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Preparing Your Car for Winter Driving

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The Mid-Atlantic Office of the American Automobile Association recommends the following steps to take to prepare your car for winter.

Also be sure to see our page on winter driving tips


Charge! Cold weather is tough on batteries. At zero degrees, a car's battery loses about 60 percent of its strength, yet the engine needs about 2 times more power to start. Even at a comparatively mild 32 degrees, a battery is 35 percent weaker.

Make sure the battery terminals and cables are securely attached and free of corrosion. The battery can be cleaned with a solution of baking soda and water. AAA recommends replacing a battery at the end of its warranty. A load test performed by a qualified technician will help determine if a car's battery is strong enough for cold weather starts.


Get a Grip. Tires that are improperly inflated will have less traction on slippery roads. Make sure your tires and your spare have the pressure (PSI) recommended in your Owner's Manual. Look for tire damage and excessive or uneven tread wear.

Be sure that your tires have at least 1/8 of an inch tread depth for best traction. Rotate tires every 6,000 - 7,500 miles and replace tires that are damaged or excessively worn.


See and Be Seen. Danger must be seen to be avoided. Driving with a snow-covered windshield, windows, side-view mirrors or lights invites a crash. Even dirty headlights can reduce visibility by as much as 90 percent.

Clear windows, mirrors and lights with an ice scraper, brush or spray de-icer and regularly clean lights of dirt and sludge. Make certain windshield wipers and defrosters are in good working order and that washer reservoirs are filled with no-freeze windshield washer fluid.


Cool It. Make certain cooling system antifreeze is mixed with an equal portion of water for maximum protection.


Air It Out. Don't let frigid temperatures tempt you into starting your car in a closed garage or idling your engine for long periods with the windows closed. Carbon monoxide, present in exhaust fumes, is almost impossible to detect and can be fatal when breathed in a confined area.


Slippery When Wet. Just a thin layer of ice or snow can greatly reduce traction. Normal following distances of 2 to 3 seconds should be increased to 8 to 10 seconds in slippery conditions. Follow the path that will give you the most traction. Watch cars in front of you and avoid areas where they slide.

If you start to skid, shift the car into neutral (automatic transmission) or declutch the car (manual), look and steer in the direction you want to go. Avoid panic braking or hard acceleration in a skid!


Key Solution. Frozen door locks can be overcome by carefully heating the end of a key with a match or lighter. Other methods include; dipping the tip of the key in rubbing alcohol, using a can of de-icer spray, or heating the lock with a hair dryer.

Never pour hot water on a lock or windshield because this could worsen the problem or cause the windshield to shatter.


An Ounce of Prevention. Prepare for emergencies and carry the following items in your trunk: flashlight with extra batteries; flares or reflective triangles; fire extinguisher; jumper cables; first aid kit; jack and spare tire; blanket or extra clothing; pocket knife; extra motor oil and windshield wiper fluid; kitty liter or sand; small snow shovel; cellular phone; and copy of motor club membership card and emergency numbers.


Finish Up. Road salt, slush and grim are especially hard on a car's finish. To help prevent rust and paint damage, keep cars washed and waxed. A full or self-service car wash makes the job easier when temperatures are low.

SOURCE: American Automobile Association, Mid-Atlantic Office

2000 Washington Post Newsweek Interactive





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