How to prep your car for Philadelphia’s freezing weather

As the Philly region gets ready for the frigid cold, consider your car — dead batteries and deflated tires are common in this weather. We asked local experts for tips on how to brace your car for the cold.

“It’s my No. 1 tip,” said Dom Vitale, owner of Dom’s Auto Repair, which is now known as 1939 Auto. “In ice-cold weather, [batteries] lose their potency. If the battery is more than two or three years old, it’s possible that the car won’t start once temps drop.”

As with excessive heat, cold weather can take a toll on batteries and diminish their power. Every battery has a cold cranking amps (CCA) rating that indicates its ability to start an engine in cold weather. You can check your CCA rating online or — better yet — head to your local auto shop to get a battery test to determine whether you need a replacement.

If your battery does die, having a way to recharge it is key. Here are two ways of doing so:

Jumper pack: A type of battery buster that can be as small as your wallet and comes with two cables, red and black. It lets you charge your vehicle without another car’s assistance, making it a great savior if you get stranded in an isolated area. Connect red to red and black to black. Once the battery is charged, the indicator will turn green.

Jumper cables: Most come with an instruction card or label, but it’s always helpful to refresh your memory on how to use them. They can be dangerous to you and the car. If you remember one thing, it should be to never connect the negative cable to the dead battery’s negative post. Here’s a 10-step guide to jumping a car.

  1. First, make sure to keep the red and black clamps of the jumper cables from touching throughout the process.

  2. Once the car with the working battery is positioned next to or in front of the car with the dead battery, turn both engines off.

  3. Open the hoods of both cars and find the batteries. Remove any plastic coverings.

  4. Identify the positive (+) and negative (-) posts. The positive post is usually red. Then identify a metal surface — a bolt, screw or the engine block itself — on the engine of the car with the dead battery.

  5. Connect one of the red clamps to the positive post of the dead battery. Connect the other end of the same cable to the positive post on the working battery.

  6. Connect one of the black cable clamps to the negative post of the working battery. Connect the other end of the cable to the metal surface on the engine of the dead car. (This grounds the vehicle.)

  7. Start the working car and let the engine idle for a few minutes.

  8. Start the car with the dead battery and let it idle for a few minutes.

  9. Disconnect the black clamp from the working battery. Then disconnect the other black clamp from the metal surface of the other car’s engine.

  10. Disconnect the red clamp from the car with the good battery. Then disconnect the other red clamp. Once you’ve recharged the dead battery, drive around for about 30 minutes.

Tires are more apt to go flat in the winter.

“When it gets cold, the air molecules condense inside the tire and drop the pressure,” said George Dieser, owner of Carl’s Haddonfield Service in Haddonfield.

“Most cars starting in the early 2000s will have a tire light that shows up on the dashboard when your pressure’s getting low. It looks like an exclamation point inside a horseshoe shape — don’t ignore that symbol.”

Maintaining the right air pressure helps prevent tires from wearing prematurely, Dieser pointed out. Once the treads get worn down, they won’t grip the road as well, especially in wet and snowy conditions. (As a bonus, proper inflation improves fuel economy.)

Look for a sticker by the driver’s-side door to find the recommended pressure for your car. If you can’t locate the sticker, refer to the owner’s manual.

The lead-up to deep winter is possibly the best time for an overall automobile checkup — even if you don’t need an oil change.

“It’s a good idea to come in twice a year and have a qualified individual take a look under the hood,” said Dieser. “Checking all of the fluids and belts can do a lot to prevent issues before it’s too late.”

He recommends Nov. 1 as the best time to get your preseason checkup, with enough time in the season to address any issues. But, if you missed the cut, try to get your car inspected as soon as possible.

One of the main things that mechanics will examine is the coolant system, said Bob Ramsey, owner of Ramsey’s Service Center in Drexel Hill. Antifreeze keeps the coolant in the engine from freezing, but that coolant can deteriorate over time.

Ramsey recommends having your antifreeze tested every winter to see if it’s still good. “If your engine freezes, it won’t turn over and you won’t be able to start your car.”

A pair of dull blades makes for bad vision. “Fresh wipers are essential — especially in wintertime, where salt can cause a film on your windshield,” Vitale said.

Make sure your windshield washer fluid reservoir is full, too. Clearing off the slushy residue that collects on your car can require plenty of wiping.

If you do end up stranded, be prepared. Here’s a checklist of items to keep stowed in your car:

  • Jump packs or jumper cables (the longer the better)

  • Flashlight (with a fully charged battery)