By on March 5, 2015

snow. Shutterstock user Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz

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 [email protected]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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

80 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Snowpocalypse Kills Old Cars?...”


  • avatar
    Marone

    I don’t know. Personally, the last few times I have seen cars parked it is always a mix of new and old.

    I suspect some older, run down cars are owned by people of less means and sometimes that means no snow tires or low tread depth, minimal maintenance? But again, I’ve always seen new also.

    I’ve also known lots of people that keep winter cars. Run down POSs that they use during the salted, winter months. No doubt those are part of the mix.

    • 0 avatar
      anti121hero

      From living in cny my whole life, sajeev is pretty much 100% correct. Bad batteries kill alternators and bad alternators kill batteries and the cold kills them both quicker. In an interesting turn, my winter rat is newer than my summer. I drive a 98 grand cherokee lifted 4 inches with 230000 miles in winter and a 93 xj cherokee 2 door lifted 3 inches with 150000 miles in summer, both with 4.0s, and a 98 parts cherokee for both of them. I don’t want the rust to kill my cool little 2 door high output jeep.

  • avatar
    jrmason

    I’m thinking since the vehicles were already started and on the road its likely more of a fuel issue. If a battery is going to give up the ghost, it will almost always be the first start of the day after a cold soak. Probably more of an issue of the gasoline not being suited to the unseasonable weather.

    Winter-blend fuel has a higher RVP because the fuel must be able to evaporate at low temperatures for the engine to operate properly. If the RVP is too low on an unseasonably cold day, the vehicle can be hard to start and will run rough once started. On top of that factor in most warm climates are also humid and the fact that a large amount of people insist on running their tanks down to near empty before filling up which invites condensation. Its bound to bite a few of em.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      The most credible hypothesis.

      In instances like this, adding gas line antifreeze to the tank would count as preventive maintenance.

      In Canada many (most?) stations have for about a decade offered winter blend gas, hopefully eliminating the need for gas line antifreeze.

      Still having experienced this issue once in the late 80’s in a 2 year old vehicle that my wife had brought home nearly empty, I understand how condensation and/or sludge in the tank can cause a car’s engine to start cutting out.

    • 0 avatar
      GS 455

      A weak battery and alternator may have enough juice to get a car started but then the additional load of the heater blower, rear window defroster, headlights, wipers, radio will drain it completely and it will stall.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      The ethanol in most auto fuel should absorb any condensation. This used to be a problem, but shouldn’t be now.

      • 0 avatar
        DasFast

        Ethanol in gasoline only contributes to the problem as it prevents moisture in the fuel tank from being incorporated into the fuel. If you want to prevent condensation from building up in the gas tank, especially if you live in a cold climate and park in heated garage, add isopropyl alcohol every once in a while.

        • 0 avatar
          notapreppie

          My chemistry education indicates that you have this backwards.

          Short chain alcohols (methanol, ethanol, 1-propanol and isopropanol, t-butanol, etc) and water are miscible so any water in the tank will dissolve into the ethanol and get carried through the engine. This is why HEET (mostly methanol) and Iso-HEET (mostly isopropanol) work; they dissolve the water (or dissolve into the water, depends on which is more prevalent) and lower the freezing point.

          The only way this breaks down is if the fuel/ethanol mixture coming in is already saturated with water. In which case, there are likely larger problems than condensation in your gas tank.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Your education should also tell you that temperatures at or near freezing should have zero effect on any modern car

    • 0 avatar
      anti121hero

      Not so much with gas unless it’s an older carbed car but definitely with diesels. Cold will gel up the fuel right away and cause no starts and running like absolute junk.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        The temperatures described aren’t cold enough to gel diesel. That tends to be around -35C. Areas that experience “real” cold switch to winter diesel which is just lighter.

        The actual cause of breakdowns could be fuel related or electrical. Oddly enough I do not see the same scenario played out in Northern Canada. My wife’s Sienna is 5 years old and the battery is getting weaker but it hasn’t left her dead. I had a Safari that died on me and it had a new battery. The coil decided to die.

        If the guy lives in a high moisture area it could easily be iced up fuel lines. I try to run with a minimum 1/2 tank of fuel in the winter not just for condensation but if I get stuck somewhere I can run at idle and keep the interior warm.

