5 On Your Side

Winter weather poses hazards for vehicles, driving

Posted January 2, 2018 7:02 p.m. EST

— Bitterly cold weather can take a toll on an automobile, especially considering that every year 200,000 car crashes happen in wintry conditions.

A big factor are tires that have not been properly inflated.

Mechanics advise owners to check their tire pressure because cold weather can decrease air pressure, and that can affect a car's handling and traction.

The tire's tread is also a factor.

Experts say owners can use a quarter to check it. If you can see the top of George Washington's head when you put it into a groove, it's time to consider buying a new set.

And owners should take steps to make sure the car will start. 

"Cold weather affects battery performance, so make sure the contacts are tight and free of corrosion," said Nick Kurczewski, an auto expert at Consumer Reports magazine. "You should check your battery every four years to see if it needs to be replaced."

Owners should top off the washer fluid because it will be needed to maintain a clear view because salt and ice can obstruct a driver's vision. Mechanics advise that using a winter formula will help ensure the tank and nozzle won't freeze.

Drivers should remember to make sure snow or ice is cleared before the vehicle moves. Otherwise, the flying snow or ice could leave other drivers with cracked windshields, or worse if they make a split-second swerve to avoid hitting it.

Also, when winter weather hits don't be lulled into a false sense of security with a car that has all-wheel drive. The system is about getting your car moving from a dead stop and it does not improve braking or steering in snow, so drivers should be aware of its limitations. And vehicles with four-wheel drive,  which is different from all-wheel drive, can help get through snowy conditions,  but it also does not help with braking or cornering.