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The Volvo Parts, Accessories &
Performance Specialists Since 1963

Winter Behind the Wheel

Created on 2019-01-04 by ipd Staff, Last Updated on 2021-03-19

Disclaimer: Direct from ipd’s Tech Tip archive! This tech tip contains information from previous publications. Products mentioned may not be available or the information may not be accurate due to changes in supply, manufacturing, or part number association. Please contact ipd Customer Support if you have further questions  info@ipdusa.com

We can’t change the fact that winter is coming, and along with winter comes weather that most people try to avoid working on there cars in. Well, now’s the time to start prepping your car for harsher conditions if you did not get it done during the summer months. Fall is here and it’s your last chance! The extreme conditions of winter significantly increase the loads on your car, and we’ve got a few tips that can help reduce the chance of being stranded or having a major breakdown.

Exterior

Just like mechanical parts that can breakdown if not properly maintained, your Volvos paint and appearance can take quite the beating during the cold season as well. Grime and road debris can sit on its paint for long periods of time, as your Volvo may not see a car wash for months due to freezing cold temperatures. We like to apply a coat of wax or polish before the weather prevents us from doing so. Be sure and give your car a good wash before applying any type of wax. If your car’s paint has oxidized over summer, now is a good time to help prevent further damage and replenish its paint to the original color. Ipd sells many products to clean, polish, and protect your car’s paint or clearcoat for the months we are not washing them as much. One last application of a good wax or polish will not only protect your cars paint, but will make it easier on yourself when doing your first detail job the following Spring.

While you are working on your car’s exterior, there is one thing we definitely recommend you look over. Winter never travels alone, it has some friends that might drop in for a surprise visit when you least expect them, let me introduce you to Rain and Snow! Even though many people might be more familiar than others with rain and snow, you always want to be prepared. I think most people will agree with us that visibility is very important while driving, especially when driving conditions are at there worst. That is why fresh wiper blades are so crucial. Wiper blades crack and dry out from summer heat, creating a blur of streaks that make driving more difficult. Ipd has been huge fans of silicone based wiper blades made by PIAA (of performance lighting fame) and found the results to be outstanding. You can find more info on PIAA wiper blades here.    

Another thing to inspect before winter, is your Volvos turn signals and taillight lenses. Check for cracks or water trapped inside the lens. After you have looked over and repaired any cracked lenses, now is a great time to clean and check all your bulb holders and sockets. Disconnect the negative battery cable and clean all of your bulb holders and sockets with our bulb socket brush, once you have cleaned them, you should apply some good electrical contact grease. This will help prevent corrosion and will improve electrical contact between the bulb and the holder.

Interior

A properly working defroster and heater is something you do not want to go without in winter. There is never a worse time to find out that your heater and defroster are not working when you need them the most. Now is the time to look over all your heater components to ensure that they will not let you down. First, check your heater control valve. With the car running, turn the fan to the ON position, slide the heater control to the hottest setting, wait for it to heat up, then gradually slide your temperature switch down to the cool setting very slowly. The temperature should change as you move your temperature switch, if there is no variance in the temperature, only blows very hot and very cold, then your heater control valve has internally failed. Heater control valves can also leak anti-freeze coolant when they have gone bad as well. While testing your heater control valve, now is a good time to test your heater/ac blower motor. Turn the blower speed switch to all the settings, make sure there is no abnormal squealing sounds or vibration occurring when you are running the motor in all positions. A good time to check the blower motor and defrost is first thing in the morning when there is condensation on the windshield or on a rainy day. Turn your defrost on and make sure it gets rid of any fogginess that is on the front windshield.  If the fogginess does not go away, or the fogginess is enhanced when running your defrost or fans, you might have a leaky heater core. If this is the case, have your heater core tested by a professional for any coolant leaks.

Interior/Electrical

Fuses can cause many problems when driving in winter. With colder conditions some parts on your Volvo have to work harder causing them to draw more amps from your fuse, sometimes causing them to blow. To help prevent blown fuses or to make sure you have properly working fuses, clean all the fuse holders with a good contact cleaner. You can also use a wire brush to clean all the fuse holder positions. After you have cleaned all the holders, now would be a good time to apply some electrical contact grease. This will help prevent corrosion and enhance its electrical contacts.

Under The Hood

Before winter hits, its always a good idea to take one last look under your Volvos hood. A little preventative maintenance to the charging system and starting system can reduce your chances of getting stranded by a dead battery. The primary electrical system of your Volvo is made up of three major components, the battery, the alternator, and the starter. If one of these components is failing, the whole system will be compromised by its weakest link. 

The first thing to inspect is your battery. Check the cable connections for signs of corrosion or loose fittings. Use a wire brush or battery terminal cleaner on the battery post and on the inside of the battery cable if they are corroded. If your battery is low on water, re-fill it with distilled water, remember when you open the battery caps, make sure and wear eye protection. The cells need to be filled just enough to cover the cell plates, but do not overfill. Check the battery grounds as well. If you are unsure of the battery condition, stop by your local battery center and have it tested.

