You might be ready for the cold, ice and snow, but is your car? Here are a few useful tips from PennDOT.
Winter’s just two weeks away. Are you ready to drive in it? More important, is your car ready to be driven in the cold and snow?
For example, does your car’s battery have enough juice to start the engine when temperatures are below freezing? That’s the top question motorists should be answering now — before those temps start plummeting, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson said last week.
“The No. 1 piece of advice from AAA is check your car battery,” Robinson said.
At 0 degrees, a car battery’s strength is down 60 percent, but at that temperature, an engine needs a doubling of power to start.
The reason AAA puts so much stress on car batteries is that the auto club’s drivers went out on 130,000 calls to assist motorists last winter. Almost a quarter of those calls were because motorists had problems starting their cars, and most of them had batteries that were dead or low, Robinson said.
Speaking Dec. 1 in Norristown during a joint news conference with representatives from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Robinson suggested a few other things to check before winter.
• Windshield wipers and washer fluid. If your wipers leave streaks, they might be worn down. Look at the ends of wipers, suggested John Ryder, AAA’s territory manager for approved auto repair. If the ends of the wipers are worn or loose, they might pull away from the blade, tear off and be useless. Worse, they could damage your windshield. During the summer, some motorists fill their washer fluid wells with water. Water will just freeze in the winter. Washer reservoirs should be filled with a winter detergent fluid to prevent freeze-ups.
• Antifreeze. Use a 50-50 mix of coolant and water to protect against freezing.
• Check tire inflation and tread. Keep tires inflated to your auto’s manufacturer’s recommended pressure. Don’t decrease tire pressure because you believe that will increase traction. First, that doesn’t work, and second, tires will wear out more quickly. Look at your tires’ treads, Ryder said, pointing to a well-worn tire on his own car.
“I’ve got to replace this,” he said.
Worn tires don’t provide the traction needed to stop on slippery roads. He added that the newest tires — those with the best tread — should be mounted in a vehicle’s rear for better stability.
• Belts and hoses. If they’re cracked, worn, frayed, soft or bulging, they should be replaced. Look also for leaks around hose clamps and the water pump.
• Have your mechanic check fluid levels, lights, brakes, exhaust system and your car’s heater and defroster.
And back to that battery. Modern batteries don’t give you any hints they’re about to die, Ryder said. The old clue like a cranking, coughing sound when starting the vehicle can’t be relied upon anymore. If the battery is old or you have any other doubts about it, have it checked. AAA members can have that — and 39 other points — checked for free at any AAA approved auto repair facilities. Visit www.aaa.com for more information.
THE SNOWY WAY
If you have to drive on snow or during a storm, stick to the major roads, Robinson said. They get cleared first.
PennDOT and Turnpike Commission reps last week showed off some of the equipment they’ll be using to do that clearing at PennDOT’s maintenance yard at Swede Road and Johnson Highway in Norristown.
One of those pieces was the Snogo, a monster of a snow blower that can grind through deep snow and just shoot it to the side. According to a PennDOT news release, the blower, which will be mounted on a front loader, will be used in drifts and can move up to 1,200 tons of snow per hour.
Another piece of equipment is the “tow plow.” It is just what its name describes — a snow plow towed by a plow truck. It has a plowing width of 24 feet, which is two full lanes, meaning one truck will do the work of two. It can also be equipped with a hopper for salt or two 1,000-gallon tanks of anti-icing fluid. This plow can operate at normal speeds and has been tested at 55 to 60 mph. Double wing plows are special plows fitted with wings on both sides that extend the plowing width to 21 feet. Pull-behind tanker trailers will be towed onto highways so they can spread brine on three travel lanes at once.
PennDOT also has 100,000 tons of salt to shake onto the Greater Philadelphia area, said Nick Martino, PennDOT assistant district executive for maintenance. The transportation department also has put aside $31.8 million to battle the elements this winter.
Just for the Pennsylvania Turnpike stretch that skirts Philadelphia, the Turnpike Commission has 6,000 tons of salt, said Vincent M. Talucci Jr., field operations manager. The commission also will be using some new plow blades to conform to road surfaces, he said.
Robinson said motorists should be ready for winter’s surprises. Remember that unexpectedly heavy wet snowfall we got Oct. 28?
You also should be prepared to get stuck, Robinson said.
Stock your car for trouble. Make sure you have an ice scraper, shovels, kitty litter to help with traction, towels, blankets, coats, jumper cables and a flashlight. You can think of it as your emergency road kit. Don’t forget to keep your mobile phone charged and take it along so you can call for help if you get stuck or break down. And some water or non-perishable food wouldn’t hurt either. Dress warmly and make sure everyone who is going to ride with you does the same.
Drive like you know what you’re doing. If you have to be reminded to slow down when driving in snow, sleet or freezing rain, OK, here’s your reminder: Slow down!
Don’t jam on your brakes on slick or icy roads and hills. Stop gently to keep on the road.
Ryder said too many drivers keep pumping brakes that have anti-lock systems. ABS won’t stop your car shorter; its idea is to help you maintain control of the car, he said, so don’t pump the pedal or remove your foot from the brake when you feel the pedal vibrate and pulse against your foot.
Don’t drive next to snowplows, because the plow drivers have blind spots and sometimes trucks can be moved sideways when hitting drifts or cutting through heavy packed snow.
Don’t change lanes over built-up snow. You might lose control of your car. Similarly, don’t use cruise control on slippery roads; that, too, decreases your control. Four-wheel drive might help you get going, but it doesn’t provide any advantage while stopping, so don’t drive in four-wheel drive, AAA advised.
And last, don’t panic, Robinson said. That’s not going to help you if your car goes into a skid. Steer in the direction you want to go, and stay calm. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org