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Earth, Wind & Power
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Winterizing Your Car

Protect Your Vehicle From Blistering Winter Weather

By Chris Burdick

For those of you who live in climates where the mercury doesn't see the warm side of freezing for months on end, this article is for you. Winter travel can be a major hassle, if not downright hazardous, but taking a few simple steps to prepare your car for the weather can make nasty conditions safer and a lot more tolerable.

Check your tires!
A good amount of tread on your tires will give you better grip than an old worn out pair of tires. Take a look at the grooves in your tires and make sure that the tire has not worn down to the tire wear bars. Wear bars are ridges of rubber that run perpendicular to the grooves on your tires. If your tires are past this point, you should replace them.

Snow tires make life easier. If you have a rear wheel drive car, or a car with low profile high performance tires, you should really consider getting snow tires installed on your car before winter. The main problem with rear wheel drive cars is that there is not much weight positioned over the rear of the car, hence not much pressure on the rear wheels to keep them from skidding. You can counter this problem by installing snow tires and by adding some weight to the trunk of your car. If you decide to use sand bags for extra weight, double bag them in trash bags before putting them in the back of your car. This will keep any sand that leaks out of the bags from spilling into your trunk and onto your carpets.

High performance tires were designed to stick like glue to dry pavement, but they usually have horrid grip in bad weather conditions. You may be able to have snow tires mounted on your factory wheels — to find out check with your dealer or any local tire dealer. If you want to take care of your fancy high performance wheels and not use them in the winter, you should invest in a set of snow tires mounted on inexpensive wheels. You can usually get these through a dealer or local tire store. You can also purchase them online at www.tirerack.com

Keeping clean
Replace your nice carpet floor mats with rubber all weather mats. Carpet mats will look awful after only one winter of sand, snow and grime being ground into their fibers. Buy some all weather mats and save your nice carpeted mats for nicer weather.

If you have to kneel outside your car in nasty weather, you can use one of your floor mats (hopefully the all-weather kind) as a cushion to protect your clothes. And of course, make sure you are a safe distance from oncoming traffic.

You gotta see!
You should replace your windshield wipers at the end of every winter. Ice, snow and cold temperatures can crack and tear the rubber blades on your wipers. By replacing your wipers at the end of the winter, you get nice new ones to use for the spring, summer and fall. By winter they have seen very light use, so they should stand up well to harsh winter conditions.

During the winter you should also check your washer fluid every time you fill up for gas. If you are going on a long trip, make sure you have a spare gallon of washer fluid in your trunk in case you run low. It can make the difference between a safe journey and a dangerous one.

Get a check-up
A mechanical breakdown during the summer is usually just a nuisance, but breaking down in the winter can be very dangerous. Your car's engine performs differently during the winter, especially in very cold conditions. In order to make sure your car is in top condition and to minimize wear on your engine, you should have your mechanic check the belts, hoses, battery and coolant. Also consult your owner's manual to see if they recommend using lower weight oil during cold months.

Pack an emergency kit
Sometimes things go wrong and we get stranded at the side of a highway. What you have with you in these situations can make the difference between a simple delay and a nightmare. The following items can be of great help if you have unexpected problems on the road.

  • Flashlight with spare batteries.

  • Ice scraper / brush for clearing your windshield.

  • Sand or gravel in case you get stuck in the snow and need to get some extra traction under your wheels.

  • Jumper cables.

  • A spare jacket, blanket and work gloves.

  • If you don't have one yet, you may want to get a cell phone. Being able to call for help from your car is a big advantage over flagging down another car, or walking to get help. Make sure you have an automobile charger for your phone in your car at all times.

Drive safely

  • Whenever you park your car while it is snowing, raise your wipers off of the windshield of your car. This helps in two ways. First, the wiper blades won't freeze to your windshield. Second, you won't damage your wipers while clearing snow and ice off of your windshield.

  • Remember that in slippery conditions, your car will not be able to stop or turn as quickly as it would on dry pavement. Follow traffic at a greater distance than normal.

  • Always be cautious when entering an intersection, as other traffic might not be able to stop for you and may skid into the intersection. The best plan is to take everything slowly and carefully. Preventing an accident is much easier to deal with than handling the results of an accident.

Winter travel can be hazardous, if not dangerous. By winterizing your car you are prepared for whatever weather or situation you may encounter.

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