By on December 26, 2017

1989 Honda Prelude pop-up headlight, Image: Wikimedia Commons

As I type this, the icy tentacles of major cold snap are beginning to be felt in the Midwest and Northeast, sending frigid residents from Montana to Maine to their computers in search of cheap timeshares in Tampa. Meanwhile, forecasters in this neck of the woods — who smugly called for average to above-average temperatures for the duration of the winter — magically get to keep their jobs.

The onset of a deep freeze stirs up so many memories, none of them good.

Let’s see, there was the Plymouth Sundance with sticky valves that turned over with a series of small explosions on especially frosty mornings. Then there was the ’89 Prelude with a driver’s side window that stopped four inches from the top of the frame. How can one forget the drive home on a morning where the windchill factor hit minus 47 Fahrenheit?

Oh man, does cold weather ever make driving a pain, though your author once suffered frostbite while waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for public transit. There’s an “it could be worse” argument within easy reach.

From car doors freezing shut due to poor door seal design to windows freezing open due to aging scissor-type assemblies, Mother Nature’s wrath hits owners of older cars the hardest. (Is there enough juice left in this battery to turn this hunk of iron into a warm, whirring machine? Let’s pray and find out.) When the mercury plunges, everything becomes a chore. And when something goes wrong, chores become torture.

Without a doubt, the most infuriating (and odd) cold-weather malfunction in this writer’s history had nothing to do a part defeated by low temperatures. It was a part defeated by the need to stash food away for the winter. Years ago, that aforementioned Prelude, equipped with delightful pop-up headlamps that rotated into place with a satisfying clunk, fell victim to nature’s most troublesome beast. A squirrel.

With a fierce wind raging on top of the subzero temps, a turn of the ignition key brought one of the Prelude’s headlights into action, with the other stopping at half-mast. Lifting the hood and peering inside the mechanism, I quickly saw the cause of my car’s droopy eye: a big freakin’ nut.

Yes, as my car sat innocently outside my university, some enterprising squirrel had stashed the green, spherical product of a black walnut tree in my headlight assembly, despite the fact that I had never seen such a tree anywhere near the campus. The tight confines of the assembly and the surprisingly large fruit meant extracting the foreign body was easier said than done. The wind howled. Curse words flowed faster than water over Niagara Falls. Bare hands turned into rigid claws.

Ultimately, I persevered.

So, B&B, cast your mind backwards in time. What’s the most frustrating vehicular issue (malfunction, quirk, breakdown, etc.) that ever cropped up due to the cold?

[Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)]

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71 Comments on “QOTD: What’s Your Major Malfunction?...”

  • avatar

    Celica gt with pop up headlights. Never worked in winter so I had to leave them up all the time. There was one click to leave them off and up vs on and up so it was really easy to miss the detent. And the lights would burn the battery completely. So it was Russian roulette every time since my usual cue was headlights down for off. Good times.

    • 0 avatar

      I believe, if you read an owners manual, it says there, “Leave headlights in popped-up position during cold weather”. This is why there is a button that can lift them without turning it on.

    • 0 avatar

      On GM cars (such as Firebirds) we had three clicks. Off, Parking Lights, and Headlights. The motors only actuated on the “Headlights” and “off” phases. You could turn the parking lights on without raising the headlamps, and you could turn off the headlamps without lowering the lights, but that would leave the parking lights off. There was no position on the knob that would give you lamps up, but all lights off.

      The only solution was to pull the motor fuse in the fusebox, which was adequate enough. There were also manual knobs under the hood that you could turn to raise them if you absolutely had to.

      After the first year of owning the car, I just let the headlights operate normally during the winter. They were fine. They never froze unless the hood was completely covered in ice, and even then they could be easily freed. The arm that raised and lowered them was designed in such a way that water wouldn’t get to it. The only time I pulled the fuse was when one motor succumbed to the grinding problem, which could only be solved with replacing the motor (or cracking it open and replacing its internals with stouter materials).

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    I fell victim to a poor alignment – and even poorer judgement.

    My ’91 Miata, about 9 years ago, was briefly my only means of transport in the winter. Central Ohio doesn’t get hit by winters’ wrath nearly as badly as our friends up by the lake, but occasionally, the white stuff can be nasty.

