Driving Tips

News & Safety Driving Tips

Tips from AAA’s Car Doctor®, John Paul

One of the best ways to protect against winter car trouble is to be certain your battery is fully charged and in proper working condition, according to AAA Southern New England.


"When the temperature drops to near zero, the number of calls AAA receives from stranded motorists soars," said AAA Approved Auto Repair Manager John Ward. "The most common cause of these cold-weather breakdowns is a weak or dead battery."


AAA recommends motorists have a load test to closely monitor the condition of the vehicle’s battery, especially batteries more than two years old. "Although batteries can carry warranties of four years or more, a warranty is no guarantee an older battery will continue to work in severe weather," Mr. Ruggiero said.


The most common sign of a weak battery is an unusual sound coming from the starter motor when the ignition key is turned, indicating difficulty in starting the engine.


If the vehicle is difficult to start, check that the battery connections are tight and no corrosion is present on the battery terminal. To remove corrosion, use an old toothbrush to clean the cable connectors and terminals with a solution of baking soda and water. Next, inspect the tension of all drive belts. They should flex no more than one–half inch. If the battery’s fluid level can be checked, make certain the fluid covers the battery plates. If no problems are found and the vehicle is still difficult to start, drive to a service station or auto parts store to have the battery and charging system tested and, if necessary, replaced.


In addition to weak or dead batteries, starting problems can be caused by malfunctioning alternators or starter motors. A qualified repair facility can make an accurate diagnosis and repair.


If the vehicle will not start, use caution and follow instructions in the owner’s manual when attempting a jump start. If unsure about the proper procedure, call AAA or another qualified professional for assistance.


To help avoid winter breakdowns, AAA recommends motorists have their cars and trucks thoroughly inspected before cold weather arrives. In addition to the battery, fluids, belts, hoses, filters and tires should all be checked.


Because of the difficult driving conditions often encountered in the winter, motorists should also be sure their lighting systems, brakes and windshield wipers are functioning properly.

To make the most of this holiday season, AAA Southern New England suggests planning ahead to avoid common holiday travel pitfalls.


"When you take a holiday, add the threat of bad weather and throw in 25 to 30 million motorists, you get a recipe for frustration," said Lloyd Albert, AAA Senior Vice President Public/Government Affairs and New Business Development. "With some advance planning, the season can be much more enjoyable."


AAA offers these tips for safe and happy holiday auto travel:

  • Leave early, stay late. If possible, leave a day earlier than normal and return a day early or a day late. You can avoid wasting time in traffic and enjoy more time with family and friends.

  • Plan ahead. Know your route and have an alternate plan in case of heavy traffic. Also make sure your vehicle is in top condition and carry a vehicle safety kit.

  • Take your time. The current land speed record is 763 miles–per–hour. Don’t try to break it on the way to grandmas. It’s better to plan extra time and arrive safely.

  • Take a 15– to 20–minute break every few hours. Stop at a safe rest area and stretch your legs. Also, drink plenty of fluids.

  • Bring activities. Children’s attention spans are shorter than adults, so they quickly lose interest when traveling. Pack some special snacks and favorite toys to keep them busy. Try a recorded story or sing–along tape.

  • Don’t eat and run. After the third helping, take a walk to get the blood flowing again. Better yet, take a long nap in your in–law’s recliner.


A quick and easy automotive checkup can help prepare a vehicle for the stress of summer’s high temperatures and increase reliability on long road trips, according to AAA Southern New England.


"The cold temperatures may be far behind us, but the summer heat can be just as hard on automobiles as the fiercest winter weather," said John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor͐. "A few minutes spent checking your car’s vital components can help you enjoy a summer of trouble-free driving."


To help prevent dangerous and inconvenient tire failure, examine tires for uneven or excessive tread wear. Make sure all tires, including the spare, are inflated properly.


With the engine off, look for worn or cracked belts and damaged, blistered or soft hoses. Inspect antifreeze/coolant level and condition, making certain the proper 50/50 mixture of water and coolant is present.


Check motor oil level and condition. If driving under extreme conditions – such as very hot temperatures or towing a heavy trailer. switching to a motor oil with higher viscosity may be recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Always check the owner’s manual for specific oil recommendations.


