Driving a Car With an Automatic Gearbox in Winter
You might have always thought that your automatic was ready for anything without losing any performance capability. In fact, a harsh winter does a real number on your automatic and there are some serious things to watch out for. In today’s blog, we’re going to cover what those things are so that everyone who’s driving with an automatic gearbox this winter can stay safe on the roads.
What Do Winter Temperatures Do to an Automatic Gearbox?
No temperature extreme is good for your car, hot or cold. The cold has some very marked impacts on the mechanics of your transmission. Below are some of the impacts that it can have:
Transmission Fluid Viscosity
Many fluids in your car, including transmission fluid and engine oil, can change viscosity according to temperature. Some very modern and cutting-edge engine oils have changeable viscosity so that they can adapt to conditions, but in general the cold weather makes fluids more viscous and less mobile. That means it’s harder for them to get where they need to be to lubricate the various parts that need it.
The optimum operating temperature for the fluid is 79 degrees Celsius give or take 14-15 degrees. When the temperatures drop to freezing rates, the fluid gets thick and that’s where issues begin. The latest fluids do a better job but if your car is more than 5-6 years old it might still use older fluids that are susceptible to cold.
If you ever get water leaked into your transmission, it can freeze, expand and cause all kinds of havoc in there. Freezing water naturally expands into ice and can cause cracks and other structural problems in the valve body. It’s thankfully not the most common scenario and is only likely to happen if there is existing damage that allows water into the structure in the first place.
Cold weather causes parts to contract, which means parts get sloers, and that means they clang together harder when they’re working. The worst result of this shrinkage is when it happens to the various seals. When they shrink, it breaks the seal and allows fluids to start leaking. Winter is therefore a time when your transmission might be more susceptible to leaks.
In all, the cold makes it a harder, less well lubricated, clunkier and less graceful mechanical environment, all of which means potentially a great deal more wear and tear than it would otherwise experience.
Automatic Driving Tips for the Winter Months
The most important thing is to know both how to prepare your car for the winter months and how to drive more safely on the roads.
Tip 1: Check Transmission Fluid and Get a Service
A good idea before winter sets in would be to get a full service and check done on your transmission and the transmission fluid. Getting this service right before winter sets in to ensure that fluid levels are correct and that the fluid type being used is suitable to maintain cooling and lubrication in the winter months. A good mechanic will also check all the seals and be sure that everything is ready for the cold.
Tip 2: Climate-Controlled Storage is Ideal
If you can keep your car overnight in a garage or other unit where the temperature can be kept above freezing and thus prevent many of the problems we have described above, then your automatic car will be in much better health when you take it out on the road. It’ll need less warming up time, and should manage to provide a safe and stable journey every time.
If you have to park your car outside in the winter, then at least providing some shelter from snow buildup will help. That could be a carport, or another car covering. If it prevents snow and ice buildup, then it’s helping.
Tip 3: Include Gear Shifts in Your “Warm Up”
The standard idea many have of a warming up of the car in the winter is just to put it in Park, start the engine and leave it idling for 10 minutes or so. In fact, with an automatic car, it’s better to put it in Park, start the car up, put your right foot on the brake and then start to cycle through the various drive modes, keeping your foot on the brake. You should spend about 30-60 seconds in each mode.
Tip 4: Keep the Ride as Smooth as Possible
One thing you don’t want on the road during the winter in your automatic is sudden jerky movements or sudden harsh braking. You need to keep things as smooth and steady as you possibly can. Maintain safe distances with vehicles in front of you so that you can always avoid having to suddenly brake to prevent collisions. Accelerate very steadily and keep top speeds lower than usual.
Tip 5: If You Have a Manual Mode: Use it to Set Off
If your automatic has a manual shift mode, then it’s a good idea to use it when starting off. Full automatic cars naturally seek out the highest-possible gear ratio that’s mechanically possible but that’s not always the best idea in the winter. Staying in a lower gear for more traction is a good idea, and temporary manual control at those times you want to keep wheels spinning evenly will deliver that to you.
The same is true when driving on sloping ground. Keep in lower gears to ensure good torque and traction, and proper safe control.
Tip 6: Be Sure to Clean Off any Road Salt
Remember that road salt can have a corrosive effect on multiple parts of your car. Regular rinsing is therefore important to get any signs of road salt, dirt and other contaminants that are prevalent on the roads during the winter months. Your paint, undercarriage and all critical components will thank you for it, and that includes your automatic transmission.