    My wife and I had plans after work to meet up on the other side of town. The snow was predicted to be minimal, but as the day went on, we were blanketed.

    She decided to come pick me up at work instead. I either didn’t listen, or was simply stubborn, but I left the office in the Miata and trudged toward her.

    She had a toddler and a newborn in the back of the Trailblazer. I had a sandbag in my trunk. We met at a Tim Horton’s so the eldest could use the potty, and we bailed on our plans so we could retreat to the house.

    She followed me as I struggled on the freshly-powdered tarmac. Starting even in second gear was too much for the roadster – I’d be sliding around even as I slipped the clutch in third. Traffic was glacial, which made the drive even more harrowing.

    Finally, my tension got the best of me. I hit a patch of ice on a wide two-lane next to the Scioto River (Riverside Drive, dontcha’ know) and started into a lazy 360° spin right in front of my wife. Luckily the southbound traffic wasn’t as thick, and nothing approached me as I brought the careening Mazda back into the proper lane.

    A mile ahead, I parked the Miata in front of a closed storefront, and hopped into the truck for a ride home. We picked the roadster up early the next morning, once salt and plows made the drive quite simple.

    Soon thereafter, I bought a Volvo 745 to deal with dad duties and with the winter. The Miata went up on jackstands, when I noticed that the rear wheels had entirely too much camber – the inner half of each rear Yokohama was bald. No cords were showing, but no wonder that drive was so bad.

    Yes, I maintain my cars better now. The Miata hasn’t seen the road in 3 years – mostly due to salt – but does have a better alignment and new tires.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand the lack of any critical thinking from these so-called college educated meteorologists. I have been living through these patterns for a while. After two warm winters there has always been a colder winter with heavy snow. That’s what I’ve been telling everyone who sighted these experts. They thought I was full of it, even a few weeks ago when it was still unseasonably warm. Now, they’re starting to believe me after two decent snow accumulations and now the single digits.

    • 0 avatar

      Getting on topic, I haven’t had to many issues with cold weather affecting my vehicles. My first car, an 88 VW Fox had a battery that was too old to deal with cold weather. I took out every night and placed it inside. Then reinstalled it every morning. My 93 Passat had plastic covers over the door latches. These would trap water and freeze. This would keep the doors from closing. Most forum members drilled holes into these covers. In just took them off. My 2000 E320 had the electronic ignition switch fail the first time it experienced single digits temperatures.

    • 0 avatar

      Dad-burned edjucated “elites”. Shouldn’t listen to anyone with more book-larnin’ than youse got, just ‘cuz they kin read. Ain’t no good never come from gittin’ too big for yer breeches.

      • 0 avatar

        My point is that a person with a degree in a field, should be better at it than a casual amateur. In the field of meteorology, this has become untrue. Most of them even went to school way before millennial safe spaces became a thing, so we can’t even blame that.

        • 0 avatar

          Weather prediction is an inexact science. They look at computer models, history,etc. and make an educated guess. And sometimes, they are way off because nature does whatever the eff it wants too.

          As a pilot, I make my living by forecasts and they are fairly accurate most of the time. But even I expect fog in Charleston West Virginia when the forecast isn’t calling for it, but I know the conditions are right.

  • avatar

    The gas door on the ’98 NEW Volkswagen Beetle would freeze whenever snow and ice would come in contact with it-which was often because it was located on the top of the fender. Had to chip away with an ice scraper every time. Bad design…

  • avatar

    A few decades ago I had a first=generation Honda Civic into which I had done my first engine replacement. A three-hour trip “back home” on a freezing winter morning resulted in carburetor icing – it would run poorer and poorer, until it would die. Ten minutes on the side of the road, and it would mysteriously run perfectly again, then slowly get worse until it died, and it was using much more gas than it should have been.
    Later I figured out it was a broken heat riser tube. A two-dollar part cost me plenty of time and gas money. Good times, live and learn. At least we don’t get snow or ice very often in these parts.

