There are real automotive mechanics and then there are “mechanics.” You know, the ones who can do a few repairs in the driveway, but who think they’re in a NASCAR pit crew. They spout off half-truths about maintenance and repair issues that they heard third-hand from someone or that their grandfather told them 50 years ago when cars were much simpler machines.
Much of the time, their “advice” is harmless. But sometimes, listening to these wannabe Crew Chiefs can actually damage your vehicle or put you in danger behind the wheel.
Here are three myths you might hear about winter driving, and the truth behind them.
Let Your Car Warm Up Before Driving
This is one you always hear. The conventional wisdom is that on cold days, you need to let your car warm up 5-10 minutes before driving. The thought is that your engine, oil, transmission and other essential parts under the hood need to be warm in order to safely drive.
This is simply not true.
Think about it for a minute. Your engine, when fully warm, operates at several hundred degrees. No matter if it’s summer or winter, it takes a few minutes to get to that temperature.
But you don’t let your car warm up in summer, do you? So why would a change of 30-50 degrees in external temperature make that much of a difference on how your engine performs?
The only things you’re doing when you let your car warm up in the winter are:
1. Wasting gas.
2. Inviting thieves to steal your vehicle.
3. Making yourself feel better with a nice, toasty interior.
Your car will drive fine without being warmed up as long as you don’t peel out and stress the engine before it gets to normal operating temperature (something you shouldn’t do at any time of year).
Some people try to convince you that you need different tires for every season.
There is some legitimacy to this line of thinking. But, unless you live in someplace like Rochester, NY, Green Bay, WI or Tahoe, chances are the all-season tires you have will be fine for the winter months.
The major difference between all-season tires and snow (or winter) tires is the type of rubber used. Winter tires are made with rubber that doesn’t harden in colder temperatures. So, they remain flush with the road, giving you better traction in cold, icy or snowy conditions.
But for most of us, it just doesn’t get that cold or snow that much for the investment in winter tires to be worth it. The one exception would be if you have high-performance or racing tires. These do need to be changed out in colder months.
For the rest of us, as long as we keep our tires properly inflated (check them when cold once a week), make sure that the treads are in good condition (use a quarter to check on tread depth) and drive with caution in bad weather, all-season tires should work just fine this or any winter.
Use Hot Water to De-Ice The Windshield
No one likes de-icing a car. All the scraping…back and forth, back and forth. It takes forever, it’s cold, you’re half awake and have to get to work. There has to be an easier way, right?
Whatever you do, DON’T follow the advice of pouring hot or boiling water across your windshield and other windows. The massive and sudden temperature change will put large thermodynamic stresses on the glass, possibly resulting in cracking or even shattering.
The water could also seep down your windows or into your locks, damaging electrical systems. Or, worse yet, it could refreeze before you get a chance to dry it off, leaving you no way to open your doors or unlock your vehicle.
As with most things, a little common sense about driving in winter goes a long way. And if you still have questions, please, contact your local trained mechanic for an educated opinion on the best course of action.