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Extreme cold takes a toll on cars

About 8,400 area motorists called AAA Mid-Atlantic for help with their cars in the extreme cold snap Friday through Sunday. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — About 8,400 area motorists called AAA Mid-Atlantic for help with their cars in the extreme cold snap Friday through Sunday.

The most common call was because of dead batteries.

Between midnight and 10 a.m. Monday, AAA Mid-Atlantic received more than 1,400 calls for roadside assistance in the D.C. area. Forty-five percent of those calls were for dead batteries.

“At zero degrees — your car loses 60 percent of its cranking power,” said John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic. spokesman. “At 32 degrees, it loses 35 percent of its cranking power.”

Townsend recommends not letting a car sit idle for days in extreme cold.

“If you start it more often, then that acts as a charging function,” Townsend said.

To give a vehicle with a compromised battery the best opportunity to turn over, switch everything off such as the lights, radio, navigation and heater. “All those ancillary and accessory things drain your battery,” Townsend said.

To avoid getting stranded, AAA recommends having  vehicle batteries tested when it turns three-years-old and every year after that.

Flat tires also can be an issue in cold weather.

“Every 10 degrees the temperature drops, you lose between a pound to two pounds of pressure,” Townsend said.

AAA recommends checking your tire pressure monthly, and keep an eye out for these signs your tires are underinflated:

  • The tire’s outer edges are touching the road. This creates wear primarily on both edges of the tire tread, with less wear in the center.
  • Unusual vibration or thumping noise. Vibration or thumping noises may be signs of a tire that is out of balance, has a tread that with a flat spot due to locking the wheels in a panic stop, or has a separated belt.
  • A pull to one side. If you feel your call pulling to one side while you’re driving at a steady speed, this may indicate an underinflated or damaged tire on the side of the car to which the vehicle pulls. A brake problem or poor wheel alignment may also cause such a pull.


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