Cars, like people, don't function as well in cold weather. Your car doesn't like it anymore than you. Here are some strategies to increase the odds of your car functioning during the blast of extreme cold expected to take hold this week:
Check the battery: Is your battery old? Mechanics recommend changing the battery every three years. Also, make sure the cables are not loose. With the engine off, see if the cables can slip free from the nodes. Don't yank, but be firm. Check for corrosion. If there is a white powder around the nodes or the clamps, that could be a sign of corrosion. If you can't get a new battery, then at least clean the nodes and clamps with baking soda, water and a toothbrush. Loosen the cables, clean the nodes and clamps, then dry it and retighten.
Cold can snap belts: Check the status of your S belt, or serpentine belt. It's the big one that is immediately visible at the front of the engine. The visible, or back side, has grooves like a tire. If they're cracked or worn, then it might be time to consider changing it so it doesn't snap in severe cold weather.
Fill your fluids: Spend a buck and get a "winter blend" type of windshield wiper fluid. Winter blends have a greater concentration of alcohol and less water, so less likely to freeze. Fill your antifreeze. If it hasn't been flushed in a few years, then it could use it. Green-colored antifreeze is the most common; whichever color you choose, don't mix colors. Coolant and antifreeze are interchangeable terms. Coolant is typically sold premixed, that is it is half water, half antifreeze, as it needs to be. Antifreeze can be pure and needs to be mixed. Check the bottle; it'll tell you.
Check your oil: If it's due for a change, consider refilling it with a lower viscosity oil. On the bottle it lists two numbers, or grades, the first for low temperature viscosity, the second for high temperature. 10W-30 is a common designation. The higher the number, the more viscous, or thick it is, the less fluid it is especially in cold temps. So you might want to consider 5W-20 or-30. That 'W' stands for winter, according to Valvoline and other sources.
Upgrade wipers: Visibility is key in all forms of driving, but winter conditions can limit visibility, and not just because of your faux-fur hood. If your blades have done just a mediocore job with the snow, it's only going to get worse with the freeze. Winter wipers do a better job of swatting away moisture and can be had for under $20 for the pair.
Check tire pressure: Having the correct tire pressure is essential for proper handling. A temperature change of just 10 degrees can cause a 10 percent reduction, or constriction, of air in tires. So tire pressure can be affected from day to night temperature. Check the optimal tire pressure of your vehicle on the label inside the driver's door frame or in the owner's manual. DO NOT USE THE PSI on the TIRE! That's max capacity for the tire, not for your car's specific load.
Keep a kit handy: Buy an emergency kit with cables, first aid kit, flares, battery powered air compressor and other things that can prevent a minor inconvenience from becoming a major problem.
Don't overdo warmups: Letting the car warm up is a comfort more for us than the car. Best practice is to start the car and then drive very simply until the oil gets heated. It'll heat faster driving at slow speeds without sudden acceleration than just idling in your drive. In extreme cold, however, many professionals recommend idling for a minute or two. Idling for 10-15 minutes, as Midwesterners are prone to do, could dilute the oil with unburned fuel, resulting in increased engine wear. And it wastes gas.