If you are not comfortable performing this inspection yourself, a qualified auto service facility, such as those recognized by AAA’s Approved Auto Repair Program, can conduct a thorough examination.


Because even properly maintained vehicles can break down, AAA urges motorists to equip their vehicle with an emergency kit containing at least the following items: flashlight with extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, and a first aid kit. A mobile phone provides an easy way to summon emergency assistance.

Because even the best maintained vehicles can fall victim to frigid winter weather, AAA recommends every vehicle carry the following items to ensure safe winter travel:


  • Flashlight – A working flashlight should be stored where the driver can access it without leaving the vehicle. That will enable the motorist to see obstacles and be seen by other drivers when exiting the vehicle in an emergency. Also carry spare batteries.

  • Jumper Cables – Jumper cables can be an essential tool for starting vehicles with weak or dead batteries, but they should only be used by individuals familiar with the proper safety precautions. Vehicle owner’s manuals should be consulted for instructions.

  • Abrasive Material – Sand or non–clumping cat litter can be spread under the wheels to improve traction when a vehicle becomes stuck in snow or ice. Special traction mats and even floor mats also can be used for this purpose.

  • Shovel – A small shovel can be used to carefully dig snow away from the wheels.

  • Warning Devices – Flares or reflective triangles alert other motorists that you are broken down or stuck and helps give them enough time to slow down in order to pass safely. Safety Tip: When using flares/reflectors place them at least 100 feet from the rear of the car.

  • Safety Tip – Flares or reflective triangles alert other motorists that you are broken down or stuck and helps give them enough time to slow down in order to pass safely.

  • Blankets – Cold weather can quickly turn an inconvenient breakdown into a life–threatening situation. Blankets can provide valuable protection against the cold and can help keep you comfortable until help arrives. Floor mats and newspapers can also be used to provide insulation in emergencies.

  • Snow Brush/Ice Scraper – It’s important that windows and lights are clear of ice and snow in order to maintain adequate visibility. The entire vehicle should be brushed clear so blowing snow does not become a hazard for other motorists. Tip: If you drive an SUV or van along handle brush will make quick work of clearing snow from the roof.

  • Cellular Phone – A cellular telephone comes in handy when a motorist needs assistance in the event of a vehicle breakdown.


Winter driving can be challenging to any motorist, but slippery roads can be especially difficult for novice drivers dealing with ice and snow for the first time, according to AAA Southern New England.


"Parents need to work with their teens to help them gain the experience they need for safe winter driving in the safest possible environment," said John Paul, AAA Manager of Traffic Safety and Public Affairs.


AAA offers the following tips to help parents teach their teens to drive in winter conditions:


  • Under close supervision, let your teen practice slow speed maneuvers on a wide open snow– or ice–covered parking lot. Have him or her practice hard braking and steering in skidding conditions.

  • A novice driver’s first on–the–road experience with winter-weather driving should not occur during a major snow storm. Wait until conditions are less severe.

  • Consider limiting your teen’s driving on slippery conditions to daylight hours until they have gained experience.

  • Remind your teen that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is dangerous under any conditions, and that the risk is even greater on slippery roads.

  • Make sure the vehicle your teen is driving is equipped with essential emergency equipment, including a flashlight, blankets, jumper cables, sand or non-clumping cat litter and a small shovel or ice scraper.

  • SUV's can lead to over confidence on the roads. All vehicles should be driven cautiously in poor weather conditions.


Winter weather can cause difficult–to–diagnose automotive problems that require the services of top auto repair facilities, according to AAA Southern New England.


"Cold weather can be tough on a vehicle’s electrical system," said John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor. "It’s important to find a repair facility with the capability to properly service the wide range of advanced technologies on today’s high-tech vehicles."


AAA offers this advice for choosing the best auto repair shop:


  • Look for AAA approved repair shops. These shops display a sign that says "AAA Approved Auto Repair." To be AAA approved, repair shops must meet tough standards for personnel, customer service, equipment and scope of service. Technicians must be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

  • Decide what kind of shop can best handle the work. You may not necessarily go to the same place for all repairs. For example, one shop may specialize in exhaust systems, while another may be excellent at finding an obscure electrical problem. If your car is under warranty, you will probably need to get it fixed at the dealer.

