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Dealing with cold weather: Being cautious and prepared can help motorists stay safe

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Mon, Jan 14th 2019 12:45 pm

Guest Editorial by AAA of Western and Central New York

AAA of Western and Central New York wants to make sure drivers are prepared to battle the cold this winter. Hazardous storms and inclement weather are a factor in more than half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter, according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA urges drivers to slow down, be cautious and prepare their vehicles for cold days for their own personal safety.

Did you know that a car battery loses a third of its power in freezing weather? Why? Because, as the air outside cools, the oil in the car thickens making it harder to turn the engine over.

You may have a battery problem if the starter motor cranks the engine slowly or the battery/charging warning lamp is illuminated. Another weak battery indicator on older cars is dim incandescent headlights, particularly at idle. However, not every failing battery reveals itself through obvious symptoms.

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. In most areas, members can call the AAA mobile battery service to have a battery tested and replaced (if necessary) at their home or work.

AAA call volume across Western and Central New York usually picks up on cold mornings, especially on Mondays, as motorists prepare to head back to work. To avoid long hold times amid prolonged winter weather with high call volume, members can request road service via the free AAA mobile app or AAA.com.

To help keep drivers safe on the road, AAA offers the following 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. The extra time will provide additional braking room should a sudden stop become necessary.

•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. It will be harder to recover from the loss of traction if cruise control is active.

•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. 

As for vehicles, proper planning and maintenance can go a long way in the cold. To prepare a vehicle for the cold weather ahead, AAA recommends the following tips:

•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-inch – 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-inch 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.

•Have your battery tested. A AAA survey found two-thirds of American drivers have never proactively had their car battery tested. If a battery is more than three years old, have it checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to endure cold weather. AAA’s mobile battery service offers free battery testing for AAA members.

•Wash and wax your vehicle. To help prevent rust damage, which costs drivers approximately $3 billion every year, thoroughly wash and clean your vehicle prior to the start of winter and apply a coat of wax to protect the finish. During the winter, frequently wash your vehicle (including the undercarriage) to loosen, dissolve and neutralize road salts. Always use a high-quality car wash solution, not a household dish detergent that will strip the wax from your vehicle.

As upstate New York’s largest member services organization, AAA provides more than 880,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1900, AAA has been a leading advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. Visit AAA at www.AAA.com.

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