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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Your Vehicle Ready For Winter

As the temps drop down into the single digits, we’re reminded that months of winter driving uncertainty has arrived. Your car needs extra preparation to make it through the winter, but getting ready is only half the battle. The extreme conditions that accompany a New England winter can do a great deal of damage to both the interior and exterior of your car. Winter driving conditions also mandate driving differently. Snow and ice need to be taken seriously and prepared for. 

This winter, make sure your car is as prepared as you are with some tips on how to get your vehicle winter ready:

- Batteries are much weaker in cold weather, so keep your vehicle’s battery fully charged. A simple battery test can be performed by turning on your vehicle’s headlights before starting the engine. If you notice the lights get brighter once the engine is running, a more thorough battery test should be undertaken. 

- Tires should have Mud & Snow or All Season tread and be in good condition. If the treads are worn, replace them. Better yet, exchange them for a set of snow tires, such as Bridgestone Blizzaks, which have treads that provide better traction and are equipped to handle extreme winter driving conditions.

- Check your tire pressure monthly during the winter. This is extremely important, especially when driving in winter conditions. Remember, your tire pressure will decrease faster in the cold weather.

- Swap out your carpeted floor mats with a set of water-resistant vinyl or rubber mats. 

- Brakes should be checked and serviced if necessary. Even braking on all four wheels will lessen the chance of skids on slippery roads.

- Make sure your vehicle’s exhaust system has no leaks. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and can accumulate quickly in closed vehicles.

- Make sure your wiper blades are in good condition and are working properly. Poor visibility is a major cause of accidents during the winter. Keep the windshield washer reservoir filled with antifreeze solvent and have a bottle of replacement fluid in your vehicle. Often in the winter, the windshield wiper fluid may freeze. Exchange the fluid with one made especially to spray in freezing conditions or with a deicing agent. Similarly, you may want to purchase winter wiper blades to cut through snow and ice instead of using regular ones throughout the year. Also, make sure to check the spray nozzles of your windshield-washer system. Sometimes, they get blocked by wax or debris. Use a needle or pin to clear blocked nozzles.

- Check the radiator, heater core and all hoses that carry anti-freeze solution to see that they are in good condition and free of leaks or wear. Visually inspect other fluid reservoirs in the engine compartment for leaks, as well, such as brakes, clutch, transmission fluid and oil.

- Check the coolant level, which may require looking at a marked level indicator on the overflow reservoir, or popping the radiator cap. Never check the coolant when the car is hot, as the cooling system operates under pressure and hot coolant will burn. A 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze is typically recommended for year-round driving, but check your owner’s manual for specifics. You can test the concentration of the coolant with a bulb gauge found at any auto parts store or have your mechanic do it. 

- Make sure you have winter weight oil (usually 5W-30) in the engine.

- Make sure your headlights, taillights, back-up lights and signal lights (including your hazards) illuminate with a visual check. 

- Road salt commonly used during winter can damage your car’s paint. Rinsing it off every once in a while can help, but a good wash and coat of fresh wax will go a long way in preventing corrosion and keep your vehicle looking like new. Be sure to do the wash and wax before temps drop down below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. A clean and freshly waxed car makes snow and ice easier to brush off. 

- Keep the gas tank at least half full throughout the winter. This will reduce condensation, making your vehicle easier to start on cold mornings. 

- Emergencies can happen when you least expect them, so be sure to carry a Winter Survival Kit in your vehicle. Your Winter Survival Kit should at least contain:
  1. Several blankets and warm clothing, such as a jacket, boots, long underwear, heavy socks, mittens, ski mask and a winter hat.
  2. A snow/ice scraper and a shovel.
  3. Flares and/or a warning triangle.
  4. A fire extinguisher, the 2 3/4-pound dry chemical type. The fire extinguisher should be kept in the front seat or in the glove compartment and not in the back, which is closer to the fuel tank.
  5. A spare fuel can.
  6. A light bulb kit and fuse range.
  7. A first aid kit.
  8. A source of heat, such as multiple wick candle can heater. It is best to also have matches to light your candle, because some lighters won’t work in extreme cold.
  9. Water and a metal container suitable for melting ice or snow to be used for drinking water.
  10. A radio and flashlight with an extra set of batteries.
  11. Non-perishable snacks, such as granola bars, hard candy, jellybeans, raisins, nuts, candy bars, dehydrated fruit and jerky.
  12. Something to read to help keep you awake.
  13. A folding cup.
  14. Toilet tissue.
  15. Bright red or orange cloth and a whistle to signal help.
  16. A cell phone, one for emergencies only.
  17. Repair tools, such as pliers, wrenches, screw drivers and a pocket knife.
  18. Tire chains, jumper cables, tow rope and gas line antifreeze.
  19. For rear-wheel drive vehicles, you might want to keep a small bag of sand in your trunk to create traction under the tires if you get stuck. The bulk of a vehicle’s weight is the engine. If the car is driven by its rear wheels, instead of its front wheels, the heavy front end and light back end makes the car prone to slide around on ice or snow covered roads.
Even the best-maintained vehicles can break down or get involved in a slide-off, stranding or accident. A driver left stranded on the side of the road during warm months may be inconvenienced and frustrated, but safety is a serious concern in cold weather.

Stay warm and drive carefully!!

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