Just Chillin': Motorists take chances if they ignore cold weather precautions in Charleston area's typically short, mild winters

The landscape hardly ever looks like this in Charleston - 1973 and 1989 are possible exceptions - but auto industry pros agree that keeping your car or truck protected from the elements and up-to-date on routine maintenance are the best way to avoid troubles due to cold weather and storms (Provided).

Trying to convince someone in Charleston to more fully protect their car in winter is a little like giving an Alaska resident pointers on swimming pool care.

Nonetheless, bitter cold temperatures and the possibility of freezing rain, snow or yes, ice chunks falling from the Ravenel Bridge are real if not exactly common occurrences in the Lowcountry.

The area has made it through one winter month, December, but has two to go in January and February.

"The winter season is typically mild, with periods of rain and a slight chance of snow flurries in late December and early January," according to the Charleston Regional Development Authority on its website.

"Daily temperatures average between 47 and 52 (degrees Fahrenheit). The region generally experiences its first freeze in early December, with the last freeze in late February. Temperatures of 20 degrees or less rarely occur," the group said.

Put another way, motorists don't have much to worry about in terms of inclement winter weather or much time to get all lathered up over it. But at least a few days of rough or treacherous weather takes place on a fairly regular basis, and it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

What follows are a number of insights on what to do for your car during the winter months, as compiled by auto information provider Carfax; and tips to protect the device that juices up your vehicle, supplied by Interstate Batteries.

- Take steps to winterize your sedan, coupe, minivan, SUV - or even convertible. According to Carfax, "Cold weather messes up the inside of your car. From the battery life to the tire pressure, and even your windshield wiper fluids, the cold could make your ride run less smooth."

- Now's the time for car owners to stop putting off needed maintenance and repairs, the company noted. They can make use of free shuttle service or loaner vehicles to limit the inconvenience of taking the car to the shop.

- Plan ahead, especially for long-distance trips. Journies of 50 miles or more increase 23 percent during the holidays, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Sure, the holidays are almost over, unless you celebrate the long Groundhog Day weekend or the entire Super Bowl week. But motorists can still take time to change the oil, rotate the tires and handle other routine maintenance "to help avoid a breakdown or unexpected repairs," Carfax said.

- It's a good time to check on recalls. One in six cars in America, or 37 million in all, has an unfixed recall, Carfax said. "It's free to find out if your car has one and free to get it fixed. Best of all, it'll help keep your car and our roads safe."

- Car owners can set aside time to fix dents and scratches. That not only improves the looks but prevents small problems from becoming bigger ones, especially when body marks are exposed to winter weather and road salt.

Separately, Interstate Batteries pointed out that "cold weather affects auto batteries more than any other engine component." Notably, batteries can freeze if not fully charged since they contain fluids that are mostly water. "Additionally, cold weather thickens engine oil, forcing the battery to work harder when starting the car," the battery maker noted. A car battery loses 35 percent of its efficiency when the temperature dips below freezing, it said.

"Motorists should have their battery checked when they learn of an incoming wave of cold weather," said Interstate Batteries engineering services manager Gale Kimbrough, which the company dubbed "Mr. Battery."

The Dallas-based venture offers a half-dozen precautions for motorists to tackle to protect their car batteries this winter. They consist of testing the starting and charging system every three months; using a battery charger to keep the power supply in good shape; inspecting cables, posts and fasteners for corrosion; cleaning the terminals with a spray or wire brush; keeping the car in a garage overnight; and checking fluid levels.

For more information, visit www.interstatebatteries.com or www.carfax.com.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.