        Running out of fuel could be a possibility since winter driving and the extra parasitic losses due to cold and snow on roads burning more fuel.

        The question appears to be too broad and vague to give a definitive answer.

        • 0 avatar
          jrmason

          I totally missed the part where he stated the temp. Really not a whole lot to pin it on, even the fuel grade the southern states get should handle those temps no problem. 30F is very mild. For the month of February, the avg temp here was 11.1 degrees F. We spent less than 48 hours above freezing, had 13 days of below zero weather with -39F being the coldest we saw. Point being that vehicles are built to withstand very cold weather. Even weak batteries should be able to crank in that weather, if not than there most likely would have been problems before hand.

        • 0 avatar
          anti121hero

          Lol I’d like to see that fact. I see gelled diesels every single day here in central ny.

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            Like to see what fact?

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @anti121hero – it all depends on the type of diesel. I’m not used to seeing it gel until extreme cold i.e. in the -30C Range. Our winter diesel is much more resistant to gelling.

            I strongly suspect that if you are seeing gelling your region isn’t using a winter blend.

            I read that in Antarctic expeditions they use Jet fuel since it more tolerant of even colder temperatures.

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            I know northern Alaska uses a #1/#2 blend. The colder the climate, the more #1 they blend. This is a double edged sword though because the more #1 is added the drier the fuel and the harder it is on injection pumps.

            Jet fuel is extremely dry and does a number on high pressure CR injection pump and injectors, and even more so on rotory type injection pumps. A good lubricity additive is needed to improve the HFRR score. Its been a while since I was involved but I’m pretty sure the military still uses a variant of jet fuel for all their diesel powered engines to cut back on the number of fuels they need to use and store (and transport during war). Its not straight jet fuel, it had to be modified in order for the high pressure fuel systems to survive and be reliable. I’m still not sure how reliable they are, its hard to set a benchmark by the short and strenuous duty cycles most of their engines go through.

            One thing was for sure, you almost never heard of an engine gelling up in cold weather!

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            And for the record, untreated #2 diesel will start to gel in temps as mild as 20 degrees. If its a high concentration of bio diesel and is untreated it can begin to settle out and plug filters at just under 30 degrees. Almost all regions run at least a small amount of winterized diesel or even the south would experience gelling issues on a “cold to them day”.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Before I add to this discussion, I’d like to mention that I used to work for an airport Fixed Base Operator (i.e. gas station for airplanes) and one of my jobs was driving the refueling trucks. Of course, that also means I refueled the trucks themselves. I can’t say this is standard procedure with all or even most FBOs, but our diesel-powered trucks were typically refueled with Jet-A fuel, using a quart of 30-weight motor oil for every 50 gallons we put in the tank. It works and we certainly didn’t have any excessive engine repairs on those trucks, but we also rarely saw temperatures fall below 0°F.

          • 0 avatar
            seth1065

            No issues with diesel fuel in my new ish 2011 TDI ans as you know we had the coldest feb in 80 years in ny , I think in modern oil burners not much of an issue

  • avatar
    Silverbird

    Are we talking about cars abandoned on the side of the road?

    Not likely a battery, those will definately be an issue, but the car won’t start and will still be sitting in a parking spot somewhere.

    Possibly worn out tires, but it would have to be pretty bad for someone to give up and ditch the car mid way – I would think most with ill suited tires would either give up near where they started (couldn’t get going) or pushed through to get to the destination and then left it there (“never again am I driving that deathrap”)

    Thinking:
    Maybe hit a chunk of ice that fell off a car and broke something? (somewhat unlikely)

    Car got out of the plowed area, into thicker snow, panicked and got sucked into the deep snow, maybe hitting a curb and breaking something?

    I’m betting on: Ran out of washer fluid (or used water which froze) and couldn’t see out the windshield at all so they parked?

    Either way it’s odd. Lots of old clunkers getting through winter up here, but the vast majority of havoc caused by cold weather is trying to get it started, once it’s running, the car is subject to the usual causes of failure.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      My washer nozzles were frozen up the other day, and I was irritated. I thought it was common to have heated washer nozzles nowadays. Or did I just imagine this feature?

      • 0 avatar
        Silverbird

        Some makes advertise heated nozzles, most do not. I’ve never had that problem when using -35 washer fluid.