  • Ask friends, family members, and other for recommendations of technicians they trust.


Due to falling gas prices, the annual cost to own and operate a vehicle in the United States has fallen to a six-year low of $8,558 according to AAA’s 2016 Your Driving Costs study. This year, a driver can expect to spend 57 cents for each mile driven, approximately $713 per month, to cover the fixed and variable costs associated with owning and operating a car.


“Thanks to lower gas prices, American drivers can expect to save hundreds of dollars in fuel costs in 2016,” said John Paul, AAA Northeast Senior Manager of Traffic Safety.  “Fortunately, this annual savings more than offsets the moderate increases in maintenance, insurance, finance charges and other costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle.”


Based on 15,000 miles

Small Sedan

Medium Sedan

Large Sedan

Sedan Average



Annual Total Cost







Annual Cost Per Mile










Fuel: DOWN 24.62 percent to 8.45 cents per mile/$1,267.50 per year (-$414).


Compared to last year’s study, the average price of regular fuel fell more than 25 percent to $2.139 per gallon in the fourth quarter. At the same time, vehicle redesigns and improved powertrain technologies increased the average fuel economy of the sedans used in the study to 26.71 mpg. 


Insurance: UP 9.60 percent to $1,222 per year (+$107).


Insurance rates vary widely with driver, driving habits, issuing company, geographical area and more. While AAA’s insurance cost estimates are based on low-risk drivers with good driving records, even this group has seen rates rise over the past few years. Rising costs are likely attributable to lower gas prices, which have resulted in more miles driven, greater numbers of collisions and higher insurance payouts.


Depreciation: UP 2.87 percent to $3,759 per year (+$105). 


The single largest ownership expense, depreciation, rose for 2016 due to robust new-car sales and, therefore, increasing numbers of used and off-lease vehicles entering the marketplace. This reduces retained value and resale prices, thus increasing depreciation. 


Maintenance: UP 3.33 percent to 5.28 cents per mile/$792 per year (+$25 per year)


While there is significant variation among individual vehicles, modest increases in vehicle maintenance are attributable to engines requiring more expensive semi- or full- synthetic motor oils, and increases in extended warranty pricing and shop labor rates. 


A recent AAA survey found that 35 percent of Americans have skipped or delayed service or repairs that were recommended by a mechanic or specified by the factory maintenance schedule. According to AAA’s certified Approved Auto Repair shops, consumers that forget or ignore recommended maintenance ultimately pay higher repair costs.


License/Registration/Taxes: UP 3.31 percent to $687 per year (+$22).


License, registration and tax costs are impacted by vehicle sales prices and state/local tax rates. In addition to rising vehicle prices, many states, counties and cities have increased their fees related to vehicle purchasing, titling, registration and licensing.


Finance Charges:  UP 2.09 percent to $683 per year (+$14). 


The average vehicle finance rate remained relatively unchanged in 2016. The modest dollar increase in finance charges is attributable to higher new car prices combined with increased tax, title, license and registration fees, which are typically rolled into the vehicle financing. 


Tires: UP 2.04 percent to 1.00 cent per mile/$150 per year (+$3).


Due to the competitive and dynamic nature of the tire market, tire costs in 2016 are relatively unchanged, rising by just .02 cent per mile.



In addition to calculating the driving costs for sedans, AAA determined annual costs associated with both minivans and sport utility vehicles.  Owners of these vehicle types also benefit from lower driving costs in 2016, at $9,262 and $10,255 respectively.  


“One-in-five Americans plan to purchase or lease a new vehicle in the next year, and many consumers may mistakenly believe minivans are more expensive to drive than a large sedan,” continued Mr. Paul. “With lower gas prices, these vehicles offer drivers the flexibility of transporting additional passengers and cargo while remaining more affordable to own and operate compared to a large sedan.”


AAA has published Your Driving Costs since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.



For the PDF version of the brochure, click here.

As snow and ice begin to thaw and crumbling roadways emerge, a new study from AAA reveals that pothole damage has cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, or approximately $3 billion annually. With two-thirds of Americans concerned about potholes on local roadways, AAA cautions drivers to remain alert to avoid pothole damage, and urges state and local governments to fully fund and prioritize road maintenance to reduce vehicle damage, repair costs and driver frustration. 


