Extreme Cold Puts Car Batteries to the Test; Tips for Driving in Extreme Cold

chav snowCold weather has settled into the region, with high temperatures not expected to climb out of the 20’s for the next few days. Blowing in with this blast of cold air is car trouble for many motorists, and soaring service calls for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“When temperatures plummet, automotive failures skyrocket. Calls for battery jump starts and assistance with frozen locks are the top ranked reasons for calls to AAA,” said Tracy Noble, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “In frigid weather like this, weak car batteries are the first to go, so it’s worth having your battery checked – and if you’ve postponed vehicle maintenance, now is the time to take care of it.”


Why do car batteries die?

  • At zero degrees, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength, yet the engine needs about twice as much power to start!
  • Add to the mix extra items we plug into our cars (cell phone chargers, upgraded audio, and GPS devices) and a battery’s life can be drained even faster.
  • Even at 32 degrees, a battery is 35 percent weaker.


  • Charge!! — Cold weather is a battery killer.  Make sure the battery terminals and cables are securely attached and free of corrosion.  A load test performed by a qualified technician will help determine if a car’s battery is strong enough for cold weather starts.
  • Key Solution – With moisture from the ice and snow combining with frigid temperatures, lock failure will be very common.  Frozen door locks can be overcome by carefully heating the end of a key with a match or lighter.  Other methods include: dipping the tip of the key in rubbing alcohol, using a can of de-icer spray, or heating the lock with a hair dryer.  Never pour hot water on a lock or windshield because this could worsen the problem or cause the windshield to shatter.
  • Cool It – Make certain cooling system antifreeze is mixed with an equal portion of water for maximum protection.  Flush out your radiator and refill with a 50/50 mix at least once every three years.
  • Air It Out – Don’t let frigid temperatures tempt you into starting your car in a closed garage or idling your engine for long periods with the windows closed.  Carbon monoxide, present in exhaust fumes, is almost impossible to detect and can be fatal when breathed in a confined area.
  • Tires – Cold weather reduces tire inflation pressure, so check tire pressures frequently and maintain the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels (see car manual, not tire itself!).

“If you are not planning on using a vehicle for several days, we urge you to at least start it and run it for a few minutes to avoid a nasty surprise,” Noble said.  “And give yourself plenty of time getting started in the morning in case your car won’t start.”


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