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Low Temps, Wind, Dust, Sleet: How Different Weather Impacts Your Car

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By Andy Jensen on December 23, 2021 in Travel

You may love hot sunny days or snowy winter wonderlands. Your car, however, does not. Mother Nature provides a variety of climates for us to enjoy, but they can all take a beating on your ride. Here’s an in-depth look at the ways weather impacts your car and a few simple steps you can take to protect it.

Here Comes the Sun

If you’ve seen a car with a peeling clear coat, you’ve witnessed ultraviolet light damage from too many sunny days. The glossy part of the paint slowly peeled off, leaving the flat color behind. Sunlight is powerful over time, and if you expose your car to several hours of UV light each day, it microscopically damages your paint. Over several years, sunlight weakens the clear coat, the outer layer of protection, until it oxidizes, getting that sunburned look. The good news? You can prevent sun damage with inexpensive car wax that provides a protective layer between the clear coat and the sun, much like SPF for your ride.

The unpainted surfaces on your car aren’t protected by a clear coat and can quickly show UV damage. The same sunny day that eats away clear coat can turn black plastic and rubber trim into a gray and brittle mess. If your black plastic trim by the windshield wipers or on the side mirrors looks hazy and faded, apply an inexpensive plastic protectant to restore the color and prevent fading.

Ocean of Corrosion

Living near the ocean can be a great experience for all the outdoor opportunities it provides, but it’s harsh on metal, including your vehicle. Oceans are salty, and the combination of sodium chloride, water, oxygen, and metal combines to form the oxidation we see as rust. It’s unsightly, and it weakens the structure of the metal. It’s also a pain to remove, meaning it’s an expensive fix. If you live near the ocean and expose your ride to saltwater, clean your vehicle with freshwater and protect its surfaces with paint, wax, or spray-on coatings as appropriate. If you don’t have time to apply it yourself, visit a touchless car wash, which will apply protective coatings for you.

Damp and Dreary

If you’ve spent time in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve seen it rain for a week straight. Rainwater isn’t salty like ocean water, but it presents other threats. If you leave your windows open an inch for ventilation or if your sunroof leaks and it rains, be prepared for some damage. Rain-soaked interiors can grow mold and mildew, leading to odors and headaches. Prevention is your best bet. Close your windows every time and fix a leaky sunroof with an inexpensive weather seal.


Most people don’t like heading out on a frozen morning, and the same is true of our vehicles. As with humans, cold weather can cause a vehicle battery to lack energy. If you’ve ever noticed that cold weather kills your phone battery, the same process happens with your car battery. The chemical reactions inside the battery are slower, giving it less charge. During a freeze, you may not have enough power to start the car.

Bitter cold also makes the engine oil thicker, causing it to move slowly through the engine passages. That thick and slow-moving oil doesn’t do much to protect your engine, and unlubricated metal parts moving together create a recipe for premature wear. Warm up your car in bitterly cold temperatures to get the oil warmed up and flowing before you drive, and you’ll prevent excess engine wear.

Cold temperatures may also activate your tire light. Cold air is denser than warm air, so a 10-degree temperature drop causes a 1 PSI drop in tire pressure as the air inside the tire contracts. If you get a cold snap and the temperatures drop by 50 degrees, odds are your tires will have low pressure even if you don’t have a leak.

Dante’s Inferno

The opposite end of the temperature gauge is not great for your car either. Hot temperatures can prematurely degrade your oil or cause cracks in rubber belts and hoses. Other fluids, too, like the oil in your transmission, don’t like heat as it can cause early transmission failure. Running your air conditioning on full blast all the time also shortens its service life. High temperatures are bad for tires — even dangerous. The oven effect inside a car’s cabin can dry up leather and plastics, which is why older cars often have cracks in the leather seats or dashboard. If you leave your phone in the car on a hot day, it could suffer the same fate.

The Sand, Man

Sandstorms throw microscopic rocks at your vehicle at highway speeds, causing micro-scratches everywhere you look. They don’t just impact the paint. Every exterior surface gets sandblasted by the gritty stuff, leading to damaged plastics, rubber, and glass. You’ll notice the damage in the headlights, which get cloudy when covered in micro-scratches. Driving during dust storms can clog air filters, impeding engine performance. Even worse, blowing sand and grit can clog the radiator, decreasing its efficiency and causing an overheating condition.

Dry Heat

Low humidity can make sweltering, high temperatures feel more tolerable. However, it isn’t great for your ride. Just as it can dry out your skin, low humidity can dry up a vehicle’s leather upholstery. Use a special leather conditioner to prevent long-term damage.


High humidity is no safer for your car. It causes condensation on interior surfaces and can lead to mold, mildew, and odors. Set some dehumidifier bags in your vehicle and change them out every few months.

Category Five Winds

High winds can damage your vehicle too. If you’ve ever seen a car with a crumpled front door near the hinge, here’s probably what happened: On a seriously windy day, the driver opened the door, which acted as a kite or sail, catching the air. The force of the wind ripped it out of the driver’s hand until it swung around and impacted the limit of its hinge at high speed. At a minimum, this situation causes a bent door hinge, which you’ll notice as an annoying door misalignment. Wind can cause expensive body damage, so open your doors carefully on windy days.

Winds also pick up debris, and you might feel like your car is being used for target practice. Rocks, pine cones, trash, and other random objects can all get thrown at high speed, causing paint damage.

What the Hail?

Odds are, you’ve encountered hail before: Little stinging balls of ice that fling out of the sky and bounce off everything. Hail forms when drops of water in the clouds condense, freeze, and fall to the ground as ice. Hailstorms can be extremely damaging when quarter-sized or larger chunks of ice fall. Hail can cause permanent dents or dings all over the bodywork and crack or even punch holes through glass. Hail damage can even total a new car. Unfortunately, the only way to prevent hail damage is to watch the weather forecast and park under cover when possible.

Flood Damage

It’s fun to ford a river in a covered wagon when playing Oregon Trail, but it’s not a smart idea to take a modern car across a flooding street. It may be obvious, but never drive your vehicle into water of unknown depth. If the water is higher than the bottom of the door, it can enter the vehicle. A small amount of flooding can cause irreparable damage to a modern vehicle, as they have many computers, sensors, and electrical relays under the carpet. Even if you repair and replace all the electrical components, flood-damaged cars take a massive hit to their resale value. Flooding can also damage the engine. Modern vehicles intake air for the engine from a low point in the engine bay. When an engine sucks in water instead of air, it immediately stalls, a damaging condition called hydrolock. For all these reasons, it’s best to stay home during flooding conditions.


Your vehicle contains a lot of sensitive electronics, and it was not designed to be hit by lightning. A lightning strike usually doesn’t harm the driver and passengers, but it can cause massive damage to a vehicle, sometimes destroying the entire electrical system outright, making it inoperable. Lightning can burst tires or cause a vehicle fire. The good news? The likelihood your car will get hit by lightning is somewhere around one in 500,000.


Weather can be rough on your vehicle, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little warning and prevention on your part, you should have a reliable ride for years to come.

Andy Jensen is a consultant for Say Insurance. He's an automotive enthusiast writer specializing in new and used models, industry tech and trends, and the car culture that surrounds it all. After receiving a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma, he decided to write about cars instead of getting a real job. He’s written for Jaguar, Volvo, Ford, Advance Auto Parts, Haynes Manuals, and others. His project car probably isn’t running.