Driving in the cold winter weather comes with a few challenges you’ll have to move through every day in the winter just to get to work or get the kids to school. You may find yourself scraping ice off your windows, salting your driveway, avoiding black ice, and navigating roads that look like they’ve been erased by a blanket of white snow. Depending on what part of town you live in, you may even experience closed roads and detours.
These cold weather challenges can be a big hassle, but once you get inside your car and reach for that glorious knob to turn on the heater, no matter what challenges you’ve faced, your day instantly gets better.
Unless your heater is broken.
Not only do you benefit from heat, but having a working heater is one of the fastest ways to defrost your front windshield.
The average American spends 26 minutes commuting to work every day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While 26 minutes doesn’t seem like that long, in the winter, those 26 minutes can double, triple, and even quadruple depending on driving conditions (which can be fairly unpredictable). And driving for long periods of time without a heater in the winter can be brutal.
Because driving in colder weather can be dangerous and unpredictable, accidents can occur frequently in the winter, which not only creates the need for you to be more aware when driving, but can significantly increase the amount of time you may need to spend in your car.
If you’re spending any amount of time driving your car in the winter, you need to have a fully functioning heater to avoid turning into a popsicle on your way to work.
If your heater isn’t functioning properly, it may be due to one of the following reasons:
Common heater problems
- Corrosion/sediment build-up
- Thermostat problems
- A broken heater core
- Coolant flow issues
- Wiring/electrical issues
How a car’s heater works
Your vehicle’s engine warms up when the coolant absorbs engine heat while circulating through the engine, exchanging that heat with the outside air through the radiator. The way your car’s cabin heats up is similar. Your heater core—a smaller radiator—uses the already-hot coolant to keep the inside of your car warm.
If your heater doesn’t work
If you discover your heater isn’t working, before you panic about expensive repairs, know that the most common cause for car problems is a blown fuse. This can be easily checked by looking in your car’s manual to find the location of the correct fuses and checking to see if they are blown.
If you check your fuse box and that’s not the problem, you may have an electrical wiring issue. It’s not recommended to work on your car’s electrical system unless you’re a trained professional, so you’ll want to have a professional technician do the work.
Check your thermostat
A vehicle’s thermostat plays a large role in heating up the engine. In this context, a valve that operates based on temperature prevents coolant from flowing when it’s cold. If this valve is broken, it could remain in the open or closed position, which means your heater problems could be due to a stuck valve.
If the valve is working, you may have a different problem, especially if you use your heater often. As the coolant is exchanged in the heater core, sediment can build up. This issue can be solved by having it flushed out by a professional.
Stay warm even without a heater
Here are three tips you can use to make sure you stay warm and toasty in winter weather, regardless of your circumstances.
1. Keep a winter emergency kit in your car
Even if your car’s heater is in perfect working order, you may want to consider keeping the following items in your car, just to be sure you stay warm in an emergency:
- Thick, warm, waterproof gloves
- A warm blanket
- A change of warm clothes
- A waterproof jacket
Remember that in winter weather, if you experience trouble starting your car or your battery dies, you won’t be able to just turn on the heater to stay warm while you wait for the tow truck. Having these items readily available will ensure that you stay warm.
If you happen to get stuck with a friend, family member or small children, this is especially important. While you may be able to suffer through the cold, older people and children can’t always do that.
2. Carry a portable heater in your car
Portable heaters are a convenient way to keep yourself toasty and melt the ice off your windshield as well. Portable heaters can come powered by batteries, USB, and even plug into your cigarette lighter.
Although it’s great to have the convenience of being able to plug a heater into your car, you may want to consider choosing a portable heater that can be powered by both your car and batteries. This is a smart precaution in case your car battery dies and you’re stranded in the cold.
Be cautious when using a power inverter in your car to power a space heater made for use in your home. Most home space heaters use more power than your alternator can handle.
3. Get your heater serviced
With the onset of colder-than-usual weather promising to last through the next few months, you may find yourself using your car’s heater a bit more than usual, putting more wear and tear on your car.
It’s always a good idea to get your car serviced before winter hits, so you can be prepared. While you’re getting your heater inspected, it’s a good idea to also have your tires and fluids checked before you get back on the road.
Whether your car’s heater is working or not, it’s always best to have it checked out and serviced long before you get stuck in traffic or stranded on the side of the road in below freezing temperatures. Give us a call at (918) 641-4940 or drop by Kwik Kar of Tulsa to find out how we can help keep you warm this winter.