Prepare vehicles for colder weather

Snow is cleared from C Avenue near Liberty Chapel following a winter storm in January 2016. Similar bouts of heavy snow – or ice buildup attributed to frigid temperatures – have occurred every January for at least the past decade. Preparing vehicles for such storms is vital, especially if families are planning holiday trips to locations that experience even worse winter weather.

The American Automobile Association is encouraging Virginia motorists  to prepare their vehicles for snow and frosty temperatures. Vehicles that have not been properly maintained or are missing the ever-important emergency roadside kit could leave drivers stuck, literally, out in the cold.

“No one wants to be stranded by a vehicle breakdown and unprepared to handle the situation during adverse weather,” said AAA Public Affairs Manager Martha Mitchell Meade. “Properly readying vehicles for winter driving is essential for the safety of all passengers and will greatly decrease the chances of motorists being not only stranded, but also unprepared for a roadside emergency.”

Based on calls to AAA Emergency Roadside Assistance, the most common problems that arise this time of year are with dead batteries or improperly inflated tires, both of which can be aggravated by a sudden cold snap.

AAA recommends motorists use a simple checklist to determine their vehicle’s winter maintenance needs. Many of the items on the list can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, but others should be performed by a certified technician.

Winter car care checklists should include the following:

• Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. Make sure the battery terminals and cable ends are free from corrosion, and the connections are tight.

• Check tire inflation pressure more frequently in fall and winter. As the temperature drops, so will tire pressures – typically by one PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker typically located on the driver’s side door jamb; and don’t forget the spare.

• Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread. Uneven tire wear can indicate alignment, wheel balance or suspension problems that must be addressed to prevent further tire damage. All-season tires work well in light to moderate snow conditions, provided they have adequate tread depth.

• Check the coolant level in the overflow tank when the engine is cold. If the level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. Test the antifreeze protection level with a tester available at most auto parts stores.

• Wiper blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots. Consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup that may prevent good contact between the blade and the glass.

• Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that contains antifreeze components to prevent freezing.

• Inspect the underside of accessory drive belts for cracks or fraying. Many newer multi-rib “serpentine” belts are made of materials that do not show obvious signs of wear; replace these belts at 60,000-mile intervals or as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

• Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or feel spongy

• Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs so you can see and be seen in dark or winter weather conditions.

Now also is a great time to assemble an emergency kit equipped for winter weather and to keep in your vehicles at all times. On-hand emergency equipment should include the following:

• Drinking water

• First-aid kit

• Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers

• Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats

• Snow shovel

• Blanket or sleeping bag

• Extra warm clothing (coat, gloves, hats, scarves)

• Snow boots

• Flashlight with extra batteries

• Window washer solvent – winter formulation with antifreeze components

• Ice scraper with brush

• Cloth or roll of paper towels

• Jumper cables

• Warning devices (flares or reflective triangles)

• Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)

Finally, when heading out on the road for a day of shopping, a family trip or any other prolonged outing, ensure your mobile phone is fully charged and pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services. Don’t forget the car charger to refresh the battery as needed.

With a little preparation, motorists can reduce their anxiety level and perhaps save themselves time and money when dealing with the oncoming winter months.