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Winterize Your Vehicle: A Checklist

By Lavender September 24, 2009

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You probably have noticed something askew in the air around you lately. The winds have an extra amount of bite and vigor; the temperatures, once comfortably sitting in the 80s, have begun to crouch in the 50s and 60s; and the once-lush summer greens have started to deepen and change tones to vibrantly styled shades of red, yellow, and orange.

Fear not, for all those changes, and the countless more that surely will ensue, are simply Mother Nature’s steady way of reminding us that winter’s icy grip lies in the not too distant future.

Apart from the drastic change in temperature, and the addition of new colors on the landscape, winter also brings with it a host of not-so-pleasant realties. Perhaps the most dramatic happenings take place on Minnesota roads and to Minnesota cars.

The combination of snow, ice, salt, and freezing temps, just to name a few, can wreak havoc on vehicles. While those brutal elements may not be prevented easily from showing up on Minnesota’s doorstep, vehicle owners across the state can help reduce the impact those winterized elements can have on their mode of transportation.

Like it or not, it’s time to winterize your vehicle. For those on a tight budget, don’t worry, as many of the items on the following winterization checklist cost little to nothing to implement—especially if you are at least somewhat car savvy or know someone who is.

Initially, gather some knowledge about the current condition of your car. This can be accomplished several ways.

First, check your tire pressure. While having and maintaining properly inflated tires is important year-round—saving you money on gas, to say the least—it may be even more important during cold-weather months. A properly inflated tire will give better traction, which on slick, icy roads is always a good thing. If your budget allows, you may want to consider purchasing snow tires to get you through the rough winter months. While you’re at it, make sure your car not only has a spare tire, but also is inflated properly and in working order.

Second, check your battery. Cold weather can reduce the power and life of a car’s battery enormously, so if it already is approaching its senior years, keep in mind Murphy’s law: What can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time. Be proactive to prevent any misfortune from ruining a future cold winter’s morn. Check the connections on the battery for any corrosion. Take it in to a shop to have it inspected and tested if needed.

Third, after you’ve examined your clunker’s legs (tires) and heart (battery), make sure to give its supporting cast the once-over, as well. Examine the belts, hoses, brakes, and windshield wipers to ensure all are in proper working order. Most vehicle sites recommend replacing your wipers once a year, so if you can’t remember the last time you bought new ones, chances are it’s probably time to do so.

Fourth, make sure your car has enough juice to keep things flowing as they should be. Take stock of your windshield wiper fluid, coolant, and antifreeze levels. Make sure they are full and well-balanced before the first blizzard of the season hits.

Fifth, even though it gets mentioned every year at the same time, having an emergency safety kit is simply a smart idea. Common sense will dictate what most Minnesota drivers need in case they slip into the ditch, or find themselves stranded on the side of the road, but for those needing an additional brain boost, here’s a basic list of emergency kit items:

• Food and water
• Radio
• Warm materials including extra blankets, jackets, boots, gloves, etc.
• Flashlight, flares, and extra batteries
• Extra car fluids such as coolant and engine oil
• Standard first-aid kit
• Shovel and ice scraper
• Kitty litter—several car sites recommend using kitty litter as traction material in case you get stuck
• Deicer—in case your locks become frozen because of ice, it may be a good idea to keep some deicing solution in your car’s trunk or inside your home

That’s about it. Keeping yourself safe, and your car in working order, is a just a matter of taking the time and energy to steel yourself for things to come. Dipping into your wallet may hurt slightly now, but paying to have your car checked and fixed prior to winter’s blast can save you money, headaches, and frostbitten fingers in the months ahead.

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