The frigid temperatures that have arrived here in the Midwest and are predicted to remain through the first full week of January can wreak havoc with those having to commute to work or even run errands.
Beyond common sense issues like wearing extra clothing and not exposing skin to the elements, spokesmen from local garages as well as Metra offer a number of suggestions about how to prevent transportation issues for those who have to be out in the elements.
Metra spokesman Tom Miller says that commuters should allow extra time to get to their local stations and be careful as they drive into them as well as when they are walking along platforms. Crews have been working to keep areas clean.
“We’re not expecting a lot more snow in the next few days, but there are areas that could be icy,” Miller said. “We have 240 stations throughout the system and some of our smaller ridership areas don’t have stations to wait in. Those people should try to wait in their cars as long as possible before getting on the train, and be sure their skin is completely covered when they do have to be outside.”
Miller said some of the stations’ operating hours are regulated by local municipalities, so riders should consult with their local government regarding hours of operation. Planning ahead and being up-to-date regarding Metra’s status each day is the best way to avoid delays.
“Despite our state-of-the-art equipment, snow and ice can cause switching failures and we work hard to keep customers aware of our schedule and any issues that arise that could cause delays,” Miller said. “We urge people to check our website and to plan ahead in terms of being dropped off or picked up at a station.”
Regarding your car’s operation and maintenance in extreme weather conditions, Johnny Young, manager of Sparks Complete Car Care in Naperville, offered a wealth of tips, from how to start your car to the best way to drive once you’re on your way.
“Owners need to be sure the computer systems in their cars are fully engaged before driving, and the best way to do that is to turn on your ignition switch and don’t try to start the car until the ‘beeping’ has stopped,” Young said. “This will allow all the computer systems to come online, and then you should turn the engine on and let it run for 4 or 5 minutes before you drive. You want to avoid shocking the engine block.”
Young also recommend using a fuel treatment additive to prevent moisture buildup this time of year and making sure winter-friendly 5W-30 oil is used as well. Avoid driving fast or making abrupt turns early on as struts and shocks on car are very firm and unforgiving once they’ve been sitting in zero temperatures.
Clark’s Car Care in Naperville owner Matt Weber offered other tips about tires, batteries, and fuel. Tire pressure, he said, affects nearly everyone, especially this time of year.
“At least 60 percent of the people that come in here for oil changes have less than 20 pounds of tire pressure left when they bring their car in,” he said. “Tires have a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen in them, and there is no way to keep all of that air in there, given how the rubber expands and contracts.”
Weber said owners cannot “eyeball” their tires in terms of inflating them and recommends visiting the garage of their choice, which should provide checking and inflating tires, if necessary, for free.
“Over inflating your tires is worse than having them under inflated, so don’t try to do the job by yourself by just looking,” he said.
The best way to prevent operational problems is to make sure your battery is in good order, which Weber said often loses 40 percent of its full charge in cold weather. The battery controls not only starting power, but the car’s computer system, fuel pump, and other functions and should be changed every three to five years.
“It’s sort of like our body if we don’t get any sleep for two days and we start doing weird things,” he said. “Your car battery affects so many other systems in the car.”
Weber said the easiest thing to prevent winter driving issues it to make sure there is plenty of fuel in the car and make sure your gauge never goes below a quarter of a tank.
“I could write two books about the advantages of keeping your gas level above a quarter of a tank,” he said. “Your car will start easier and there is less strain on the fuel pump. If you are on Route 59 here and there’s an accident, you could be sitting in traffic for an hour and run out of gas while you’re waiting to move. In weather like this, you need to prepare for anything.”