“In the last five years, 16 million drivers across the country have suffered pothole damage to their vehicles,” said John Paul, AAA Northeast Senior Manager of Traffic Safety. “The problems range from tire punctures and bent wheels, to more expensive suspension damage.” Sixteen million represents 15 percent of all U.S. drivers; the percentage jumps to 20 for drivers from the northeast.


 “On average, American drivers report paying $300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage,” continued Mr. Paul. “Adding to the financial frustration, those whose vehicles incurred this type of damage had it happen frequently, with an average of three times in the last five years.”


To minimize vehicle damage, AAA urges drivers to ensure tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread depth, as they are the only cushion between a pothole and the vehicle. If a pothole strike is inevitable, it is also critical that drivers slow down, release the brakes and straighten steering before making contact with the pothole. To avoid potholes in the roadway, drivers should remain alert, scan the road and increase following distances behind the vehicle ahead. 


AAA’s members are paying a steep price for bad road conditions, and those costs are expected to rise even higher in the years ahead. Americans rely on our nation’s roads and bridges every day, and more funding is needed to prevent potholes, other unsafe conditions and longer commutes. Congress increased transportation funding in 2015 to help pay for road repair, but as much as $170 billion in additional funding is needed per year to significantly improve America’s roads and bridges.  


Every year, AAA responds to more than four million calls for flat tire assistance, many the result of damage caused by potholes. Spare tires, an important feature missing from one-third of 2015 model year vehicles sold, are critical for drivers affected by pothole damage. Tire inflator kits have replaced the spare tire in millions of vehicles over the last 10 model years and, due to their limited functionality, cannot provide even a temporary fix for pothole damage. AAA has called on automakers to put consumer interests first and halt the elimination of spare tires in new models.


When dealing with vehicle damage, it’s critical to select a high-quality repair facility such as a AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) shop. Once a facility meets AAA’s high standards, including certifications, technical training, cleanliness, insurance requirements and background checks, it becomes part of the AAR program where it’s re-inspected annually and monitored for ongoing customer satisfaction. AAA members receive unique benefits, including priority service, a 24-month/24,000-mile warranty, special discounts, free inspections, and dispute resolution assistance.


Cold winter months can wreak havoc on automobiles. In order to help you prepare for this season's New England winter, here are a few tips: 


Oil - Change your engine oil and oil filter at the intervals recommended by your car's manufacturer. Make sure you use the correct oil, consider switching to synthetic oil. Synthetic oil will allow for easier start ups in cold weather and faster lubrication when the temperatures are cold. .


Engine/Performance - Have engine drivability problems corrected as soon as possible at a reputable repair shop. Winter time is not when you want to be driving around with a check engine light on. Even a slight engine misfire can cause hard starting on cold weather and possible damage to the catalytic convertor.


Check all drive belts for cracking and proper tension. If you hear a squealing sound when you first start your car the alternator belt is slipping. Continuing to drive like this will result in a dead battery.


Cooling System - Flush and refill the cooling system with factory-approved coolant at the interval specified by the manufacturer. A 50/50 mix of coolant and water is usually recommended and will protect the engine to minus 34 degrees.


Windshield Wipers - Replace worn wiper blades and fill windshield washer system with winter formula solvent that helps with the de-icing process. Consider the newer style all-weather wipers that resist ice and snow build up.


Heater/Defroster - Check for proper system operation to ensure driver visibility and occupant comfort. Replace cabin air filter (where used) at intervals specified by your car's manufacturer. Poor heater performance can be caused by low coolant, clogged heater core or a faulty engine thermostat. All these items should be checked when the cooling system is being serviced.


Battery - Batteries typically last three to five years and failures are common in winter due to increased cold-starting electrical loads. If your battery is more than three years old, have it tested by a professional. When replacing a battery always buy a battery with a equal or higher cold cranking rating (CCA)


Lights - Inspect all lights and replace any burned out bulbs. Have badly weathered plastic headlight lenses restored for better visibility and increased safety. Remember to clean all the lights of snow and ice in the winter.