    • 0 avatar

      I had the same problem with an ’88 Accord DX hatchback, one of the last carb’d Hondas. In my case the riser was intact, but the vacuum check valve that actuated the trap door allowing hot air to pass into the intake had failed. At highway speeds, if the ambient temperature was below 40 or so, the Venturi chamber would ice up, and I’d have to pull over and wait for it to melt. The day I finally diagnosed it, replaced the check valve, and heard that little trap door snap open was one of my happiest moments under the hood.

    • 0 avatar

      I had an ’83 Accord hatchback that would run on 3 cylinders when the temperature dropped below freezing. I had it in SoCal, then Hawaii, so wasn’t a problem most of the time. But at 10,000′ on a volcano in January it can get darn cold, and one time the thing would only fire two cylinders. Fortunately there was about 25 miles of downhill, the third cylinder kicked in about halfway down and number four started firing soon after we hit the flatland. Never did diagnose the issue.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 1983 Mercury Zephyr (3.3L I-6) that did that when I was crossing mountain passes at below freezing temps. As you said, it would run progressively worse until it finally stalled, then after a few minutes on the shoulder, it fired up and ran fine for a while longer. Never did it outside of that situation. I assumed it was a combination of the temps and high altitude.

      It was about 2:30 AM and this Mexican guy who barely spoke English had pulled up in his poorly-running and beat up ’80s Honda Civic and offered help/a ride. We showed him that it would run by trying it and it firing right up. It always struck me as to what a nice gesture that man made by stopping and offering to help. He didn’t have much in the way of money, judging by his car/clothing/etc, but he more than made up for it with a big heart.

  • avatar

    When I was in college in Rochester NY my friend had a dirt brown (why?) 1979 VW Rabbit. I kind of loved the car because nearly every time he go in it some new bizarre failure occurred. One day in brutal freezing weather we started driving it and we gradually noticed that it SEEMED like the front of the car was getting higher and the suspension was getting stiffer and stiffer. We both thought we were loosing it until we got out and looked to see what was happening. Something in the front struts had frozen so that they could extend but not retract. They were both completely stuck at the top of their travel! He drove it like this for a few days until he found a sympathetic garage owner who let him park inside overnight. He eventually traded it on a Honda but he had to find a dealer at the bottom of a hill so we could push the Rabbit most of the way there and he could coast it into the lot.

  • avatar

    I have not had any issues, due to the fact where I am, it never gets very cold. The coldest it ever gets is the low-mid 30’s! It is however, interesting to see what happens in really cold climates!

    • 0 avatar

      Its even warmer where I live in south FL – going below 50 here is pretty rare, anything below 40 is considered a fluke. So I just laugh at the nonsense people up north have to put up with. Freezing door locks, stuck wiper blades, scraping ice, winter tires, etc. Given how water accumulates on the inside door sills on my Z from rain I could see where ice in that location might cause some serious problems.

  • avatar

    Forgive me for crashing the topic but I have a related question. My son has a 2005 civic sedan. The passenger side rear door lock stopped working. It wiggles when the electric lock switch is activated but does not unlock. So the door cannot be opened. Without the door open the door panel cannot be removed (as for as I can tell). Any thoughts on how to get the door open so I can remove the door panel and repair the lock mechanism?

  • avatar

    I had a 1987 MR2 that if you set the parking brake in the winter, would freeze engaged. My late-teenage remedy would be to drive the car for about a mile and then let it sit and let the built up heat melt whatever ice was causing the problem. One day I went a little too far.

    Turns out brake pads can catch fire. A few hurried splashes of mtn dew later the fire was out and I was on my way.

    I just used a log after that to keep the vehicle in place.

  • avatar

    The doors on my first gen Durango freeze shut quite a bit. Freezing rain afew days ago did it again.
    Back when I lived in Down East Maine we had a two week period of well below zero (I think a whole week was below -10) Of course during this week one of my friends rolled the window all the way down on my XJ and it wouldn’t goback up.When I tried to lift it up it shattered. Ended up taking multiple flannel shirts and layers of plastic over the opening until I could get to the closest junkyatd with a window 100 miles away.

  • avatar

    1974 Dodge Charger that refused to put heat out of the heater in a cold Canadian winter. didn’t matter what we did, changed thermostat, blew out lines partialyy blocked the rad,manually switched the hot/cold lever it would not blow warm air.
    New Years Eve was around 20 below, I was elected to drive the gang around. After about 3 stops most everyone bailed on me as scraping the inside of the windshield,freezing our butt’s off I called it a night. Another winter storm blew in next day and I had to drive an hour home, hitting snow drifts, scraping to see out. That was the end of that car for me. Traded it in on Jan 2nd.

