Regardless of your views on the environment or how the world functions through time and space, you cannot deny the ever-growing dramatics of modern weather patterns. Even last year (2022), Denver saw a new record broken amongst the atmosphere, with multiple others falling in line across the world. On December 21st, Denver saw its most drastic temperature range throughout one day, changing over 61 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of a day. And with these extreme highs and bone-shaking lows, it’s natural to wonder: how will these temperatures affect my car?
It’s a valid question, truly. When temperatures reach the 2022 high of 101 degrees (August 5th) and the shuddering low of -24 degrees (December 22nd) you have to wonder how the paramount differences will affect the well-being, exterior structure, and aesthetic of your poor vehicle, the expensive vessel that you spend so much of your time and money on.
Is there a point, whether high or low, where the extreme temperatures will have an outright effect on your car? Is there a point where your tires will melt or your transmission will freeze into a block of translucent ice?
Well, put your thinking cap on (lab coat? Monocle?) cause we’re getting scientific. Here are the temperatures that will affect your car (and how):
Some Like It Hot
With summer peaking its skin-burning and metal-boiling head around the corner, speaking high temperatures is the perfect place to start. Though Colorado is often known as a cold-weather state (and to that it truly lives up to the title), there is a wide array of comfortable weather frolicking throughout the calendar year. With the high altitude and proximity to the sun, and the thin atmosphere and lack of humidity, Colorado summers are not to be trifled with.
Consequently, summers are continuing to become more brutal in the Denver region. 2022 was the third-hottest summer in Denver’s history. So, think about that.
But, what high temperatures affect your car? What scorching days should you be wary of?
Batteries Are Fickle Things
When speaking of temperature-based automotive issues, you are likely to hear a plethora of things about batteries. Ultimately, batteries tend to be one of the ficklest things in a vehicle’s operations. Not only does it involve a complex process of chemicals, but it directly connects to a complex process of alternators and ignitions.
And, as you may well know, a dead battery means your car won’t start. So, having battery issues is quite the problem.
When a car battery rises above temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, fluid within begins to evaporate, directly affecting the long-term health of the battery.
Overall, extreme heat can hinder the chemical process within the battery, stopping it from starting. If hot enough (140 degrees or higher), the chemicals can evaporate and the other physical parts can begin to wear out. Therefore, high summers can crush the longevity of your batter.
Furthermore, 140 degrees isn’t to say that it’s 140 degrees outside, for that would be deadly. Basically, when temperatures rise over 86 degrees, the chemical reactivity within the battery begins to spike. Once you reach temperatures in the 100s, things get even worse.
Hot On Rubber
When you think of smoldering hot and the ability to melt under significant circumstances, the rubber may be the first thing on your vehicle you contemplate. And, you’d be correct.
While metal and other exterior parts of the car can certainly be affected by the sun, rubber is the softest and most-obvious piece that’s up for danger. With the drastic changes in temperature and direct sunlight comes a multitude of rubber-related problems. For example, tires lose or gain 1 PSI (pound per square inch) for every 10-degree change in temperature. So, on record-breaking days like the 61-degree difference we noted earlier, your tires can grow all over the place. These rapid changes in pressure are simply not good for the longevity of the rubber.
If your tire pressure is already too low and the temperature shift becomes too high, it can legitimately blow out the tire, though extremely rare. As far as melting goes, it’s nearly impossible. The rubber of car tires will begin to break down at around 390 degrees and melt at 1,000 degrees. All impossible on Earth, but not impossible on Mercury!
If you have a chip or crack in your windshield, extreme heat or direct sunlight can make it worse. Basically, a windshield is made up of 2 panes of tempered glass and a resin between them. Heat increases the temperature inside the car, causing the inside layer of glass to expand. This pushes against the middle resin and outside layer, making the outside damage worse.
Furthermore, direct sunlight can cause the car’s metal to heat up around the glass. The metal then heats up faster than the glass, causing stress. This can lead to stress fractures around the edge of the windshield.
Luckily, the latter is much less common than the former. Unless your windshield is in direct, extreme heat every day, you are fairly safe from stress fractures. If there is already a chip or crack on your windshield, heat can exasperate it immensely.
Some Like It Cold
As we noted, Colorado is known for its colder weather. From the frigid breeze blowing off the Rockies to the evergrowing pile of unmelting snow from what seems like a longer winter every year, cold weather is way more prominent. Therefore, the effects that arctic weather has on your car are way more significant than that of those hot days.
But, at what point does the car freeze, becoming entirely useless and solidified in a block of ice? You’d be surprised.
Can’t Touch the Screen
Here’s a weird one: your touchscreen navigation or other dashboard-based machinery may stop working or become sluggish in colder temperatures. If you get into your car on a brutal morning, you may not be able to change the radio or pick a GPS destination.
Modern-day vehicle touchscreens often use resistive technology. Long story short, this means the screen responds to outside factors like direct pressure and the thermal temperature of your finger. So, if your hand is cold, it’s unlikely to be picked up by the touch screen. If you let your hand warm up in the oncoming interior heat, you should be able to result in normal use.
On the other hand, most touchscreen and LCD screen devices tend to slow down functionality once temperatures drop below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit for those with Celsius minds). The liquid crystals (the LC in LCD) slow down, causing the screens to act sluggish. So even if your radio isn’t touch-based, you may notice it acts strangely in cold temperatures.
Fluids Freeze Too
During below-freezing temperatures (a daily occurrence during Denver winters), the precious operating fluids in your car may thicken and/or freeze, just like water.
Once below freezing, your vehicle’s transmission fluid, antifreeze, wiper fluid, and oil may become thick, causing issues with their daily operations. The worst of these problems is the oil. Once thick, the oil can cause a bevy of engine problems. And, as we all know, the engine is the most important part of the vehicle (duh).
Switching to a low-viscosity oil, like fully synthetic oil, will help avoid any oil thickening issues that may arise during the winter months. Therefore, plenty of drivers switch over to the oil type before the November-December months roll in.
Fuel Line Disaster
What is a vehicle without fuel? A statue, truly.
The fuel line is a rubber hose that connects the chassis to the fuel pump or carburetor on the engine. Therefore, it’s crucial in getting your precious gas into your car’s operations, keeping everything running. Unfortunately, it can become frozen during cold temperatures.
Moisture can build up in the fuel lines naturally. And, as us scientists know, once temperatures drop below 32 degrees, moisture can quickly become ice. If temperatures drop low enough, the fuel lines will freeze, causing lower-fuel levels to outright stop the car. If you have enough fuel in your car, you won’t notice an issue. It’s once those levels drop low that the ice can take over the lines.
Therefore, try to keep your gas tank at half-full (at least) during the coldest months. If you notice an artic freeze coming in the near future, top your gas tank off to avoid outright disaster.