        Bigger issue at cold temps is spraying the fluid on the windshield before it warms up and you get the nice frost layer that freezes over the windshield. only fix is to spray more fluid and repeat and repeat.
        Or just learn not to do this in the first place.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I have never put washer fluid in this car, so it could be cheap crap in there from when the car lived in NC and didn’t see snow.

          It wasn’t cold enough to create a sheet of ice, but my view was so annoying through all the salt residue, I had to spray it off! Bzzzzt – nothing happened.

          Actually, no bzzt because the sprayers in this car are remarkably quiet. Either way, this car does not have heated nozzles and I am a sad.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            If you’ve not put in your own washer fluid you almost certainly have weak tea in there. I’ve learned to top up the washer fluid on my own before getting a quickie oil change. They’ll top off with cheap fluid that freezes way too easily.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Probably, but I have only sprayed once or twice, so I bet the thing was full when I got my oil changed anyway!

            But I only go to an independent mechanic for all my services.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            I would question if even a good independent would fill you up with serious fluid (if he even filled it at all). Hopefully we’re nearly past the point where the weak tea freezes, and you can squirt like crazy while back-filling with some fluid that’s good to well below zero. Working washers are almost as important as working lights when driving in winter precip.

          • 0 avatar
            hudson

            I sometimes go through an entire jug in a day. Think about that!

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          You only really need windshield washer fluid down to around -10C to -15C (14-5F). Once it gets colder than that de-icing chemicals no longer work effectively and you don’t tend to get the same amount of road film thrown at your windshield.

          Once the alcohol evaporates from the fluid you just make the windshield icing problem worse. The key is to make sure your vehicle is warm enough to prevent icing of the windshield.

          An opposite trick works when traveling at steady state speeds if it is snowing and the snow isn’t wet/heavy.
          You turn down the heat to the windshield and one can even open the side window a crack. The windshield cools enough that the falling snow does not stick to the windshield. You don’t need to use the wipers.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Reminds me of the old unheated VW’s with air-cooled engines.

            The interior of the windshield would frost over, not the exterior.

            VW drivers would open up the ‘vent’ window and use one of those small scrapers on the interior so that they could see why they drove.

            I keep reminding my wife of how she learned how to do this on her 62 bug when she complains that my car doesn’t have heated seats.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            “VW drivers would open up the ‘vent’ window and use one of those small scrapers on the interior so that they could see why they drove.”

            Dear God, there’s a painful flashback. Simultaneously steering, shifting and scraping with only 2 hands was a real challenge. Sometimes I would keep a scarf wrapped round my nose and mouth in an effort to reduce the amount of moisture that could condense.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        I think most automakers have done away with the heated washer fluid nozzles. There were some related fires, if I remember correctly.

        I just pay the extra $2 per gallon and get the good -45 or -49 washer fluid. Most of my driving is at highway speed and that -35 crap freezes as soon as it hits the windshield, even a heated up one.

        On those couple of -40 days we get every winter, I just try not to use the washer fluid at all. It’s not like there is any road spray at that temperature anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          sckid213

          My ’08 CTS came with the headed fluid feature, but all early second-gen CTS’s were recalled and had the equipment removed from the engine due to possible engine fires. Owners received a $200 (I believe) check as credit for the removed feature. Not an issue for me in Socal, but many owners in cold climates were peeved.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    It’s probably a fluke. A few days of winter slurry won’t cause the electronics to go haywire as they don’t up here in the salt belt where cars are driven in those conditions 5-6 months out of the year without epidemic. They’re designed for it.

    If anything, sudden cold snaps (or heat waves for that matter) can causing ailing batteries to give up the ghost. Failing batteries can eventually cause alternators to fail as well. While I doubt this was the cause of most of the cars you saw, it could be a contributing factor.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      That would be my guess too. The battery is already bad, the cold weather makes it work that much harder to start the car, and the already weak alternator fails trying to recharge it; when the alternator finally dies the voltage drops low enough to shut off the car.

      The wholesale battery distributor I use sells pallets of vehicle batteries after every cold snap. Drivers don’t know that their battery is bad until it won’t turn over a cold engine. Just because you were able to jump start the car does not mean the battery is salvageable.

