What to do if your car freezes this winter

When temperatures drop, all sorts of problems can befall your car, from a flat battery to reduced tyre pressures. One of the most serious mechanical faults that can occur during the winter, however, is a frozen engine. The right coolant/antifreeze is of vital importance as it keeps the engine cool without freezing in winter.

If you use water rather than good quality coolant/antifreeze in your car’s cooling system, it will freeze causing huge internal pressures (something the AA says is liable to cause severe engine damage).

If you suspect your car’s cooling system might be frozen, there are several signs and symptoms to look out for, as well as several dos and don’ts to help you avoid inflicting pricey engine damage on your beloved motor.

Signs and symptoms

It’s a bitter winter’s morning; you’ve scraped the ice from the windscreen and switched on the ignition, only to be met with a relentless squealing noise from beneath the bonnet.

This suggests your car’s water pump has frozen, and this noise is the sound of the fan belt skidding on the pulley. It may be that the cylinder block (a component that’s altogether pricier to put right should any damage occur) has frozen too.

Alternatively, if you switch on your car and start driving, only to find the engine begins to overheat, this could also be a tell tale sign that the cooling system has frozen.

Car engines require a constant flow of coolant/antifreeze to keep them at their optimum working temperature, even on the coldest winter mornings. If the engine overheats, this could indicate that the radiator has frozen and coolant/antifreeze isn’t circulating as it should.

Experience any of the above symptoms and it’s vital you switch off the ignition as quickly as possible (pulling over to do so if you’ve travelled beyond your driveway). Whatever you do, don’t drive the car any further as this could result in costly damage to your engine.

What to do next

If your car’s cooling system has frozen, what should you do next? To avoid causing damage, follow these simple steps.

1) Don’t run the car
It’s a reasonable idea: switch the car on and the engine will gradually warm up, loosening up the cooling system and helping to get the fluids moving again.

But, without a steady flow of coolant/antifreeze, the engine will quickly begin to overheat, and could even explode as a result of the mounting pressure caused by blockages in the cooling system.

2) Allow time to thaw
In most cases of frozen cooling systems, the best thing to do is give the entire engine time to thaw. If parked outside in cold conditions, a frozen engine can take days to thaw properly, unless it can be safely moved to a garage or other sheltered location.

To speed up the thawing process, it is possible to use a fan heater placed in front of the radiator. When pointed directly at the car, the heat generated should help to melt the frozen fluid more quickly. What’s important, however, is to not drive the car until you’re confident the cooling system has completely thawed through.

Once the vehicle has completely thawed out it is important to drain and flush the entire cooling system and replace the fluid with a good quality coolant/antifreeze, offering the right level of protection, no matter what the weather.

3) Check your coolant/antifreeze levels before winter arrives
Aside from allowing the system adequate time to thaw, there’s little else you can do in the event of a frozen cooling system. Winter driving experts, Prestone, recommend checking the strength of your car’s coolant/antifreeze before the cold climes of winter arrive.

They said: “We recommend using a 50:50 mix of ethylene glycol based coolant/antifreeze in the cooling system during the winter, a solution that will protect your car no matter what the weather and all year round.”

“If you aren’t sure of the exact ratio of your cooling fluid, take the car to your local garage and they’ll be able to check the strength for you.”

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