How should drivers handle freezing temperatures?

February 25, 2015 09:08 AM

People from all corners of the U.S. are currently dealing with the harshest winter conditions. CBS News reported that the average temperatures across much of the country are up to 30 degrees lower than normal. The Northeast has been pounded by snow and ice, which is compounded by current frigid temperatures, and the South is expecting cold weather, freezing rain and plenty of ice as well. Wind chills are also likely to plummet, which may make things uncomfortable for people everywhere. 

Cold weather can cause severe damage
Anyone caring for a car during this winter needs to be extra cautious. Cold temperatures, snow, ice and sleet may lead to serious damage and expensive auto repair, even if motorists are keeping an eye on their car's performance. Messy roads contribute to dangerous commutes, putting drivers at risk for accidents. 

Collisions aren't the only thing motorists should look out for. Road salt used to enhance traction on icy surfaces, for example, can cling to vehicles and harm the paint. That speeds up the rusting process, weakens the frame and could even lead to damage to the engine or parts on the underside of the car. Inclement weather may have also caused potholes to form in the road. If these obstacles are new or hidden by buildup, they could harm your vehicle. 

Many other problems that commonly pop up in winter can be avoided with an auto tune up. Professionals know what aspects of a car are typically affected by cold weather, and they may even have insight as to which problems strike most in your area. 

Ways to keep a vehicle safe
While you should be paying attention to your vehicle's scheduled maintenance throughout the year, there are a few areas that may need some extra love in the winter. Make sure these three tasks are taken care of before you wind up with a major problem. 

1. Windshield cracks 
Small or unassuming cracks in a windshield may not seem like a significant issue. But when cold strikes, they can become a real problem, as one expert explained. To avoid this, make sure any cracks in your windshield - no matter how small or innocuous - are taken care of as soon as possible. 

"The windshield is made of two pieces of glass and a plastic sheet in between," Len Altizio, the owner of one car repair shop in New York, told The Courier-Journal. "When you turn your defroster on, and you have hot air on the inner piece of glass, and five-degree air on the outer piece of glass, it can cause torsion that can easily crack the glass. It causes the small cracks to expand."

2. Empty gas tanks 
When the temperatures are low, you should make a concerted effort to keep your fuel tank full. You'll be in a better position to avoid frozen gas lines or blockages that prevent your car from running. 

"A full tank of gas is a good idea," Robert Sinclair, the spokesman for AAA New York, told The Courier-Journal. "Any moisture-laden air inside the tank can freeze, and the line that carries gasoline from the tank to the engine is thinner than the diameter of your pinky."

3. Frozen wipers
Your windshield wipers are essential during the winter. You'll need them to help scrape snow and ice off your windshield, in addition to clearing off your windshield when there's freezing rain or in the event high winds whip debris at your car. Make sure you're putting your wipers up before periods of particularly cold temperatures or heavy snow. That can prevent them from freezing to the glass and keep them performing at a high level for a longer period of time. 

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