  • avatar

    Years ago, I pulled my Mitsubishi Eclipse into the parking lot at work, it was cold and raining. 8 1/2 hours later I went out to find everything was covered in ice, so I scraped the windows and got in, I stepped on the gas and nothing. I checked the e-brake and it was off. I nailed it and heard a loud Pop! as the car lurched forward and then the unmistakable wobble of a flat tire. The tire had frozen to the ground and then separated from the wheel when the car broke free. Crazy.

  • avatar

    My old Reliant has a odd problem when the temps got really low. I was on a ski trip in Vermont and the overnight temps dipped to minus 25. Car cranked and started but it shook and blew black smoke out of the exhaust. Then it died and would not restart. The repair shop told me it flooded. Got away from that with only change of plugs and an oil change. I learned in the next cold snap to hold the pedal down about a quarter of the way to keep it running. I would keep the pedal partially depressed for about 30 seconds and then it ran fine. Once I learned the technique I managed to avoid another cold flood. Bizarre for an injected car. This would reoccur only when it was at least 15 degrees or colder.

  • avatar

    Late 70s GM full size crapboxes – Auto climate control would die (if it hadn’t already) and give you no heat and no defrost.. There was no default mode so you could at least have a fan blowing SOMETHING.. no, total failure on three cars. Wiper motor intermittent- 1980 Cad Sedan Deville. Happened twice, replaced the motor then happened again- during whiteout conditions. Sold car. For 20 bucks. Then there was the cold snap that zapped the distributor in my 79 225. Swapped out the tower from a boneyard for 20 bucks. At least it started after that.

  • avatar

    ’61 Falcon Ranchero. Two winter issues. Issue one: when driving out on the desert to work one night the vehicle mysteriously began slowing down and down. I found that my feet had been lifted from the pedals due to snow kicked from the left front tire packing up through the rusted out floor pan under the plastic floormat into a mound which raised my feet from floor-level and the pedals. Issue two: The old Ranchero had a tank heater with a 15′ or 20′ 120vac cord for connection to a receptacle. Late to work one -15deg F morning I forgot to unplug from the receptacle inside the front door of the apartment. When I returned 12 hours later I found a cracked front door and the storm door lying in the yard along with about 10′ of the cord. But it was the best $150 vehicle I ever owned.

  • avatar

    Where “winter” means it’s 37 degrees and raining, there aren’t too many of these stories. My crapboxes were crapboxes, but they failed no matter whether it was winter or summer.

  • avatar

    My old vw Jetta had the trigger action door opener – which was conveniently in the path of the slush flying from the front wheels (for the rear doors). You could squeeze the trigger to open the door, put it would not go back into the original position so the door would not stay shut. A little prying with your key would usually solve the problem.

  • avatar

    “Yes, as my car sat innocently outside my university, some enterprising squirrel had stashed the green, spherical product of a black walnut tree in my headlight assembly…”

    I worked at an oil change place once, and I found a pile of cat/dog food stored in the airbox of a car. I told the old lady owner about it, to which she snapped back “you probably put them in there! Trying to rip me off!”

    Yes, you old b¡tch, I sure do keep dog food in my pocket to place in people’s cars so I… wait, I didn’t charge you to remove it, so how would this benefit me?

    Of course I didn’t say that to her, but what was She thinking? What possible advantage would my putting dog food in her car hold for me or the company?

    Anyway, the only cold weather mishaps I’ve had involve doors frozen shut, and one time, ice forming on the inside of a windshield when I had no heater in the car.

    • 0 avatar

      I had forgotten that while I lived out in Tohatchi, NM I had an issue with mice who would get into the cabin air filter housing on my Highlander. Leaves, dryer lint, ect would be found in there. A dryer sheet stuck in there with the filter kept them away but always made the dealers quick lube guys pull me back into the grease pit area.

      “Sir do you know you have a dryer sheet in your cabin air filter box?”

