The weather forecast in New Jersey for Friday night into Saturday has the kind of words that anyone who has to be outside doesn’t want to hear – arctic, frigid and sub-zero cold.

But what about your car?

The motor vehicle waiting in the driveway or at the curb will be more frozen than a microwave entree. Unlike the frosty dinner, we expect our vehicle to be ready to go, until they aren’t.

Low temperatures can make a seemingly strong battery weak.

Experts at AAA are preaching prevention to avoid getting stuck with a car that won’t start or a flat. They’re also preparing for a greater call volume for help with this weekend’s predicted cold snap.

“AAA is expecting to very busy over the next few days as the frigid weather moves in,” said Tracy Noble, AAA MidAtlantic spokesperson. “We are increasing our AAA fleet in New Jersey by 10% and our AAA contractors will be beefing up their staff as well.”

That battery that is called on to start your vehicle countless times has a tougher job in the cold because lower temperatures rob it of starting power, she said.

“Batteries are expected to be the biggest culprit for breakdowns over the next few days, so we are anticipating an uptick in battery-related service calls,” Noble said.

It’s not just conventional vehicles that are at risk, but electric vehicles, which are one giant rolling battery, also face challenges, Noble said.

Christmas Eve 2022 set a record for low temperatures in many New Jersey towns and it brought more calls for help to the region covered by AAA MidAtlantic, with the highest number of requests for towing at 361, followed by battery problems, at 341 calls out of a total 1,075 calls, Noble said.

“At 5 degrees Fahrenheit, a fully charged battery will deliver about half its rated amp-hour capacity,” she said. “In cold weather, your engine requires more current from the battery to start.”

By early Saturday morning, many areas of New Jersey will have temperatures of 10 degrees or lower, and Newark Liberty International Airport could hit a low of 8 degrees on Saturday, the National Weather Service predicts.

The result could be a vehicle that may not start, she said.

Even battery manufacturers warn that temperature matters when it come to the power needed to start a car.

A battery at 100% charge provides the optimum amount of power to start an engine at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Exide batteries. It gets worse the colder the temperature gets. At 32 degrees, the same battery has 65% starting power, but needs more juice to start a colder engine, according to Exide.

Batteries also have accessories, such a car alarms and keyless access systems, that also are using power and create a drain.

Unlike wine, battery performance gets worse with age. If your battery is four years or older, it is near or at the end of its service life.

What to do if you fear you have an underperformer under the hood? Think about getting it tested and if needed replaced at a reputable shop before the worst of the cold hits.

Drivers of electric vehicles also will be affected by the cold, Noble warned.

AAA research finds that if the temperature goes below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the heating system is used inside the vehicle, the average driving range in an electric vehicle decreases by 41%, she said.

That means a vehicle that normally has a range of 100 miles would see that reduced to 59 miles at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, she said.

“EV batteries lose as much as half their power in the cold. EV drivers should use the vehicle’s heater while charging to warm up the vehicle before they leave home,” she said. “On the road, EV drivers should use the heated seats to stay warm and limit vehicle heater use.”

But if drivers think they’re home free from battery trouble once it’s beach season, they might want to think again.

“We actually replace more batteries in the summer months,” Noble said.

Other things to do include checking air pressure in tires because temperatures below 40 degrees cause air pressure to drop 1 pound per square inch for each 10 degrees of temperature decline, she said. Carry a tire pressure gauge in the car because not all commercial air pumps have one.

The recommended tire pressure for your car can be found on the placard on your driver’s side car door, Noble said. The number on the tire is the maximum air pressure and isn’t vehicle specific, she said.

It’s also a good time to check the antifreeze in the overflow bottle to ensure there is a sufficient antifreeze mixture. Drivers can buy a hydrometer in an auto store, which tests the density of antifreeze mixture, which should be 50% water, 50% antifreeze, Noble said.

While under the hood, it’s also a good time to add windshield washer fluid and check the trunk to see that you have an emergency kit in case of a breakdown, including jumper cables, flares, a flashlight and batteries, a warm blanket, an ice scraper, a first-aid kit, drinking water and snacks and a tow strap, AAA recommends.

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Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected].


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