Exhaust System - Engine exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide gas. Have your vehicle's exhaust system examined for leaks, and the trunk and floorboards inspected for small holes. Never leave a vehicle running in a garage, even if the garage door is open. Carbon monoxide can get into your home.


Tires - Have your tires rotated every 5,000 to 7,500 miles and check the pressure once a month when the tires are cold. Consider actual winter tires rather than all-season tires for the best winter traction.

Motorists should be aware that different types of vehicles have particular operating characteristics that change the way they handle on icy or snow–covered roads, according to AAA Southern New England.


"Knowing the different winter–weather capabilities of a vehicle can mean the difference between a safe trip and serious trouble," said John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor. "Motorists should carefully read their owner’s manual for information on their vehicle’s equipment and handling characteristics."


Front–wheel–drive vehicles generally handle better than rear–wheel–drive vehicles on slippery roads because the weight of the engine is on the drive wheels, which improves traction. The back end of rear–wheel–drive cars tends to slide from side–to–side during turns on icy roads.


While many motorists are now driving sport–utility vehicles and light trucks that can be excellent for driving in difficult conditions, AAA warns drivers not to become over–confident.


"Four wheel drive pickup trucks and SUVs, as well as, all–wheel–drive sedans and wagons to get moving on snow–covered roads, but they don’t stop any quicker than other vehicles," Mr. Paul said. "Drivers still need to slow down and keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of them."


Drivers of pickup trucks with rear–wheel–drive need to be especially cautious on slick roads because these vehicles have very little weight over the wheels that are propelling the vehicle and are prone to rear–wheel skids on slippery roads.


A vehicle’s braking system also determines how motorists should operate in winter weather. Anti–lock brake systems (ABS) can provide a significant stopping advantage on slick roads, but are only effective if properly used. When stopping a vehicle with anti–lock brakes in slippery conditions, motorists should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal. The ABS will automatically pump the brakes to keep the wheels from locking and the vehicle from skidding.


Drivers of cars without ABS should gently apply pumping pressure to the brakes on slippery conditions to avoid wheel lock–up.


Additionally, many new cars feature traction control, which prevents wheel spin during acceleration. This is very helpful when initially trying to get moving on slippery roads.

AAA Offers Easy–To–Follow Winter Motoring Advice Winter driving is tough on motorists and vehicles. To help drivers make it through the toughest winter conditions, AAA Northeast offers the following tips:


  • Charge!! – Cold weather is tough on batteries. At zero degrees, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength. At a comparatively mild 32 degrees, a battery is 35 percent weaker. Keeping battery terminals clean helps, but a load test performed by a qualified technician will help determine whether a car’s battery is strong enough for winter starts.

  • Get a Grip – Before winter arrives, make sure your car is equipped with tires that are able to handle New England’s winter weather. For most motorists, all–season tires are adequate. In more northern or mountainous regions, replacing your tires with four snow tires will help give your vehicle traction for slippery and snowy road conditions.

  • See and Be Seen – Danger must be seen to be avoided. Driving with a snow-covered windshield, windows, side–view mirrors or lights invites a crash. Clear windows, mirrors and lights with an ice scraper, brush or spray de–icer. Make certain windshield wipers and defrosters are in good working order and that washer reservoirs are filled with no–freeze windshield washer fluid.

  • Slippery When Wet – In temperatures at or just above 32 degrees, a thin layer of water can cover the ice, causing extremely slippery conditions. The distance needed to stop on ice at 32 degrees is twice as long as at zero degrees.

  • Keep Your Engine Cool – Make certain cooling system antifreeze is mixed with an equal portion of water for maximum protection.

  • Fast Solution – A squirt of de–icer spray is a quick method to overcome frozen door locks.

  • Air It Out – Don’t let frigid temperatures tempt you into starting your car in a closed garage or idling your engine for long periods with the windows closed. Carbon monoxide, present in exhaust fumes, is almost impossible to detect and can be fatal when breathed in a confined area.

  • Finish Up – Road salt, slush and grime are especially hard on a car’s finish. To help prevent rust and paint damage, keep cars washed and waxed. A full or self-service car wash makes the job easier when temperatures are low.