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Experts: Drivers should take precautions this winter

Though the metro-Atlanta area hasn’t experience snow yet this season, motorists traveling to other states may face icy weather.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to assure adequate precaution is taken during the winter driving season, before drivers put the “pedal to the metal,” said Derrell Lyles, spokesman for NHTSA.

“It’s not uncommon for families to travel long distances, or through inclement weather, to celebrate the holidays or visit with loved ones,” added NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “With this in mind, it’s important that drivers properly maintain their vehicles and always drive responsibly.”

Strickland said he urges drivers to be safe by wearing their seat belt, as well as not texting while driving, nor drive under the influence.

Lyles said drivers should get their cars serviced before their journey. Vehicles should be serviced for tune-ups and other routine maintenance. Motorists should also make sure the service center checks their vehicle for leaks, bad hoses, repairs, replacements or other needed parts, he said.

It is essential that a vehicle’s battery is checked, because when temperatures drop, so does the power of the battery, he explained. Engines powered by gasoline consume more battery power in cold weather, where as the power of an electric vehicle is reduced in lower temperatures, he said.

A mechanic should check to see if the battery has sufficient voltage, and inspect the charging system and belts, said Lyles. If it’s absolutely necessary that motorists replace a defective battery, or have system repairs conducted, such as tightening the battery cable connections.

Electric vehicles with gasoline back-up systems should have fresh gasoline in the automobile to support the system, he added. Cooling systems also deserve attention before a holiday trip, said Lyles. “When coolant freezes, it expands,” he said. “This expansion can potentially damage your vehicle’s engine block beyond repair. Don’t let this happen to your vehicle this winter.”

Motorists should be sure there is ample coolant in their vehicle, designed to withstand cold temperatures in the area, he said. Drivers should read their vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific instructions, but in general, a 50/50 mix of coolant to water is sufficient in most regions of the U.S.

The cooling system should be inspected for leaks by the mechanic, Lyles continued.

If the cooling system hasn’t been flushed in several years, it should be done before the trip. Over time, he said, the rust inhibitors in antifreeze become ineffective.

“Coolant also needs to be refreshed, periodically, to remove dirt and rust particles that can clog the cooling system and cause it to fail,” said Lyles.

According to NHTSA officials, drivers should also refill their windshield washer reservoir, as well as inspect windshield wipers, defrosters and tires.

For more information, visit the NHTSA web site, at www.nhtsa.gov.