Car Still Buried in Snow? Here’s What to Expect When You Dig Out

Cars line Oak Street in Chinatown after a February snow storm.
Cars line Oak Street in Chinatown after a February snow storm. –Julie Xie/Boston.com Staff

Maybe they’ve been on vacation or maybe they’re just lazy, but there are car owners all over Greater Boston who have left their vehicles neglected under layers of snow for weeks.

Some city officials seem pretty frustrated by the phenomenon.

“Crews can’t tell if they are just cars or snow piles at this point,’’ Somerville spokeswoman Denise Taylor told The Boston Globe on Tuesday. “It’s a risk for our equipment, and obviously bad for a car that gets hit, if they do hit it while trying to plow.’’

Somerville is starting to tow cars left in snow banks, according to The Globe, so it may finally be time for those straggling owners to start shoveling.

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John Paul, the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and Boston.com’s “Car Doctor,’’ commented on the kind of damage those owners might find when they manage to free their vehicles.

Full-Body Damage

The situation might not be as dire as one would imagine, according to Paul.

“The good thing is the weight of the snow is not going to make that much of a difference to the car,’’ Paul said, even if there’s a hundred inches on top of the roof. After all, cars frequently carry hundreds of pounds worth of passengers and luggage.

Similarly, Paul said if you have to leave your car encased in something for a month, snow is a relatively benign choice.

“If it’s just snow and ice, it’s water,’’ he said. “Cars are designed to be out in the rain.’’

After so many snow plows have gone by, however, there is bound to be a lot of road salt mixed in with the snow and ice. That’s bad news, Paul said, because those chemicals can be corrosive to a car’s metal frame.

Brake Problems

Some parts of the car are susceptible to the moisture that leaks out of a snow pile any time the temperature rises above freezing. When the metal parts underneath a car are left wet for too long, they can start to rust, Paul said.

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“The one thing that I would be most concerned about would be the braking system,’’ Paul said. “The parts can actually start to rust and freeze up pretty quickly.’’

If brakes are really rusted, they’ll likely screech and squeal and let the driver know, but Paul said people should be careful even if that’s not the case. Minor damage could make the braking system less responsive in a way that’s not immediately noticeable.

Dead Batteries

Not much snow on the forecast, but still a bunch on the ground. #BOSnow

A photo posted by Danielle Geller (@upedisdown) on

A long period of cold and disuse has also probably taken a toll on the batteries in these abandoned cars, Paul said. The usual jump start method might do the trick, but batteries that are really low on juice often benefit more from a gradual recharge.

In some cases, he added, the batteries might be beyond saving. Once a battery is totally dead, the fluid inside is at risk of freezing, which would crack the battery casing and make the whole thing useless.

All in all, the problems Paul laid out are relatively minor and inexpensive to fix. While he urged drivers to free their cars and get them out of the path of snow plows, he cautioned against rushing through the process because, he said, “That’s when you’re going to do more damage.’’

Digging Out

Way too much #BOSnow

A photo posted by vittmezz (@vittmezz) on

“Some of the snow is hardened like cement,’’ Paul said, which could pose a real risk to drivers who try to drive out of a snow bank without doing sufficient work with the shovel first. Rock hard snow could wreak havoc on a car’s exposed underbelly.

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He also said drivers should pay particular attention to chipping ice out of their tail pipes because if those are stuffed up, deadly carbon monoxide exhaust could leak into the cabin.

Help. #BOSnow #roxbury #forthill

A photo posted by Justin Francese (@jjfrancese) on

“If my car was parked since January 27 (the date of Boston’s first blizzard this year) I’d be out there trying to carefully excavate it,’’ Paul said.

“Time will tell with some of these cars,’’ he added. “There may be some cars encrusted in ice until April.’’

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