How to Prepare Your Car for Cold Weather

Chicagoans are no strangers to cold and snowy weather and anyone who has lived through a winter season in the city knows there is a lot of preparation involved. 

The inclement winter weather can wreak havoc on cars and homes, make travel hazardous and take a serious toll on your tolerance for going outside (hibernation time anyone?).

For those who have to travel, however, things can get dangerous. Calls for AAA roadside service Tuesday were up 15 percent over a normal Tuesday in January, the organization said.

Frank Guske of Wells Automotive in Old Town said tire pressure problems are among the most common with a drastic temperature drop.

"Most tires on most your passenger cars can lose between three and 10 pounds overnight," Guske  said. 

Guske said the best thing car owners can do for their cars is to have a professional check out your vehicle before the winter hits.

"You go to an annual physical for your body, you get it checked out, same thing with your car," Guske said. "If you get your car checked out, I can foresee if your battery's going to go bad, I can fill your tires up and limit these surprises."

According to AAA, there are some other precautions drivers can take to make things safer during winter travel.

Travel Preparation:

  • Check your battery strength. Faulty batteries cause more car starting problems than any other factor. At 0 degrees, a good battery has 60 percent less starting power. Additionally, batteries that are 3-5 years old will have much less starting power in cold conditions.
  • Have tires properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can be dangerous, and may suffer damage. Tire air pressure decreases 1-2 psi for every 10 degree temperature drop.
  • Park your car in the garage. If you have no garage, put a tarp over the hood or park protected from prevailing winds. To keep doors from freezing shut, place a plastic trash bag between the door and the frame.
  • Make sure your car has an emergency kit, which should include the following:
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Warm gear for all potential passengers – boots, hats, gloves, blankets
  • Flares and flashlight and extra batteries
  • Extra food and water for all potential passengers
  • General first aid kit
  • Ice scraper, snow brush and shovel
  • Windshield washer fluid

Driving in the cold

  • Avoid braking on ice. If you’re approaching a patch of ice, brake during your approach. Control the skid. Applying pressure to your brakes while on ice will throw your car into a skid
  • Keep the fuel tank at least half-full to avoid fuel-line freeze up.
  • Drive with your low-beam headlights illuminated.
  • Watch for icy surfaces on bridges and intersections, even when the rest of the road seems to be in good condition.
  • Don't use cruise control in precipitation and freezing temperatures.
  • Remember that four-wheel drive helps you to get going quicker, but it won't help you stop any faster.
  • Apply constant, firm pressure to the pedal with anti-lock brakes.
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