Winter conditions like extreme cold aren't just bad for people. As anyone who's had to hook up the jumper cables this season knows, they can also spell car trouble. As temperatures and wind chills dropped below zero this week, local auto mechanics said they've been busy.
"When the first cold snap happened, we were booked solid," said Jim Illies, who works at Tires Plus in Marshall. "It was crazy." Flat tires and dead car batteries were common problems, he said.
"In the last two weeks we've had more tow-ins than we had last winter," said Jason Best, service manager at Graham Tire in Marshall. "It's drastic, but we haven't had temperatures this cold in a couple of years."
The Marshall area experienced unusually mild temperatures last winter, and it's possible that more drivers were caught off-guard when the cold hit, local mechanics said. Paul Whingelby, at Paul's Automotive Services in Marshall, said this week he received a high number of calls about vehicles with battery trouble or that wouldn't start.
"The cold weather really shows up the weaker batteries," he said.
Besides batteries, other vehicle parts and systems can be damaged by cold or freezing, mechanics said. However, proper care can help make sure your car doesn't leave you stranded in the winter.
"A lot of it is just preventive maintenance," Best said.
Testing batteries and keeping them charged up can keep your vehicle running well in cold weather, as will checking air filters and fluid levels, mechanics said. Illies said it's important to make sure your car's antifreeze is good for at least 20 to 25 degrees below zero, rather than be surprised by extreme temperatures. Keeping plenty of gas in the fuel tank will also help prevent condensation from freezing in the tank and gas lines.
Using lighter oil will also help the engine run in cold weather, Best said.
"We do a lot of oil changes, switching oil for a thinner grade, like 5W-30 instead of 10W-30," he said.
Drivers also shouldn't neglect their tires during winter, Best said. Snowy or slippery conditions call for tires with a good tread. Best said he doesn't see snow tires on as many vehicles now as
he does all-season radial tires. However, Illies said the choice of whether to use snow tires sometimes depends on the type of car, and whether car owners are willing to change tires for the winter.
Maintaining proper tire pressure is also an important factor, but one that can also be a challenge for car owners, Best and Illies said.
"Especially in Minnesota it's real bad, because there are such high fluctuations from cold to hot," Best said.
Temperature changes can make the air in tires expand or contract. Because very cold weather makes tires lose pressure, it's good to check on it, Illies said.
Best said most winter preventive measures can be done by a mechanic during regular auto maintenance. However, local mechanics said it's still a good idea to be prepared for emergencies, and to try to keep vehicles fueled, charged up, and if possible, warm.
"If you have an engine block heater, make sure you use it," Whingelby said.