Canadians everywhere have just spent the past several months waking up their Hondas and Dodges and Fords and Volkswagens at thirty below, and setting off with little second thought about the cruel set of challenges posed by the extreme temperatures.Winter is hard on us Canadians, and even moreso on our rides.
Our cars, trucks and SUVs don’t like being forced into action on a cold morning any more than we do– let alone after sleeping outside covered in ice and salt.
But, all the while, your car is expected to perform the same way, every day of the year—cold or not.
For a closer look at how automakers ensure that’s the case, I talked to Hayato Mori, Honda Canada’s Manager of Product Planning.
JP: How do you make sure a car will start without being plugged in at temperatures that make us cringe?
HM: For gasoline to be ignited by a spark plug, it needs to be in vapor form—and not much evaporates in the cold.
Even before start up, the car knows air temperature, pressure and flow, as well as engine temperature, speed and location of the engine within the cycle. This allows the injectors to spray a fine fuel mist in ideal amounts, at the perfect time, to maximize the likelihood of combustion.
And, thankfully, most of things that make for an efficient engine, like low friction, precise measurement and good fuel control also make for an easier cold start.
Some credit has to be given to the fuel companies, too. All gasoline distributors in Canada provide a “winter fuel” to help the fuel vaporize when cold.
JP: Does Honda have a minimum standard temperature at which vehicles must be able to start?
HM: As a global company, we sell cars in Russia, Northern Europe and all over Canada. The customer expectation is the same: “It has to start”. This is our target.
JP: Do you test vehicle systems like brakes and steering with and without winter tires installed?
HM: Yes, vehicles are tested with both all-season and winter tires as customers drive in winter conditions with both.
JP: How has cold weather testing changed in recent years?
HM: The biggest change is how much better the vehicles now perform in the cold. Often times we struggle more with failure of our laptops, cameras and data collection tools in the cold before we experience vehicle problems.
JP: Can you share any specific exercises that vehicles are put through in cold weather testing?
HM: The testing after development has been completed is focused on making sure the car works as expected in the hands of a Canadian customer. How quickly the car warms up, defrosts and starts is one example. Getting you through the drive-through at a coffee shop without any annoyances is actually one of our tests, too.
JP: Where is cold weather testing performed? Is it possible to measure the effects of extreme cold on car parts in a controlled indoor facility?
HM: Cold temperature testing starts on the tiniest clip, hinge, or circuit board in cold chambers worldwide by suppliers before they are considered for use. Design and development groups then test vehicles in environmental chambers to make sure it all works as expected when assembled. There’s no replacement for real-world testing, and Honda engineers can be found on frozen ice roads worldwide, including northern Canada.
JP: Any big challenges in winter testing or performance coming up in the future?
HM: As engine size decreases and vehicle interiors grow, ensuring a car with a small engine and a
large interior can keep the passengers warm in extreme cold temperatures may require some creative solutions in the future. But currently we have no issues keeping our Honda Fit customers warm in extreme cold with traditional well designed and sized HVAC and cooling system coupled to an efficient engine.
RELATED: Here’s a winter-focused review of the Honda CR-V.