AAA warns drivers cold snap might sap car batteries

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BUFFALO — Area residents aren’t the only ones who have enjoyed a relatively mild winter in Upstate New York, according to AAA of Western and Central New York.

Car batteries have also had it easy, AAA said, but below zero temperatures making their way into the region could put an end to that in a hurry. Car batteries lose roughly a third of their power in freezing temperatures as the outside air causes the oil in the car to thicken making it harder to turn the engine over.

AAA advises drivers to check their batteries before the cold snap sets in to avoid potentially being stranded in the frigid weather. A battery check is particularly called for if drivers have seen such warning signs of a weak battery as the starter motor cranking the engine slowly, dim incandescent headlights, particularly at idle, or a lingering check battery warning light.

To avoid being stranded by a battery problem, have the battery inspected at every oil change to make sure the cable connections are clean and tight, and the hold down hardware is secure. Once a battery reaches three years of age, have it tested annually. The test will identify if the battery has deteriorated to the point where replacement is recommended to prevent an unexpected failure.

Several area auto parts retailers will test a battery for free, AAA said.

More tips to prepare your vehicle for the cold:

Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather. The kit should include a cellphone charger, sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, flashlight, an ice scraper, jumper cables, a blanket, gloves or mittens and snacks and water.

Replace worn windshield-wiper blades. If your climate is especially harsh, purchase one-piece, beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to fight snow and ice buildup. Use cold-weather windshield washer solvent and carry an ice scraper.

Inspect your tires. Make sure tires have adequate tread depth – at least 4/32” – as worn tires can affect a driver’s ability to stop in slick conditions. An easy way to check for wear is by inserting a quarter into your tread groove. If the top of Washington’s head is exposed, the tread depth is less than 4/32” and it’s time to replace your tires. Also, check that your car has a spare tire and keep it properly inflated in case you need it.

AAA’s tips for driving in winter weather:

Do not tailgate. Normal following distances of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be extended to a minimum of five to six seconds when driving on slippery surfaces.

Never use cruise control on slippery roads. If your vehicle hydroplanes or skids, you will lose the ability to regain some traction simply by lifting off the accelerator.

Slow down and adjust your speed to the road conditions. Leave yourself ample room to stop. Accelerate, turn and brake as gradually and smoothly as you can.

Don’t slam on the brakes. If your car begins to skid, continue to steer in the direction you want the car to go. Slamming on the brakes will only make your vehicle harder to control.

Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses. Black ice typically forms first in shaded areas of the roadway and on bridges and overpasses that freeze first and melt last. Although the road leading up to a bridge may be fine, the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.

React quickly. Watch the traffic ahead and slow down immediately at the sight of brake lights, skidding cars or emergency flashers. 

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