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posted: 1/11/2014 12:10 AM

Vehicles break down in subzero weather

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Well now, wasn't that fun!

Of course, I am referring to what they termed the "Polar Vortex." That actually felt like winters of old to me.

Needless to say, we installed a battery or two over the past week. All the repair shops are busy and the reason why is because any deferred maintenance was exposed -- or any component on the car that was marginal failed -- in these subzero temperatures we experienced.

Here are some of the common failures we are seeing:

•Battery's failing to start the car

•Oil that has not been changed for a while and is gummed up

•Water pumps that began to leak and in some cases let go

•Gaskets that failed and began to leak

•Axle shafts and C/V joints that broke

•Engine failures

•Transmission failures

•Lack of heat in the car

•Noisy blower motors

•Blower speed control not working on all speeds

•Tires with low tread providing no traction in the snow

•TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) failure. We are starting to see many sensor failures.

•Window motor and window regulator failures

•Windshield wiper transmission and wiper motor failure

•Serious vibrations caused by snow buildup in one spot on the inside of one of the wheels.

•Bent suspension and steering linkage caused by a curb strike.

Many of these emergencies are avoidable by performing timely maintenance. However, sometimes breakdowns cannot be avoided. The last four items on my list in most case are very avoidable.

Never try to power down a frozen window; if it does not move, stop trying immediately. Push the switch to go up once, making sure it is not stuck in the express down mode and leave it alone until things thaw out. By continuing to try to power the window down you can cause some serious damage.

The same thing holds true with the wipers. Minimally you could destroy your nice new set of blades. At worst, if your wipers are frozen to the windshield, you could destroy the wiper transmission or wiper motor.

If all of a sudden you notice a bad vibration while driving, check to make sure you don't have snow or ice built up on the inside of one or more of your wheels. This can really cause a tire to be extremely out of balance.

Lastly, you are asking for trouble in the snow and ice if your tires are low on tread. Place a quarter down into the tread of you tires; if there's not enough tread to cover the top of George Washington's head, you should think about replacing your tires.

I had a client with low tread and he couldn't understand why the car would not stop easily, and why he slid into a curb and caused more than $1,000 worth of damage. I know a new set of tires would have prevented this from happening.

It's only early January, so it's likely we'll get more cold weather before things begin to change for good. Pay attention to the maintenance on your car and you will stand a much better chance of getting through this nasty winter without getting sidelined.

Happy New Year!

• Douglas Automotive is at 417 W. Main St., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit Send questions to

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