      “Yes – now let me tell you why…”

  • avatar

    Gas door – one that doesn’t even lock – froze shut on my Clubman. Turns out there is a plastic pin that locks when the car is in motion. And the ice caused it to become stuck. Well I had to put gas in the car so, using brute strength, I snapped the pin.

    And my BMW – ice was so bad that they glued the wipers to the windshield. I made the mistake of thinking they were clear but nothing happened. Once I scraped ’em clear, the bolt had loosened to the point that the wipers would sometimes catch and sometimes not. When you shut off the wipers, they would end up stuck in a vertical position. Of course the nut that had to be tightened was in a location that took my wife’s small hands to reach.

    But mostly batteries – cold weather kills off the ones that are about to go.

    • 0 avatar

      Since we only have one garage space, our Kia Sedona lives outside. I’ve had the fuel door freeze on me now and then–just completely covered with ice along with the whole side of the van.

      Our regular gas station sells coffee and other convenience items, and in this area they have a spigot that emits boiling hot water (for folks who want to make hot tea or cocoa). I’ve successfully used this water to melt the ice around the fuel door in the past (carrying it out to the van in an insulated cup).

      • 0 avatar

        I drove to Columbus in January, 1999 for a training seminar, at a near-downtown hotel, across from what was the City Center Mall. During the two days I was there, an ice storm with around two inches of ice accretion took place, which basically shut down central Ohio, including the Honda complex in nearby Marysville.

        My 1994 Honda Civic was iced-in completely; after about 10 minutes of picking away with my key ring and a small stick, I finally was able to expose the keyhole and knock enough ice from the top of the door to be able to open it, get in, and start it! (The trunk, where my snow brush was stowed, was still under two inches of ice!)

        Once I started the car, I locked the door behind me and made my way into the restaurant, where I was given a 32 oz. cup of water right out of the urn, which I carefully poured onto the mirrors and around the edge of the rear decklid. After refilling the cup and pouring more hot water around the trunk edge, I was finally able to get the trunk open after getting back in the driver’s seat using a spare key inside my wallet to open the door; by that time, the defrosters had been working for a good 25 minutes, but it still took another 15 minutes, IIRC, to get enough ice off to see out safely!

        But the best was yet to come! After a four hour drive back to Toledo (which normally takes around 2.5), I got home, and went to grab a glass of water. Nothing came out; a pipe in my garage, below my condo (which is entirely on the second floor above the common garage, shared among the building’s four units), had frozen in several places! Despite opening the taps on a couple faucets and using a hair dryer on a couple areas, the pipe burst the following morning! The temperature in the garage was in the 20s, and by the time I got the water shut off, I walked downstairs into the garage to see my Honda entombed in ice once again!

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I recently encountered a cold weather issue. I had my mom’s IS300 for a week while trying to troubleshoot a random non-start issue when I realized the windshield washer didn’t work. It seems like a bad pump so I ordered one. I gave the car back to her while I wait for the pump to arrive and retook possession of my ’16 Regal GS. Smug in the knowledge that I can have the car warmed up before I even get close to it, I got in, started to drive off, and sprayed the windshield. It promptly stopped working. Apparently someone prior to my ownership had filled the reservoir with water and it froze up solid the first time I used it.

    I spent this morning spraying the car to use up the remaining water while parked in the street. The car was covered in it when I was through, fortunately the black paint in the sun prevented most of it from freezing.

    • 0 avatar

      We bought a brand new Jetta in late Dec 2014. It was frigid out when we picked it up.

      On the drive home, we discovered that the washer fluid reservoir was basically a large blue ice cube. Had to wait for it to warm up a bit and spray most of it out of the tank.

      Then I refilled it with proper winter fluid. You’d think the dealership would have picked up on that before delivery to a customer, but nope…

      • 0 avatar

        Hell, when I stopped for gas last evening, there wasn’t a window squeegee/cleaner in the whole place with enough juice to do a side window, much less a windshield! (I found one just wet enough to take the crap off the backup camera!)

        (The Toledo area has received several inches of snow since Christmas Eve, and I drove ~240 miles through some nasty conditions to visit family on Christmas Day, so after all the salt and slop, my windows were nearly opaque; I wiped them with a dry paper towel this morning, just to make do until I can run through a car wash or find someplace WITH cleaner! The temperature isn’t supposed to be above 20-degrees for another week, so that car wash wouldn’t be such a good idea, at least if I want to take it out of the garage afterwards!)