      It’s more than likely that the driver of the POS has already been driving for months with the Check Engine light on. The cold was the nail in the coffin.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Yep.

      I’d bet 75%+ of no-go vehicles in moderate temp states get along fine on precarious batteries (many that are 5 years old or older), and when the first cold spell of sub freezing temps hit, click-click-click-click-click.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re right, then I suppose it’s not bad. All I need to do is not to forget to take a voltage reading at each oil change and write it down into the maintenance journal. It should, hopefuly, start trending down then battery is about to die.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I’m going with a combination of bald tires and fear. You have people who aren’t familiar with driving in snow, riding on bald tires, and it doesn’t take much for them to over correct and spin themselves into a ditch. Or, you have people who can maintain momentum but as soon as they hit traffic or a stop sign they can’t get going again.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    There can be any number of reasonable causes, including the ones mentioned above. Yes, more than once I’ve seen someone who doesn’t pay attention to their anti-freeze or oil changes end up on the side (and sometimes burning). In fact, where I live it doesn’t even require snow to set off an automotive bonfire on average twice a month just in my one semi-rural county.

    However, if you live in an area that’s not used to significant weather changes and especially changes where the temperatures may drop 20° or more in a matter of hours, other electrics can catch you out. Modern soldering techniques in automotive computers can see a connection break under a sudden temperature change to the point that the computer may die while you’re driving simply because a number of sensors or even a power lead lost connection. At around 10 years old this becomes a fairly common issue today. The car may work fine in warmer temperatures, but as the mercury drops to and below freezing, the metal wires and solder shrink and pull enough to break–and there goes anything from a mere annoying loss of radio or temperature controls to a computer that thinks the engine has crapped out.

  • avatar
    mmdpg

    If there is ethanol in the gas in your area then there is no need for gas line antifreeze (which was alcohol in a bottle) like we used years ago up here in frozen New England. Probably the only advantage of ethanol in gas is it can carry condensation (water) through the engine and prevent buildup in the gas tank. Gasoline alone without any alcohol in it has very little solubility with water, the water stays at the bottom of the gas tank and can get sucked into the fuel line where it can freeze.

    Winter blend gas has to do with it’s ability to vaporize in cold weather, not how much water it can hold.

    • 0 avatar
      DasFast

      I don’t understand why, but both ethyl and methyl alcohols can create a layering effect where water builds up in the bottom of a tank. To disperse moisture/condensation/a shot of water from a low pump, use isopropyl.

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        The layering effect you describe shouldn’t happen in a car that’s driven regularly. The fuel pickup is at the bottom of the tank where the alcohol/water layer would form once it starts to separate.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I wonder if all the broken down cars had the same thing in common: being parked outside. Those temp changes can’t be too awesome on a car on the verge of breakdown.

    I’m lookin at you, Pontiacs.

  • avatar
    calgarytek

    Every time a cold snap hits I set up a quick release contraption where I take the battery out of the car and store it inside. It’s usually pain to plop it in than to take it out but the CR-V starts every time.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      But then you lose your radio presets and everything else memory related! :(

      Is it actually cold enough up there to make this necessary?

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        This seems like overkill. My car sits outside and starts every time too… I just make sure its in a good state of tune and has a known good battery prior to winter. Modern fuel injected cars in good repair should have no trouble with this climate.

        (This also works for me in Winnipeg, along with some judicious block heater usage. I don’t plug in in Calgary.)

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Agreed.Overkill to pull the battery. Just make sure the battery is in decent condition.

          With that being said I do pull the batteries from anything I have stored and keep them in the house and run a trickle charger through them occasionally but I only do that with something that I don’t plan on using for the winter i.e. RV batteries, motorcycle battery, boat battery.

          There is evidence that suggests that your vehicle will rust less if parked outside and not in a heated garage every night. Cold slows down the chemical reactions that cause rust.

          • 0 avatar
            Zoom

            “There is evidence that suggests that your vehicle will rust less if parked outside and not in a heated garage every night. Cold slows down the chemical reactions that cause rust.”

