WATERVILLE — This past week drivers across the state may have been greeted by the same, ominous message on their dashboards when they get into their cars: low tire pressure.

The subzero weather that has gripped Maine this past week has not been easy on vehicles, which has been reflected in the number of visits to auto parts and service stores. The biggest number of casualties so far have come largely among tires and batteries.

Mike Savage, the manager of the Waterville Tire Warehouse, said about 50 people had come in with flat tires on Tuesday alone. This is far above normal for a day, and Savage said it can be traced directly to the cold weather.

“It’s really hard on tires, more than you’d think,” Savage said of the brutally cold temperature. “It’s dangerous.”

Tires that receive average wear will lose about 1 pound of pressure for each 10 degree drop in air temperature. In addition to the cold, salt and sand that gets poured onto roads before, during and after snowstorms can harm tires. The sensors for air pressure can break because of the wear and tear from salt, he said; and when that happens, when a person unscrews the sensor to put more air in, the whole sensor comes right out.

“We’ve seen dozens of these,” Savage said Tuesday.

In addition to all the tire problems, car batteries have been flying off the shelves. Rene Huard, manager of O’Reilly Auto Parts on Main Street, said the store would be getting a truckload of batteries by midweek. Since the weekend, the store had sold about 70 batteries, which is far more than usual. In this cold weather, he said, many people start their car and crank the heat up as high as it goes; but once they arrive at their destination, they turn their cars off, so the vehicle’s battery is never given a chance to recharge fully.

“Before you stop the car, turn off the heat and let it run for 10 minutes,” Huard said.

A battery tends to last about five years, Huard said, but the frigid temperature does take its toll. Every time a person turns on a car, Huard said, that uses about a third of the battery’s power, so drivers need to ensure they take steps to recharge the vehicle’s battery properly.

“Let it idle with everything off for a bit,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis