WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, November 12, 2019) –– Don’t let the calendar fool you. It is only mid-November, but oddly enough, that Arctic blast in the forecast harkens the premature arrival of astronomical winter long before the advent of metrological winter, which begins Saturday, December 21, at 11:19 EST, and includes the months of December, January and February. The “rare early-season Arctic blast,” as some meteorologists and weather watchers style it, is “set to impact 230 million people,” including 6.1 million people living in and around the Washington metro area.
More than 200 weather records will be shattered from coast to coast. Area residents, school children, commuters, and motorists must brace themselves for frigid temperatures in the wake of the Arctic air mass settling over the mid-Atlantic, and upper Eastern Seaboard and a large swath of the Interstate 95 Corridor.
The peculiar fast-moving winter storm, which packs the coldest temperature so far this fall season, and the coldest in months, will likely spell big trouble for area motorists who have batteries living on borrowed time, or who didn’t give a second thought to preparing their vehicles for winter beforehand, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. The Washington metro area boasts a vehicle fleet that includes “about 4.1 million registered vehicles,” according to the Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Even so, the average age of the typical vehicle in the region is “9.17 years old,” notes the TPB. Here is a statistic that will chill your soul, vehicles 10 years and older are twice as likely to end up stranded on the side of the road compared to newer vehicles, and on top of that, the odds of needing a tow to a repair facility quadruples, especially at wintertide, according to an analysis of AAA roadside data.
“One-in-five service calls for a newer vehicle required a tow to a repair facility,” said Bruce Jenkins, Manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic Emergency Roadside Assistance Fleet Depot for Springfield and Richmond. “On top of that, vehicles between 6 and 10 years old have the highest proportion of battery-related issues, as most batteries have a three-to five-year life expectancy.”
Here is another important thing to consider. As the weather cools, and with half of cars on the road more than 10 years old, motorists should complete a seasonal vehicle checkup to maintain safety and maximize efficiency. As the temperatures drop, some area motorists will have to cope with a litany of vehicle woes, including “dead batteries, tire pressure lights,” sleek, low-profile tires that are highly susceptible to damage, electronic keyless ignition problems, and fuel-related issues.
Keep in mind, for every 10 degrees the temperature drops, the pressure in tires will drop one or two pounds. Arithmetically, that equates to a remarkable loss of four to eight pounds of air pressure for a 40 degree swing or drop in temperatures from 70 degrees on Monday into the 30s on Tuesday. The temperature is set to dip into the 20s tonight, weather forecasters say.
“Owners of tens of millions of newer vehicle models may be totally unaware their vehicles did not roll off the assembly line with a spare tire,” explained James Moore, Manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic Car Care Center. “To the chagrin of the motoring public, many late model vehicles only have tire inflator kits in their trunks. The sudden drop in temperatures could leave more than 30 million motorists vulnerable on the roadside. More than one-in-five millennial drivers (ages 18-34) do not know how to change a flat tire, compared to 90% of drivers ages 35-54. Experience is still the best teacher, but for safety’s sake it is wiser to keep the number of your roadside assistance provider in your cell phone when stranded on the roadside with a flat.”
A blast of frigid weather is especially hard on vehicle batteries. As aforementioned, the average longevity rate for most vehicle batteries is three to five years, and that’s pressing your luck. As a rule of thumb, as a vehicle battery ages, it loses almost 35% of its charge, when temperatures dip to around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It will lose 60% of its capacity at zero degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, a “fully charged battery can withstand a low temperature of up to -50 to - 76 degrees Fahrenheit,” some automotive battery manufacturers boast.
That means a lot of vehicle batteries won’t start. On top of that, the host of electronic accessories on your vehicle, including the radio, headlights, heater, and even the windshield wipers will drain your aging or weak battery during your commute, leaving you stranded on the roadside or highway. If you have a buildup of corrosion or sulfation on your battery terminals, you are asking for trouble. So are the more than 40% of motorists who don’t carry an emergency roadside kit in their vehicles.
In all likelihood, the Emergency Roadside Assistance switchboard will be swamped by SOS calls from stalled, strained or distressed motorists.
Winter Car Care Checklist
Battery and Charging System – 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.
Battery Cables and Terminals – Make sure the battery terminals and cable ends are free from corrosion and the connections are tight.
Drive Belts – 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.
Engine Hoses – Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or excessively spongy feeling.
Tire Type and Tread – In areas with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires work well in light-to -moderate snow conditions provided they have adequate tread depth. 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.
Tire Pressure – Check tire inflation pressure on all four tires and the spare more frequently in fall and winter. As the average 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.
Air Filter – Check the engine air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.
Coolant Levels – 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 annually with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.
Lights – Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.
Wiper Blades – The blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots. In areas with snow, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the blade and the glass.
Washer Fluid – Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that has antifreeze components to prevent it from freezing.
Brakes – If there is any indication of a brake problem, have the system inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.
Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids – Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.
Emergency Road Kit – Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather. The kit should include:
- Mobile phone, pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services, and car charger
- 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
- Extra warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves)
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Window washer solvent
- Ice scraper with brush
- Cloth or roll of paper towels
- Jumper cables
- Warning devices (flares or triangles)
- Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
AAA members can request a visit from a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician who will test their battery and replace it on-site, if necessary. AAA Car Care Centers and AAA Approved Auto Repair shops can also test and replace weak batteries. AAA Club Alliance serves more than 6 million members in 13 states and the District of Columbia, including, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Visit www.AAA.com/CarCare for more information, to find a location near you or to schedule an appointment. Be prepared for winter.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 58 million members nationwide and nearly 79,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit http://aaa.com