By Jordan W. Charness

Winter has struck with a vengeance. Although there is not quite as much snow as there has been in the past, frigid temperatures look like they are here to stay. If you think the cold makes you sluggish, think about what it does to your car.

‘Cold soaking’ is a term that you never hear in more temperate climates. It’s that horrible feeling you get deep inside you when the cold has chilled you right to the core. People don’t get cold soaked very often, and if they do it’s known as hypothermia with an added measure of frostbite thrown in. To avoid hypothermia we dress warmly or stay indoors where we’re sheltered and warm as often as we can.

Unfortunately, we rarely think of our cars when the temperature sinks to new lows. Our trusty vehicles are left outside in the coldest of weather to become cold soaked overnight. We then get up at our normal time and jump in the car expecting it to start at the first turn of the key. We throw it into gear and takeoff just like we do in the middle of the summer.

The fact of the matter is that a car has hundreds of moving parts and each and every one of them is feeling just as sluggish as it you would if you are left out in the cold. According to the mechanics I’ve spoken to, the proper procedure is to start your car and let it run for about 30 seconds before slowly driving off and continuing at a leisurely pace for at least five minutes. This gives the fluids in your vehicle a chance to warm up to something approximating normal operating temperatures. Only then should your car be expected to perform the way it usually does.

Cold cars can stall. Cold cars can have their brakes freeze up. Cold cars can fail to accelerate as quickly as you would like. Cold cars can stop dead and leave you stranded. All of these events have legal implications.

First and foremost, it is illegal to be a danger on the road. This means that you are not allowed to be a hazard to yourself or others. A cold car that cannot accelerate properly into traffic should not try to get onto a highway or expressway. The car’s inability to properly and expeditiously merge will cause a hazard that was foreseeable, preventable, and avoidable. The accident you get into will be your own fault.

Let’s take what happened to Ronda as another example of what not to do. Ronda’s car was not in the best of condition at the best of times. During the worst of the winter it was somewhat less than reliable. She knew that she would have to replace it eventually but was trying to squeeze at least another season out of her old car.

On the coldest of days, Ronda’s car let her down. She was driving along the highway when the car began to misfire. She tried to coax it along but eventually it quit altogether. She put on her flashers and decided to wait for help. Her car was still on the road as it had quit before she could pull over to the shoulder.

Since she didn’t own a cell phone she couldn’t call for help. It was way too cold for her to get out of the car and begin to walk to the nearest exit. She just sat there. In doing so she was putting her life and the life of others at risk.

No one would expect a car to be sitting immobile on an active lane of the highway. Traffic coming up behind her would not likely notice her car until it was too late. Doubling the risk of an accident, in the winter it can take considerably more time to stop a car than it does in the summer.

Fortunately for Ronda the first car on the scene was a police car who had been alerted by a motorist driving in the other direction. The police officer helped her push the car off the road, called a tow truck and then gave her a ticket for behaving in a manner that would cause a danger to herself or others on the road.

What Ronda should have done was to pull over as soon as she began to experience difficulties with her car. She should have made sure that her car was sufficiently out of the way when it stopped and that it would pose a minimum amount of danger while she waited for help.

If she had them, flares or reflectors should have been placed several meters behind her car so as to warn others that there was a car stuck on the side of the road. In short Ronda wasn’t thinking about what would happen after her car quit running. She was lucky she only got a traffic ticket. It could have been much worse.

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