'Tis the season of the dead car battery, that awful silence when the key is turned and nothing happens. Jumper cables usually provide the answer, if used with caution.
But careless jump-starting can result in a battery explosion leading to burns and even blindness, safety experts warn.Invisible hydrogen gas can escape from some batteries, posing the danger of an explosion if a spark occurs when connecting the jumper cables. And such sparks are very common.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission stress the importance of care, starting with getting plenty of ventilation around the battery.
Before jump starting, check the dead battery to make sure it's not frozen and that it has adequate water in the cells.
After making sure both batteries are the same size - most are 12 volts - position the two cars so that the cables can reach both batteries but the cars are not touching one another. If they touch they can ground one another, causing problems with the start. Then turn off both cars and accessories in the cars.
The National Society to Prevent Blindness recommends the following procedure:
-Clamp one cable to the positive (plus) pole of the dead battery, then clamp the other end to the positive pole of the good battery.
-Attach the second cable to the negative (minus) pole of the good battery and the other end to the stalled car's engine block.
-Start the car with the good battery, and once it is running start the car with the dead battery.
-With both cars running, remove all cables. Remove the negative cable first and then the positive one. Be careful of the fans and other moving parts of the engines.
Now that the two cars are running, let the stalled motor run for a while to get the battery charged. Then it should be safe to hit the road.
Of course, that isn't necessarily safe either, especially at this mid-winter season when snow, ice and cold can threaten even in a relatively mild season.
Geico Corp., which writes automobile insurance policies, has issued some suggestions for safer winter driving.
Some of these ideas may seem obvious, but Geico says many winter drivers don't follow them. Among the company's tips:
-Clear frost, snow and ice from all windows and lights before starting out. It's essential that drivers be able to see all around them, and that they be seen.
-When it's snowing, drive with the headlights on.
-Allow extra time for trips in bad conditions, so you don't have to rush.
-Always drive more slowly in bad weather.
-To stop, pump the brakes gently, since jamming them on will only cause a car to skid.
-If a skid does occur take your foot off the brake and steer in the direction of the skid. That means turn the wheels in the direction that the rear of the car is trying to go. Then pump the brakes to stop.
-Carry emergency equipment in the trunk, including a bag of sand, a shovel, a blanket and flares.