Home Arctic blast provides challenge for motorists

Arctic blast provides challenge for motorists


AAA LogoCold arctic air currently enveloping Virginia can and will put the “freeze” on car batteries, tires and other critical car components.  Emergency roadside assistance crews at AAA Mid-Atlantic are staffed and ready to handle the predictable increase in calls due to the cold. Dead car batteries will leave some motorists stuck at home on cold mornings this week.

“Extremely cold temperatures will almost always result in a substantial  increase in calls to AAA for emergency roadside assistance,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager, Public and Government Affairs, AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “Batteries and other car components that are on their last leg are typically unable to withstand the added stress of below freezing temperatures,” added Meade.

Last winter, was particularly ruthless on drivers as the auto club assisted 762,627 motorists in the mid-Atlantic region in the period from December 2013 through March 2014. That total represents a 15.3 increase over the previous season (December 2012-March 2013).

While some breakdowns are unavoidable, there are some that could have been prevented with proper vehicle maintenance ahead of harsh winter weather.  Batteries and tires typically top the list of winter repairs, both of which can be checked ahead of time to prevent unnecessary and perhaps more expensive repairs.

Harsh winter conditions make your vehicle work harder, particularly the charging and starting system, headlights, tires and windshield wipers.


AAA recommends the following winter weather tips for motorists:

Battery. Check for a secure fit and clean away any corrosion on the battery, connectors and cables. Note that at zero degrees, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength, yet the engines they must start need about two times more power to start. At a comparatively mild 32 degrees, a battery is 35 percent weaker. Why? Oil inside the battery has thickened due to the cold thus it requires more current to start.

AAA recommends that if your battery is more than two years old to have it tested by a reliable repair shop.


Warning signs that a battery could be failing:

  • Grinding or clicking sound upon ignition
  • Vehicle cranks slowly when attempting to start
  • Headlights dim when idling but brighten when the engine is revved
  • Battery is  more than three (3) years old

Antifreeze. Check antifreeze annually to ensure it will withstand the winter cold. A 50/50 mixture of coolant and water will protect against freezing.

Windshield wipers and washer fluid. Replace wiper blades if they do not clear the glass in a single swipe without streaking. Fill the windshield washer reservoir with winter detergent fluid to prevent freeze up.

Tires. Cold weather reduces tire inflation pressure, so check tire pressures frequently and maintain the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels. Motorists should never reduce tire pressure in an attempt to increase traction on snow and ice. This does not work and leads to excessive tire wear. Motorists in areas where it snows should make sure their tires have an M&S rating, which means they provide the added traction required in snow. In areas that have heavy snow fall, using snow tires and chains during winter months provides added safety and may be required by local laws. For best results, snow tires should be fitted to all four wheels.

Belts and hoses. Replace accessory drive belts that are cracked, glazed or frayed, as well as coolant hoses that are visibly worn, excessively soft or bulging. Check for leaks around hose clamps and the water pump.

Other important areas to have a certified technician check in preparation for winter include the vehicle’s fluid levels, lights, brakes, exhaust system and heater/defroster. Motorists should also remember to continue regular oil and filter changes at the intervals recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

AAA also encourages motorists to update their emergency roadside kit for winter to include a mobile phone and car charger; blankets; a flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; drinking water; a small shovel; a sack of sand or cat litter or traction mats; windshield scraper and brush; battery booster cables; and emergency flares or reflectors.



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.

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