Snow's Coming: Time to Winterize

How to prevent a breakdown during COVID. 

Automotive, Community, Traffic Safety

DENVER (Oct. 21, 2020) - With some much-needed winter weather possible in the high country and along the front range in the coming days, Coloradans be forewarned: You are running out of time to prepare your vehicle for the next big storm. 

Winterizing your vehicle has taken on extra importance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many breakdowns and the vast majority of crashes are completely preventable, per data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That means taking a few minutes to properly winterize your vehicle can mitigate the need for a roadside rescue, thereby protecting first responders and reducing the potential spread of COVID-19. 

"There's never a good time for your car to break down," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "But, topping the list of all the bad times for your car to break down is when a winter storm is bearing down on us, the roads are jammed up, and we're facing freezing temperatures – all during a global pandemic. Luckily, a little automobile maintenance and some smart driving right now can keep you from being stranded on the side of the road later."

Here are the most common calls AAA receives from motorists related to winter weather, and steps you can take to prevent them. 

"My car wouldn't start."

Dead batteries are the single most common seasonal call for emergency assistance to AAA Colorado. Why? Physics: As the temperature drops, so does the cranking power of your battery. At 32 degrees, your battery has 15 percent less starting power than it does at 80 degrees. At 0 degrees, it has 45 percent less power. At -20 degrees, it has less than half the cranking power – while your engine needs 3.5 times more power to start. All told, winter is very tough on your battery, especially after a long, hard summer. If your battery is more than 3-5 years old, you should start thinking about replacing it before cold temperatures are a daily occurrence. Make sure terminals are tight and clean. If lights seem dim or vehicle starts are sluggish, have the electrical system, including battery, checked by a technician. We can help at 

"My tire pressure warning light came on."

This is many motorists' first warning sign that cold temperatures are coming. Why? As the average temperature drops, so will tire pressures – typically by 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The tire pressure recommended by your car's manufacturer, typically found in your owner's manual, on the door jamb, and configured within your warning light system, is for cold tires that have been sitting for a while before you fill them up. If you last filled up to that maximum when it was hot out, or after you had been driving for a while, your pressure will fall well below that level when temperatures began to cool. Fill up your tires on a cold morning, at least 3 hours after you last drove, to make sure that light won't come on – and that you have a safe amount of pressure to negotiate winter conditions.

"I was sliding all over the place." 

It's no secret that Colorado gets heavy winters. If you drive regularly, you should absolutely consider swapping out your all-season tires with snow tires, or all-seasons with a mud and snow (M+S) designation. The proper tread can help you achieve traction, and the easiest way to have the right tread is to have the right tires for Colorado. Of course, the best tires in the world won't be much use if you've worn down all of their tread. Tires begin to lose their resistance to wet and wintry conditions with as much as 4/32 of tread remaining. How do you know if you have enough tread? Try the quarter test. If your tires don't pass that test, it's time for new tires.

"I couldn't see anything." 

When was the last time you replaced your wiper blades? In Colorado, you should be in the habit of replacing them every six months or so. You definitely need new blades if you notice streaking across the whole windshield, sections of streaking, wipers that skip across the glass, or wipers that are excessively squeaky. They aren't an expensive purchase and are something you can install yourself in just a few minutes. Make sure to defrost and scrape ice and snow off your windshield before using wipers, and clean any ice off your blades before you begin your drive. When you arrive at your destination, remember to pull the windshield wipers away from the windshield to prevent refreezing. Top off your wiper fluid and make sure it is rated for low temperatures, otherwise it will freeze and it won't do you much good, whatsoever. Under Colorado law, you must also completely clear snow and ice off your vehicle – including your roof – before driving.

"My brakes made a weird noise and the pedal started vibrating against my foot."

If your car has an anti-lock braking system, which it likely does, this means the system is working. Do not remove your foot from the brake during a skid, When you apply the brakes hard enough to make the wheels lock momentarily, you will typically feel the brake pedal vibrate and pulsate back against your foot. This is normal! Do not release pressure on the pedal or attempt to pump the brakes.

"I lost control of my vehicle and caused a crash."

Speed is the number one factor driving winter crashes. Accelerate, turn, and brake gradually. Adjust your speed to the road conditions and leave yourself ample room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Normal following distances of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be extended to a minimum of eight to ten seconds when driving on slippery surfaces. In the event that you do lose control, ease off the accelerator and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go.

"I drive an SUV with 4WD and still lost control." 

You should remember that Four Wheel Drive does not mean Four Wheel Stop. While having the right equipment might allow you to better power through some conditions, it does not provide any additional braking power. Your car won't stop any faster than other cars just because it is bigger, either. In fact, a taller center of gravity may just increase stopping distances. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive will increase your traction when you're trying to get moving, which means you might end up going too fast for road conditions. That makes it that much harder to try to stop.

About AAA – The Auto Club Group

AAA Colorado is a proud part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second-largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA’s mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more.