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5 Steps to Prepare Your Car for the Winter

Most of us in the United States have felt a definite chill in the air the last few days. We are into December, which means if you haven’t, you should prepare your car for winter and include an emergency kit, just in case. Of course, you don’t hope for the worst, but it is always best to prepare for it, and with millions taking to the road for holiday travel, visiting family, and taking vacations, it pays to be prepared.

You might remember a few years ago when hundreds of cars were stranded in Chicago on Lakeshore Drive during the 2010 Chicago blizzard. Sure, the storm was intensifying, but those people were just trying to make the short drive home from work. They had no idea they would be stranded for hours and that some of the cars would run out of gas, making it impossible to run the heat.

Here are some steps you may want to take to avoid that fate and protect yourself and your family this winter while driving:

1. Have an emergency kit. An emergency kit can be your lifeline if you are stranded. Pack blankets, shelf stable food such as nut or granola bars, and some water. The water will probably freeze if it stays in your car throughout the winter, so make sure to empty out some of the water so there is room for expansion when it freezes. You may also want to pack a few feet and hand warmers.

Beyond creature comforts, think safety. Include a bag of cat litter to give you traction should you be stuck as well as a flashlight, Army knife, small shovel, jumper cables and flares. This might seem like overkill, but if you get stuck, you will be grateful to have everything.

2. Check and replace your tires, if necessary. Tires are expensive, but those with good treads versus those that are nearly bald can mean the difference between an accident or a safe drive when you are driving on snow covered or icy roads. A good test is to put a penny upside down in the tread. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it is time to replace them. Another good practice is to change your tires every two years. If you are in an area that gets a good deal of snow, consider investing in winter tires which grip icy and snowy roads better.

Don’t forget to also check that your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have the tools to change your tire, should you need to.

3. Get a tune up for your car. Now is a good time to inspect all fluids and top them off or change them, if necessary. In addition, make sure your wiper fluid is full (and is a blend that won’t freeze). If you haven’t changed your wiper blades in a year or more, do so now. Ice and snow can be harder on wiper blades, especially older ones that have already seen months (or years) of wear.

4. Check your brakes. The longer you wait to replace your brakes, the more damaged they get and the more expensive they are to replace. Now is the time to look at replacing the brakes or a component of them, if necessary. No one wants to have bad brakes when trying to fight the elements.

5. Check and replace your lights, if necessary. Check both your headlights and taillights to make sure there aren’t any burned out bulbs. In addition, after several years, cars can develop a film over the headlight cover which makes the lights shine through less. Buy a kit to clean the covers or have the mechanic do it.

Winterizing your car may cause a bit of extra expense and time to prepare, but once the snow and icy weather hits, you will be glad that you took the time to prepare.

What other ways do you suggest winterizing your car?

(Photo: mthomas [3])