  • avatar

    The Audi 5000 didn’t like cold weather. Often the brakes would stick on during my drive to school when the temperatures were below freezing. The throttle tended to jam up in similar conditions, causing random revving and leaps forward after shifting into drive.

    The only way to fix these things was for it to be warmer.

  • avatar

    BMW e46 had cheap power windows guaranteed to fail in cold weather. You did NOT go through the drive thru in the winter. Audi A4 had the freezing parking brake, so I never used it in winter.

  • avatar

    With one of my Mazdas, in cold and wet(snow) weather, door seals would freeze to the body. I solved it by spraying silicon on the seals.

  • avatar

    Never had an ice problem since I discovered the joys of remote start twenty years ago. Before that twenty years of Audis, which for some unknown reason never suffered the frailties I read that others suffered but had different ones entirely, were the worst for doors freezing shut, locks frozen so a key couldn’t be inserted, and windshield washer jets that were forever frozen. A brief sojourn with a 1980 Jetta revealed that at below minus 20 F, the throttle cable might freeze open in whatever position it had been for the last five minutes on the highway. Hmm.

    No German car today beyond the US-built Passat can be equipped with remote start, despite fragrance vents, massage seats, ABC suspension and every frippery known to man – wouldn’t be green you see to idle your car. No, drive it with a quarter-inch of ice on the windshield instead, that’d be smart.

    Best instant starter in real cold? Mid sixties Volvos with a gigantic manual choke T-bar handle and three inches of travel. After a bit of practise, you could judge just how far to pull it out for the temp that day. Instant light off and heaters that you could count on to melt the dash plastic after an hour of travel, and one hell of a manual windshield washer squirter. No freezing on a cold windshield with those furnaces on-line. Mmm mmm, toastie!

  • avatar
    Eddy Currents

    85 Ford Tempo.
    Darn near -40, and worried about it starting.

    This one had a carb.
    Crank it over, press the gas pedal – hmmm seems stiff…
    baap baaap baaap *starts* remove foot from pedal, pedal stays down, engine now SCREAMING at as close to the 4500 rpm redline as is possible given the molasses that was the oil.

    Fuel injection is probably the biggest leap forward we have ever managed on cars.

  • avatar

    2004 VW Touareg V8

    In a typical northern Alberta winter, around -30 Celsius, Nothing really liked to function on that car.

    Starting it up in those temperatures would turn the cluster into a Christmas tree, so we would have to let it idle for a good 45 minutes with the heat cranked and watch all the electronics slowly come to life.

    Even once the interior was warm, you’d have to shut it off and lock it, then get back in and restart it before things were back to normal and you could take it out of park.

    I installed a remote starter in that Touareg a month into our first winter in Alberta, then sold it the following spring.

    Most unreliable car I ever owned……

  • avatar

    I live in a little town in Southern Ontario about 2 hours west of Toronto. Right now it is minus 17 C (about minus 1 F). I cant calculate the wind chill, but it’s bloody awful. Here’s the rule here: in this type of weather you don’t count your failures – you count your successes. Doors open? Car starts? Steering sort of works? Groovy. Press on. Worry about the other bits some other time.

  • avatar

    Windshield freezing over in blizzard conditions in 2000 Kia Sephia, I disabled the AC-on-defrost “convenience feature” at next opportunity. That car provided reason to hate it at more than one occasion. Lets say it’d be difficult for me to overcome my distrust to the brand.
    Another cold weather adventure – seizing fuel pump on 1st gen Focus. I’ve tried to fix it on the side of a road (not exactly knowing what happened) but eventually had to give up and call for a tow truck. Later on I figured out the issue and impromptu “fix” (tap to the bottom of the fuel tank). Obviously I’ve eventually replaced the pump.

  • avatar
    Ben T Spanner

    1954 Austin Healey 100. The clutch linkage was mechanical and would freeze to the brake pedal linkage. Depress clutch, brakes would be applied. If roads were slippery, not much of a problem.