            Maybe, but you can also wash your car more often during the winter if stored in a garage. My garage, even un-isulated, is warmer than outside temperatures during the winter. Therefore, I can get the road crud washed off more often, without freezing everything up, than if it was stored outside.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I’m not sure I buy the outdoors thing. Yes less chemical reactions perhaps – like Zoom says. But your car is more dirty outside, and subjected to harsher temperatures and elements all the time. That’s harder on paint, glass, and interior materials. Acidic pollen, pollution settling, etc etc – things which aren’t in your garage.

            The sun is an enemy, no matter how cold it is out.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            CoreyDL – part of the issue is free/thaw. No different than frost heaves and broken pavement. You go from subfreezing temperatures to freezing every day with a garage stored vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yeah that makes sense. But is it any worse than your car being freezing, you thawing it out by driving, then letting it freeze again? Seems there is one less freeze per day when it’s parked indoors.

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            It really depends on the climate and temps. In cold climates where it consistently is close to zero or colder and has little to no humidity, there will be very little to no oxidation of metal. The colder it is the less oxidation takes place, salt or no salt. Bringing it in out of the frigid environment will help many of the components in the vehicle but will also accelerate the corrosion process.

            Now if you live in a climate that regularly sees temps in the teens and 20s then yes, bringing it in to thaw and melt the crud off would be advantageous. Either way, the cold climate is hell on vehicles just the same as a hot climate is hell on engines.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        My roommate in college used to do the same thing. It definitely helped on those really cold days. I never did, but my car at the time was only 2 years old and the battery was still strong.

        Wouldn’t one of those plug in battery blankets work just as well? Plug it in and put it on a timer or a remote control or something. I have a remote setup for the block heaters on both of my vehicles and it works great. I just can’t plug both into the same outlet without popping the breaker. :)

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      An alternative to a battery warmer is to permanently install a trickle charger (zip tie it somewhere under the hood, use common sense here). Plug it in to an extension cord any time you would have used the battery warmer (or removed the battery to bring indoors). Just sayin’…

  • avatar
    slance66

    I don’t know about a crappy inch or two of snow, but here in Massachusetts we’ve had an unusually high number of disabled vehicles this winter. It’s something I see very rarely otherwise. Most of these cars are not “old”, but a few are.

    My presumption was always a combination of fuel issues and battery/alternator issues. There are also mammoth potholes and frost heaves here creating blowouts, bent rims and other suspension damage, but that’s not the answer where they get a minor snow in the south.

    • 0 avatar
      brkriete

      In addition to all the snow it’s been an unusually cold winter. Much of February was something ludicrous like 20 degrees below the average temp. Even though oil prices are down people are still probably spending more than most years on heat. Wonder if some of it is people are just too broke to pay for gas or maintenance?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    30F is hardly cold enough to cause battery or fuel issues. I’m not even putting a winter coat on at that point. Start a vehicle that has been sitting outside all night in a hotel parking lot in WI on a -25F morning and then you’ll understand what cold is.

    • 0 avatar
      BunkerMan

      Ha, agreed. It was +5C here yesterday and most people were driving with their windows down.

      I don’t even plug in my block heater unless it gets below -30C.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I tend to plug the block heater in around -20 to -25C. At work I have a lower threshold since I pay for parking and electrical load does not change the fee ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      -25? Try -40. My first experience at that temperature in Sudbury, I could not figure out why once we got the car moving it was making a ‘flapping’ sound and bumping.

      The old bias play tires had frozen flat. Took a couple of blocks to warm them back into round.

      In large parts of Canada many public parking areas (for instance hotel lots) come equipped with electrical outlets, originally designed for block heaters, they are already ready for electric vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        jrmason

        Do gas powered vehicles come with block heaters as standard equipment or is it a special order? I assume they are coolant heaters? Where do they locate them, in the block like they do diesels or are they inline in a hose?

  • avatar
    Searcher

    I’m going to go against the grain here and offer my opinion that the majority of the disabled cars are due to a cooling system failure of one sort or another.

    It’s been my experience that the cooling system is the one that succumbs first to neglect and is frequently indifferently refilled after a failure. Again IME, the older the car gets the more likely the coolant is little more than water. Particularly in areas that rarely suffer freezes.

