Can Sleet Damage Your Car?


The meteorologist has called for a snowstorm with the possibility of sleet or icy rain. Luckily, there is no hail in the forecast, so that’s a relief. But what about sleet—can it damage a car?

Sleet can’t damage your car on its own because it is a slushy mixture of snow and ice pieces too small to cause damage. Neither can freezing rain. However, freezing rain can bring down tree branches and power lines, causing dangerous conditions.

In 2019, the US saw over 4,500 hailstorms that caused an estimated 13 billion dollars in damage to cars and property. Sleet, however, is not listed as capable of causing any significant damage to your vehicle. Read on to find out the difference between sleet and icy rain and which one you need to worry about.

Why Sleet Won’t Damage Your Car

Most people think that sleet will damage their car, but the truth is that it won’t. As I mentioned, sleet is frozen raindrops that have mixed with snow. The small ice pellets simply bounce off your car without causing any damage.

However, you should still be careful when driving in sleet. The mixture of snow and rain can make the roads slippery, so it’s essential to go slowly and carefully. You should also watch for icy patches that could form on bridges or overpasses where snow has melted during the day and then refreezes at night.

Caution: Just because the forecast calls for sleet, don’t assume you’re out of the woods. Although forecasting a snow situation is easier, predicting whether you will get harmless sleet and dangerous ice storms is more complicated.

If you want to see how a slight variation can make a difference in whether an area will receive snow, sleet, or freezing rain, check out the Will it Rain, Sleet, or Snow? page from UCAR.

Freezing Rain Can Cause Indirect Damage

Freezing rain and sleet can cause potential damage, although not directly. Still, The Weather Network calls it “the worst type of precipitation” because it can bring down power lines and trees and form black ice.

The freezing rain falls onto roads and sidewalks and turns to ice when the temperatures are at or below freezing. At first, this doesn’t seem like a significant threat because it looks like rain. But as it continues to fall, ice builds up, and sidewalks and roads become slippery.

It’s more challenging to treat ice than snow. You can’t simply push ice to the side. To clear the roads, they must be pretreated or treated with salt, brine, or sand. As a result, driving will be impacted for longer after an ice storm than a snowstorm.   

Meteorologists use a variety of terms to describe ice storms:

  • Nuisance amounts of snow are ¼ inch (6 mm) or less. These storms cause few power outages but can make driving dangerous.
  • Disruptive ice storms occur when the ice is between ¼ and ½ inches (6 and 13 mm). Some trees and power lines fall at this level, leading to outages.
  • Crippling storms happen when over ½ inch (6 mm) of freezing rain falls. Crippling storms cause power outages that last for days because of the tree damage.

When the forecast calls for rain, the best preventative measure you can take is to park your car in a garage or underneath a shelter. If not, avoid parking under trees if at all possible.

Winter Weather, in General, Can Damage Your Vehicle

Nothing can be more damaging to your vehicle than freezing temperatures and snowfall. These conditions can cause significant problems for your car, some of which might not be immediately apparent.

Here are a few common winter weather problems that can damage your vehicle:

  • Extensive corrosion and rust on the body of the car. If you live in a place with heavy snowfall, your vehicle will spend more time outside. One of the worst things that can happen to a car is sitting in ice and snow for weeks or months. The metal will start to corrode, and the paint will chip off.
  • Dead battery. According to AAA, a dead battery is one of the most common winter car problems. The cold weather makes it harder for your car to start, and if you don’t drive it often, the battery can die.
  • Flat tires. Flat tires are another common problem in winter. As Consumer Reports notes, the cold weather can cause the air in your tires to become denser, leading to a loss of pressure. In addition, the snow and ice can make it difficult to drive, which can cause your tires to wear down more quickly.
  • Frozen door locks. If you live in a place where it gets frigid, your car door locks might freeze. This can make it difficult or even impossible to get into your car. You can prevent this by spraying a small amount of WD-40 on your door locks before the winter season. You could try this WD-40 110057 Multi-Use Product Spray from Amazon.com. It’s a great all-purpose spray that can help you with various tasks, including preventing your door locks from freezing.

Tips for Protecting Your Car During Winter

As you can see, many things can go wrong in the winter if you’re not careful. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to protect your car from cold weather damage:

  • Keep your car in a garage or carport. If you can, park your vehicle in an enclosed area that protects it from the elements. This will keep snow and ice off your car, preventing damage to everything from the paint to the transmission.
  • Change your antifreeze regularly. Many people don’t realize that antifreeze has a shelf life 一it starts to break down after just two years. That’s why it’s essential to change your antifreeze regularly, especially if you live in a place with cold winters.
  • Wash your car regularly. It’s crucial to wash your car frequently during the winter, even if you live in a place with little snowfall. That’s because the salt and other chemicals used to de-ice roads can damage your car’s paint.
  • Check your tires frequently. The cold weather can cause your tires to lose pressure, so regularly checking them is essential. In addition, the snow and ice can make it difficult to drive, which can cause your tires to wear down more quickly.
  • Keep your gas tank full. This might seem like a no-brainer, but keeping your gas tank at least half full during the winter is an essential task that many forget. Leaving your gas tank empty throughout winter is a surefire way to invite condensation into the fuel lines and the tank, which isn’t ideal. If enough ice collects in these parts, it can prevent the transmission of fuel from the tank to the engine.

Here’s a video that may come in handy if you need more tips for winterizing your car:

Note: If you do encounter winter weather-related problems with your car, make sure to contact a mechanic or another automotive expert as soon as possible.

Bottom Line

Sleet will not damage your car—only hail will cause dents and similar damage. Freezing rain will also not directly damage your vehicle. Still, the aftermath can create dangerous driving conditions and the possibility of trees or power lines falling on a car parked underneath them.

Therefore, it’s best to avoid driving in these weather conditions if at all possible. But if you must drive, take extra care and avoid sudden movements or quick acceleration and braking.

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