    The side curtains gapped away from the roof at higher speeds making nice air scoops. Cold weather starting invovled sticking rubber balls into the SU carbs, but it would start. The Lucas heater blower produced as much air flow as an asthmatic mouse.

    Winter driving beat winter walking, as the over quicker.

  • avatar

    My Iron Puke Celebrity once started in a measured -52 fahrenheit (wind and all) so yes as others have said fuel injection (even a sad little 4 cyl TBI) is a beautiful thing.

    Same car though decided to eat it’s original alternator in mid January (mid 1990s) while it was pitch dark and snowing. I was trying to get home from my miserable after school dishwashing job. Four to six inches on all the roads with more coming down. Had just enough juice that the car started and the 8 miles home wad dimmer and dimmer and dimmer from there. Limped home getting there with almost no lights at all. Thank goodness the roads were nearly empty.

    The kicker was that the new alternator was installed with the pulley misaligned (and cheapest one Dad could get his hands on) – proceeded to go through 2 more alternators before getting everything straightened out.

  • avatar

    My first car, an 81 Regal (in 1994) with a electronic carb 3.8, HATED being cold. I would have to run it 10 minutes to warm it up to drivable as soon as it got into the 30’s or below. If it was brutally cold, teens or below, it was 20 minutes and even then, you could count on it to stall at the first stop you made. And sometimes be a b1tch to get running again!

    My other friends with Malaise Mobiles, especially domestic stuff, as their first rides had similar issues. The throttle body injected HT4100 in my next car, an 84 Cadillac Eldorado, never suffered cold issues. It suffered HT4100 issues though, made worse by a leadfooted 20 year old me.

    I wouldn’t mind a carbed car as a toy, but gimme fuel injection all day long on a daily.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1985 Ford EXP with the 1.6 and carburetion. Cold winter starts were always an old-school adventure (well OK, no manual choke). That particular era Escort/EXP had an issue that when left to warm up on a frigid winter morning, the RPM the engine would idle would continue to climb. Left long enough, the engine would idle all the way at redline, and well, if left long enough the end result was obvious. You could get to 4K RPM in under 10 minutes of driveway idling.

    If you goosed the pedal, it would go into a nice normal idle. Argh – annoying.

    Oh, and my 1998 Pontiac Trans Sport Montana once it was 13 below zero couldn’t keep frost from forming on the INSIDE glass even with dual zone HVAC. I’d have to carry an ice scraper to scrape the inside of the windshield while driving.

  • avatar

    Winter, in a Super Beetle.

    A 1972; with those accursed heat-exchanger ducts. This was in New York State ski country; where we got over 200 inches of snow every winter.

    Snow would track in off my boots; and the pitiful heater duct, right by the left ankle, would blow warmish air on the snow pile on the driver’s footwell.

    The accellerator pedal was floor-hinged. The snow would melt into slush, and then later freeze; and the the pedal would bind and stick. I got to be expert in reaching down, at speed, and pulling that gas pedal back up.

    Until one day when the packed snow was over black ice. I reached down, gave a yank, and without warning was flattened as the whole car suddenly heaved upward. I’d slid off the road, hit the ginormous snowbank…it was about six feet tall and eight feet across, base to base. The Beetle chassis, a flat pan, just slid up from inertia, coming to rest at the top of that mound.

    Getting out was fun – step out, sink to the crotch in the semi-packed snow. Getting back in was going to be impossible.

    A passer-by in a Blazer (this was 1977 and those were very trendy) saw my predicament and gave me a rope pull off…after first helping me back into that elevated Beetle. But, it goes without saying…after all the vaunted abilities of the old Type ! in snow…the lack of heater and the floor-hinged pedals, brake and clutch as well as gas pedal…did not make it an ideal winter car.

  • avatar

    I was coming home one night about 2 AM after a late night catching up on a mapping assignment. Zero alcohol involved. It had dropped to -30 C “ish” and I turned onto the secondary road to my place. I nailed the throttle on my ’68 Galaxie to drift the corner when the carb/linkage froze in place. 2 donuts later I was wide awake and turned off the ignition. I got the throttle working and cautiously drove the rest of the way home.
    I had a tire freeze into the ice on my Ford Ranger. It had been fairly warm when I went to work but the next morning it had dropped to at least -25C. I warmed up the truck a bit and put it in gear and tried to drive off. The tire freed itself from the rim before it released from the ice. I wish I had BCAA that morning.
    I have many other stories but those are the two that stick in my brain in relation to cold weather.