    So you get a cold snap and a hose might split and you lose coolant once you’re moving, or the water pump freezes up so there’s no coolant flow, maybe the radiator itself is frozen but what’s in the block is not so again there’s no coolant flow and it overheats a few miles down the road, and many other variations on a theme I’ve observed both when young and broke and later as a mechanic

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Searcher – valid point BUT 65F to low 30’s F isn’t cold enough to put much of a strain on a cooling system unless it froze up sitting overnight with pure water in the system. Once running the engine heat would easily compensate. I’ve seen it happen in -45C weather but never around freezing.

  • avatar
    George B

    I’m guessing that there are multiple independent factors that can cause a car that was marginal in warm weather to either quit working or act erratic enough in cold weather to cause the driver to pull over to the side of the road. For example, my 16 year old beater a problem with the idle control that only appears intermittently in cold weather. It also has a mismatched set of used tires that can act a little weird in snow.

  • avatar

    I honestly haven’t seen too many stopped cars this winter, at least not any more than usual. The main ones that I saw stopped were stuck in the snow/ice. I myself briefly got the SportWagen stuck this morning on my way to work…

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Once a car is started and running, barring running out of fuel, it’s going to keep going even with a weak battery. In the days before alternators, cars stuck in traffic in the snow might die because the battery was being continually discharged; but not today.

    The more likely scenario, especially in a place that experiences a “cold snap” which otherwise is pretty balmy is thermal shock on coolant hoses that should have been replaced some time ago. The way this works is that you start the car up and start driving along with everything fine. Then as the engine warms up, the thermostat opens up, dumping hot coolant on to a cold, stiff hose . . . and the hose fails and bursts. That puts the car on the side of the road.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Agreed that the breakdowns are neglected cooling system related. Years of neglect and the first well below freezing night in a few or more years and you have cracked blocks, broken hoses, split radiators. If the water pump freezes, a freshly started engine at high idle is going to burn and snap the belt. In all these cases the car is going to start and be driven away. Once the engine warms up, the ice is gone and shortly thereafter you overheat

      • 0 avatar
        jrmason

        For this to be a cooling system failure people would have to be running straight water. Even a very diluted (say 20/80) mix of coolant to water will keep an engine from freezing well below 30 degrees. I honestly don’t know anybody that runs straight water in their engines (although I do live in a much colder climate). Even people that have zero mechanical aptitude know that running straight water in their engine is bad ju ju not only for freeze concerns but for corrosion reasons. For straight water to be in an engine one would either have to completely drain the coolant and flush with straight water and refill with straight water or there would have to be one heck of a leak and they would have to continuously top off with straight water. I’d really be surprised if either of those scenarios are played out on a repeated basis.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    “It’s cold, I don’t want to stand outside pumping gas, I bet I can go at least another 20 miles after the needle hits the E post.” That’s my guess…

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So did the BMW in the picture just run out of warranty?

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    These temperatures and conditions are far too moderate to be the cause of mechanical problems in any car built this century. I question the sample size. The only other alternative is that the manufacturers have been concentrating so hard on making cars reliable in the heat and cold that they have forgotten about the moderate middle. Better move back up North.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I’ve seen over 100 different things go wrong due to the cold. Mostly, it is due to a component that’s marginal, and the cold accelerates it’s demise.

    Take a fuel pump for example. It’s harder to pump a cold fluid than a warmer one. The worn contacts get stressed until that last bit of connection is overloaded. Much more frequently, it’s a battery connection. A battery’s efficient drops below 80* along with voltage. When voltage goes down, the current and extended cranking time can fry many things. Things like a ground strap that just rusted that last little tiny bit around the screw. Things like gummed up control solenoids will be sluggish as well.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Salt wouldn’t be the problem for the car in the picture, because it’s the Atlanta area..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i61jFizWf38 (same car)

  • avatar
    JimC2

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      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

  • avatar
    koshchei

    I’m going to take “Water in the radiator rather than antifreeze” for $500, Alex.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • SoCalMikester: after the 1% takes all their unearned tax breaks, they take all that extra money and throw it into...
  • SoCalMikester: “The greenies goal is to shut America down” ya think the frogs are gay from drinkin that...
  • Lightspeed: God help me, I love these things. There’s a handful of vehicles that on paper, don’t perform...
  • Lightspeed: This is dangerously close to wagon ride-height, and it’s lacking at least 2-inches of...
  • khory: So you get to decide their needs for them?

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber