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Is It Safe to Drive Your Car in Negative Temperatures?

Winter is here, and with it comes the challenge of driving in cold weather. Snow and ice make starting, accelerating and steering difficult, and when temperatures drop below zero, weather-related hazards can be magnified. The extreme cold can negatively affect your car’s performance, causing fluids to thicken and your battery to function improperly.

But does that mean you should avoid driving your car in negative temperatures altogether? Not necessarily. With proper preparation and precautions, you can still drive safely and comfortably in subzero conditions. In this blog post, we will explain how cold weather affects your car, and what you can do to minimize the risks and maximize the efficiency.

How Cold Weather Affects Your Car

Cold weather can have various impacts on your car, depending on the component and the degree of coldness. Here are some of the most common problems that can occur when driving in negative temperatures:

  • Deflated tires: As the air in your tires gets colder, it contracts and has less pressure. Tires correspondingly become underinflated, which can reduce traction, handling and fuel economy. Underinflated tires can also wear out faster and increase the risk of blowouts.
  • Dead battery: Winter is especially hard on batteries, as they lose their capacity and power in low temperatures. If your car won’t start in the extreme cold, one of the most likely problems is that the battery is dead or weak. A dead battery can also affect other electrical components, such as the lights, radio and windshield wipers.
  • Thick oil: As it gets colder, oil gets thicker and more viscous. At about -20°C, oil gets so thick that the engine’s oil pump struggles to pick it up and circulate it. This can result in poor lubrication, increased friction and engine damage. Thick oil can also make it harder to start the engine, as it requires more energy to turn over.
  • Frozen fluids: Besides oil, other fluids in your car can also freeze or thicken in cold weather, such as coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid and washer fluid. Frozen fluids can prevent your car from running properly, or even cause it to overheat. For example, if your coolant freezes, it can block the flow of heat to the engine and the cabin, resulting in a cold and potentially damaged car.
  • Reduced efficiency: Cold weather can also affect your car’s overall efficiency and performance, especially if you drive an electric vehicle (EV). Low temperatures slow the battery chemistry, resulting in less energy for acceleration and range. It also takes more energy to keep the battery and the cabin at an optimal operating temperature. All of this results in less efficient performance, which means you might not have as much range as you think.

How to Drive Safely and Comfortably in Negative Temperatures

While cold weather can pose some challenges for your car, there are ways to overcome them and drive safely and comfortably in negative temperatures. Here are some tips to help you prepare your car and yourself for winter driving:

  • Check your tire pressure: Check your tire pressure more often than you normally would, preferably once a week. You can use a tire pressure gauge or a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) to measure the pressure. You should follow the manufacturer’s recommended pressure, which is usually found on a sticker inside the driver’s door or in the owner’s manual. You might think a little deflation provides better traction, but tire experts caution against running tires below the recommended pressure, as that can cause uneven or unsafe tread wear. You should also consider getting winter tires, which are designed to provide better grip and handling in snow and ice.
  • Maintain your battery: To avoid a dead battery, you should keep its connections clean, tight and free of corrosion. You should also replace batteries that are more than three years old, or have them tested by a professional. Those in the coldest climates may want to purchase a battery warmer, which is a device that wraps around the battery and plugs into an outlet to keep it warm. You should also keep jumper cables in your car, in case you need to jump-start your battery or help someone else.
  • Change your oil: To ensure proper lubrication and engine performance, you should change your oil regularly and use the right type of oil for your car and the weather. You can find the recommended oil viscosity for your car in the owner’s manual or on the oil cap. Generally, you should use a lower viscosity oil in winter, as it flows more easily in cold temperatures. For example, if you normally use 10W-30 oil, you might want to switch to 5W-30 oil in winter.
  • Use antifreeze: To prevent your fluids from freezing, you should use antifreeze or winter-grade fluids that have a lower freezing point. Antifreeze is a liquid that is added to the coolant to lower its freezing point and raise its boiling point. You should check the coolant level and the antifreeze concentration regularly, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the ratio of antifreeze to water. You should also use winter-grade washer fluid, brake fluid and transmission fluid, which are formulated to resist freezing and provide better performance in cold weather.
  • Warm up your car: Before driving in cold weather, you should warm up your car for a few minutes to let the engine and the fluids reach their optimal operating temperature. This will also help you defrost the windshield and warm up the cabin. However, you don’t need to let your car idle for too long, as that can waste gas and generate emissions. The best way to warm up your car is by driving it gently, without revving the engine hard, until you see the temperature gauge move off the cold reading.


Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about driving your car in negative temperatures:

  • Q: How cold is too cold for a car?
  • A: There is no definitive answer to this question, as different cars have different tolerances and specifications for cold weather. However, some experts suggest that -40°C is the limit for most cars, as that is the point where gasoline can freeze and prevent the car from starting. Of course, this depends on the type and quality of the gasoline, as well as the condition of the car and its components. Some cars may be able to withstand colder temperatures, while others may struggle at warmer temperatures.
  • Q: How long can a car sit in cold weather?
  • A: Again, this depends on the car and the weather, but generally, you should avoid leaving your car parked in cold weather for more than a few days. If you do, you may encounter problems such as a dead battery, frozen fluids, flat tires and cracked hoses. If you have to leave your car in cold weather for an extended period of time, you should take some precautions, such as disconnecting the battery, inflating the tires, adding fuel stabilizer and covering the car with a tarp or a blanket.
  • Q: How do I prevent my windows from fogging up in cold weather?
  • A: Foggy windows are a common problem in cold weather, as the warm and moist air inside the car condenses on the cold glass. To prevent this, you should use the defroster and the air conditioner to create dry and warm air that can clear the fog. You should also avoid recirculating the air, as that can trap the moisture inside the car. You can also crack the windows slightly to let some fresh air in, or use a cloth or a sponge to wipe the fog away.
  • Q: How do I drive safely on snow and ice?
  • A: Driving on snow and ice requires extra caution and skill, as the road conditions can be slippery and unpredictable. Here are some tips to help you drive safely on snow and ice:
    • Slow down and leave more space between you and the car in front of you, as braking and stopping distances are longer on snow and ice.
    • Avoid sudden or sharp movements, such as accelerating, braking or steering, as that can cause your car to skid or lose control.
    • Use gentle and steady pressure on the gas and the brake pedals, and avoid pumping the brakes, as that can lock the wheels and make you skid.
    • If your car has anti-lock brakes (ABS), you should press and hold the brake pedal firmly and let the system do the work. If your car does not have ABS, you should use threshold braking, which is a technique of applying steady and gradual pressure on the brake pedal until you feel the wheels start to lock, then releasing slightly and repeating.
    • If your car has traction control, you should leave it on, as it can help prevent wheel spin and loss of traction. If your car has stability control, you should also leave it on, as it can help correct oversteer and understeer.
    • If your car has a manual transmission, you should use a lower gear to provide more engine braking and traction. If your car has an automatic transmission, you should use the “snow” or “winter” mode, if available, or select a lower gear manually, if possible.
    • If your car has four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), you should activate it, as it can provide more traction and stability. However, you should not rely on it too much, as it does not improve your braking or steering ability, and you can still skid or slide on snow and ice.
    • If you encounter a skid, you should stay calm and steer in the direction you want to go, while easing off the gas and the brake pedals. You should also look where you want to go, and not at the obstacle you are trying to avoid, as your car tends to follow your as your car tends to follow your eyes. You should also avoid overcorrecting, as that can make the skid worse.
    • If you get stuck in snow or ice, you should not spin your wheels, as that can dig you deeper. You should try to clear some snow around your tires, and use sand, salt, kitty litter or a traction mat to create some grip. You should also rock your car back and forth by shifting between forward and reverse, while applying gentle gas, until you get out.


Driving your car in negative temperatures can be challenging and risky, but not impossible. By understanding how cold weather affects your car, and taking some preventive measures and precautions, you can drive safely and comfortably in subzero conditions. However, you should always exercise caution and common sense, and avoid driving if the weather is too severe or the road conditions are too dangerous. Stay warm and safe, and happy winter driving!

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