  • avatar
    The Gold Tooth

    Memories, memories …

    I was the front seat passenger in a friend’s Volkswagen Beetle (an old one, as this occurred in about 1980) for a 220-mile winter trip from Fairfax, VA to Edison, NJ. I knew the car had no functional heating system so I was dressed in multiple layers of seasonally appropriately clothing. There were also two rear-seat passengers. Shortly after we set off it started snowing, and shortly after that the wipers packed up. The driver and I discovered we could overcome this deficiency by each leaning as far forward as we could out of our respective (hand-cranked) windows and clearing the windshield of snow with our hands and arms. Because of the heavy and thick clothing I was wearing this required an almost superhuman level of strength and determination on my part. We could only do this for so long, however, before the cold got into our bones and caused real pain, so we ended up stopping every few miles for all four travelers to rotate between being front-seat window cleaners (one of whom had to drive), and rear-seat recuperators trying desperately to warm up before they were next called upon to stick their upper bodies into the freezing slipstream and madly wave their arms up and down on the exterior glass.

    The snowstorm lasted pretty much all the way from Virginia to the NJ Turnpike. We made it, but at some horrible cost to our dignity, comfort, and temporary health. Never again.

  • avatar

    2000 Jetta TDI. It was January, and very cold out and we didn’t have a garage at the time. Seems like maybe the diesel purchased wasn’t fully winterized, but a VW design flaw really caused problems (the part was a newer design on my 2003 TDI so it was fine). There was a problem with the fuel sender unit in older TDIs where the opening wasn’t large enough so the fuel flow could get restricted easily if the fuel started to gel.

    The car started to take my wife to work, but didn’t make it very far. We had to flat-bed it to a shop where they let it thaw out and it ran fine so there was nothing for them to do.

    Once I got the car home and it had warmed up outside, I took the sender unit out and sure enough, it was the problematic part. I drilled out the check valve it was fine for the rest of its life.

  • avatar

    Late November 1980. I was on my way back to university an hour away from my hometown. A little lake-effect storm blows in, not enough to dump a lot of snow, but just enough to mess up the roads. I’m in my 1975 Dodge Dart Sport, the car that I didn’t think I would need to park for the winter just yet. I’m still running around on summer tires and Cragar mags. I’m thinking to myself, I’m 20 minutes from campus, I’ll ease into the lot at school, and get it home next weekend. Hitch a ride back to campus, all will be good.

    Over the next rise, I cross a bridge. Black ice, all the way across. The car goes into a spin, I manage to slam into of both sides of the concrete bridge. The only panel that isn’t damaged is the roof panel.

    I scrapped it later that week…

  • avatar

    Frozen rear shock absorber on a 86 Chevy(Toyota) Nova. That made for an awful rough ride. Surprised that nothing broke. This was around 96 and I’m sure the shocks had never been changed.

  • avatar

    Current: Aftermarket generic winter floormats are a little too large for the Ford Fiesta footwell, which makes it a little more challenging to press the clutch down past the sensor that allows it to turn on when it’s cold and the rubber mat is less flexible.

    Previous: Not sure if it was cold related, but I had hydraulic power steering hoses on a 2000s Pontiac Grand Am totally fail on a very cold (sub 10s) week.

  • avatar

    The cold northern Michigan winters didn’t do the head gasket any favors on my ’84 Crown Vic, but a cold snap in Minnesota froze my battery solid.

    The initial cold start with the replacement battery showed how the exhaust gaskets and manifold had shrunk in the -20F weather. Exhaust leaked out of all the exhaust ports until the engine had warmed enough for thermal expansion to seal up all the gaps.

    Thankfully, throttle-body fuel-injection saved the day. :)

  • avatar

    Ran my ’91 240 through a car wash to get the road salt off. Opened rear door later to stash some groceries, and the latch froze in the open position and the door wouldn’t stay shut. I had to go buy a propane torch from the adjacent hardware store to un-freeze it.

    I still have the torch, but I’ve only used it the one time.

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