If you are in need of a new battery, here are a few tips that might help deciding what to purchase. Batteries are rated in amp hours, or Cold Cranking Amps (CCA). A battery loses its efficiency in cold temperatures, and CCA is the number of amperes that a battery can put out for 30 seconds at zero degrees. If you live in a climate where temperatures are mostly below freezing in winter, you will want to get the highest rated CCA battery for your Volvo. If cold starting is difficult, due to cold oil in the engine, avoid cranking your car more than fifteen seconds at a time. Let the battery rest for a few minutes before making another attempt at starting it again. This will prevent the starter and cables from overheating and reduce the chance of you draining your battery completely dead. Once your car is running your alternator will keep your battery properly charged, assuming that all is well with the alternator.  The most common failure on Volvo alternators is worn out brushes. When the brushes wear down the alternator will not produce any power or may provide intermittent charging and your amp/batter/light is illuminated on your instrument cluster. In most of our Volvos it is easy to inspect or replace the alternators brushes and voltage regulator unit, as the assembly is attached to the alternator with 2 small screws. 1960’s and early 70’s models may be a bit more work as some brush sets are soldered in place.

While you are fiddling around in the engine compartment carefully inspect the engine wiring harness. Especially if you drive a mid-80’s Volvo, failed insulation is a common problem.  The wiring harness insulation has a tendency to degrade and break apart, exposing the wires to each other and the motor. When this happens, you may get a situation where all the warning lights on the instrument cluster will stay on after the engine is running or intermittent flashing of the warning lights. This is caused by a shorting our field wire to the alternator due to the missing insulation, usually in the area where the harness runs under the crankshaft pulley. If you see bare wires at the alternator, you can trace them back until you reach solid insulation and replace the length of damaged wire. After you have spliced into the wire and repaired it to the alternator, we suggest insulating the wire with some heat shrink material or split loom. This will help prevent the wire from deteriorating in the future.  If the rest of the harness looks good, this is a money-saving solution compared to replacing the whole harness. Be sure to disconnect the battery before you start working on any wiring issues you may want to repair.

While you are in that area of the motor, inspect the alternator belts for tension and cracks. A slipping belt reduces alternator output tremendously. If the belts are cracked or glazed, it is time to replace the belts. Make sure all the bushings where the alternator is mounted are in good shape, not out of round or squeezed out of the mounting bracket. We recommend using polyurethane bushings for the mounting brackets, they are stronger and have a longer life span than stock replacement bushings. We have found that these are a good investment as they help keep the belts aligned and correctly tensioned. One more tip when looking at your alternator belts is to not over-tighten them, this can cause excessive wear on the alternator and water pump bearings. 

Your Volvos starter is subject to a lot of strain in the winter when it has to be able to turn the engine at sufficient RPM to start it with the crankcase full of thick cold oil. We recommend using a lighter grade of oil or even synthetic for this reason- it allows for easier cranking of a cold engine. If the starter won’t engage, the solenoid has most likely failed and the starter will have to be replaced. We carry Bosch factory rebuilt starters if you find yourself needing one.

Driveability problems should be addressed before winter, as cold weather often aggravates the problem. High or inconsistent idle, popping back through the intake when accelerating, stalling when shifting the car from park to drive and knocking or pinging when accelerating usually get worse as the mercury drops. The most common culprits are cracked or worn hoses connected to the intake, dried up or missing injector seals and loose connections to the intake manifold. You will want to visually inspect the hoses and use a spray bottle with water to check for leaks around the injectors. The water will temporarily seal the leak and the idle should drop. Another good tool for troubleshooting air leaks is a 3-foot length of rubber hose that you can use to listen for leaks. Hold one end of the hose to your ear while you scout around the engine compartment with the other end, being careful to avoid moving or hot parts. When you hear rushing air or whistling, you’ve located the leak. 

One more thing before you shut the hood, do not forget to change or check your anti-freeze solution. Weak anti-freeze or coolant in your car can be very dangerous to your motor in the freezing weather. If you have not changed the fluid for quite some time, we would encourage you to do change your fluid to help prevent any bad situations that can occur.  Make sure and read the instructions thoroughly on the container of anti-freeze for the correct amount of mixture you will be adding to your Volvos coolant system. If you decide to change the coolant in your car, inspect the heater and radiator hoses while you are there. Look for signs of splitting, cracking or unusually soft hoses.  It is definitely no fun to have a hose blow when you are out driving in the cold. We also recommend changing your coolant thermostat, this is an easy replacement that can prevent overheating, blown hoses, and wasted $$$$ that you do not have to spend.

Under Your Volvo

We have a few more tips for you to check out that can be crucial when it comes to winter driving. Before it gets to cold, you might want to get underneath your car and check over front and rear-end suspension bushings. We get a lot of calls where customers ask about clunks and knocking noises they hear under their car. With winter comes along harsher road conditions, graveled and hard packed bumpy roads. Inspect all the front-end bushings such as, ball joints, tie rod ends, and control arm bushings. Shocks and struts are also often overlooked. Freezing temperatures can impact the performance and handling capabilities of worn or marginally performing shocks and struts when conditions are at their worse.

We know that some things are bound to fail in the winter no matter what you do, preventative measures are your best defense to keep parts from failing when weather is at its worst.  You might also want to keep a few essentials in the trunk like jumper cables, some flares, and maybe some extra tune up parts just in case. Hopefully some things that we have mentioned will help keep you from working on your car in the winter months. You still have time to run over your check-list and inspect all the crucial parts that keep your Volvo moving, even at your climates worst conditions.

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