of snow fell and the temperatures fell into low 30s for a day. The usual followed, like a miniature Atlanta. But what surprised me the most was the number of broken cars parked alongside highways. They didn’t fall to accidents, they just stopped. But why?

I can imagine one guy being silly enough to eschew 50/50 antifrieze and get a block cracked. But there were dozens of them all over, and they ran until they stopped. So, probably not heat/cold as such.

None of cars I saw was brand-new. I saw BMWs, Fords, even Acuras. My personal suspicion is that electrics got salt water into them.

Is that a reasonable suspicion?

Is this something I can test for?

Sajeev answers:

The odds of salt water (or anything else) getting in there is unlikely. Modern engine electronics are quite impervious to the elements, short of an underhood steam cleaning.

Crystal Ballin’ the reason for so much Hooptie Snowstorm Fail is tough. Maybe they’re running on worn out batteries or alternators that finally died, where one component finally killed the other. It wouldn’t be the first time!

Or maybe…umm…I’m sticking with a combination of dying battery and worn alternator. Especially considering how temperature changes can wreak havoc on a conventional lead-acid battery. New cars have new batteries, right?

Off to you, Best and Brightest!

[Image: Shutterstock user Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
4 of 80 comments
  • JimC2 JimC2 on Mar 05, 2015

    Am I the only one overlooking the obvious? Many of the "abandoned" cars were temporarily abandoned because the owners gave up and left them there. 10-30°F temperatures and nothing mechanically wrong with them, just stuck for lack of traction or lack of driver skill- as @jmo put it, bald tires and fear. Well, maybe not always bald tires, summer tires or summer tires masquerading as all-season. Just call me a stick in the mud. Or a stick in the muddy snow.

    • Lie2me Lie2me on Mar 05, 2015

      I was thinking the same thing. Snow was mentioned, but not as being an issue. In Atlanta when this thing happens it's because the car is stuck or ran out of gas in snarled traffic

  • Koshchei Koshchei on Mar 06, 2015

    I'm going to take "Water in the radiator rather than antifreeze" for $500, Alex.

    • JimC2 JimC2 on Mar 06, 2015

      Mister Connery, you're still in control of the board!

  • Kwik_Shift It was an annoying feature on my 2018 Nissan Sentra SV. Bugs, leaves and snow would disable it. Should have been a better design .
  • Master Baiter A regulator's job is never done, so yeah, bring on the next level of regulations.
  • DedBull The automatic braking system in my wife's 2019 Tiguan is easily defeated by the slightest amount of solid precipitation, which is not uncommon here in western Pennsylvania. Fortunately we have regular speed-holding cruise control, because the active cruise control uses the same sensor and becomes inactive in the same conditions. It was infuriating in our loaner. I've had a few false-positives over the years, plus a couple where it didn't like my rate of deceleration. Interestingly it did not intervene at all when I had a deer strike a couple years ago. I don't mind the application of the tech, but I think they are setting a pretty high bar going forward. I'm also cautious of over-reliance on tech in vehicles.
  • FreedMike The AEB system on my car has actually engaged only once in the two years I've owned it, mainly because I actually pay attention. But not everyone does...thus, this proposal. If everyone was as diligent as I am, I'd say there's no need, but we all know how that movie ends.if it keeps some moron in a Tahoe who's busy f**king around on TikTok from laying waste to my car from behind, I'm all for it.
  • Lou_BC I've seen photo's of plates that spell "azzhole" when viewed in the rear view mirror. There was a fellow in Canada who's last name was "Grabher". They wouldn't let him have that plate.