AAA’s tips for winterizing cars

It’s no secret that extremely cold temperatures can wreak havoc on your car. Most Midwestern motorists have firsthand knowledge of how winter weather can affect a vehicle’s performance. However, many motorists still avoid taking simple steps that could keep their cars running through the winter.

AAA-Chicago Motor Club has several tips to prepare your car for the rigors of winter.

Maximize battery power

As the temperature drops, so does your battery’s starting power. At 32 degrees, a car’s battery loses 35 percent of its power. At zero degrees, a car’s battery is 60 percent weaker. It is better to replace a 4- or 5-year-old battery before it fails on a below-zero morning.

To help your battery last through the winter, make sure the terminals are clean and have it load tests by a professional to measure its strength.

Starting the car

The owner’s manual is the best source for information on how to start your vehicle in cold weather; however, following are some things to consider.

Be sure to turn off all accessories (radio, heater, lights, etc.) before starting your car. This will maximize your battery’s starting power. If your car has fuel injection, don’t touch the accelerator pedal. For carbureted cars, depress the accelerator once before attempting to start the vehicle. Then, simply turn the key and hold it for a few seconds. Continuing to grind the starter can damage the mechanism and can cause too much fuel to enter the engine and flood it.

Check your tires

Carefully inspect your tires for worn treads. Make sure your car is equipped with tires that are able to handle tough winter road conditions. For most motorists, all season tires are adequate.

Be sure that the tires are properly inflated. It is a myth that lower tire pressure will increase traction. In fact, lower tire pressure can cause handling problems on snow-covered or icy roads.

Freeze-proof fluids

Oil—In extreme cold temperatures, oil thickens and doesn’t flow quickly to vital engine parts that need lubrication. A lightweight, winter-grade oil flows easier in cold weather and increases fuel economy. A heavier oil, combined with low battery output, slows the movement of engine parts and makes it harder for the engine to crank fast enough to start. Check your owner’s manual for proper weight oil for your car and change the oil frequently (at the interval recommended by the manufacturer).

Coolant—The coolant in your car’s radiator should test to 35 degrees below zero and should appear as bright green, pink or blue. If it tests at a higher temperature, it may freeze if the outside temperature drops below the tested level.

Gasoline—You can prevent your gas line from freezing by keeping the tank as full as possible. Using gas line antifreeze can also help keep the fuel flowing through the system. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation with regard to using these products.

Wipers and fluid—Since wipers are used more to clear winter’s slush and spray than summer’s rain, be sure that the blades are not worn and that they give good coverage to the windshield. The windshield washer reservoir should be filled with non-freezing solution especially designed for winter use.

Keep doors lubricated

Make sure that all working parts on your door are properly lubricated. Frozen door locks can be overcome by using commercially available lock de-icers—never hot water. Other methods to open frozen locks include aiming a hair dryer at the frozen lock or heating the key with a lighter or match.

Belts and hoses need attention

Modern materials have made belts and hoses durable with relatively long lives, however, they do deteriorate over time and can become brittle and break in cold weather. A visual inspection of these items is simple and can help avoid the inconvenience of failure.

Don’t forget the finish

Road salt and chemicals used to help keep roadways clear are brutal to a car’s paint and trim. Prepare for the assault on the finish by carefully cleaning the vehicle, touching up chips and scratches where possible and applying a good protective coat. During the course of the winter weather season, periodically wash the vehicle (be sure to include the undercarriage) to remove accumulations of dried chemicals to minimize corrosion and damage to the finish.

Prepare a winter emergency kit

Motorists should keep a simple emergency kit in the trunk of their vehicle that includes battery jumper cables, a first aid kit, a small shovel, a basic tool kit (pliers, screwdriver, adjustable wrench) and pocketknife, sleeping bags or blankets, extra winter clothing (caps, socks, mittens, and boots), a small supply of high-calorie, nonperishable food items (canned nuts, candy, nutrition bars), a windshield scraper, a flashlight and transistor radio with extra batteries for each, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction, a bright colored cloth and wireless phone, if available.

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