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5 tips to help your car survive the winter

Ned Ehrbar

Road safety is key during any travel season, but it’s especially important to be mindful before getting behind the wheel when the temperatures drop and the snow starts falling. With the polar vortex bringing record-breaking low temperatures to many parts of the U.S., it’s more important than ever to make sure you’ve taken these extra steps to help ensure a safe arrival.

“Those long, cold nights and freezing temperatures can pose a danger for you and your passengers,” says Audra Fordin, the fourth-generation owner of Great Bear Auto Repair in Flushing, N.Y., and founder of Women Auto Know, a consumer advocacy initiative that focuses on helping women to be more car-smart.

Here are Fordin’s tips for being road-smart and safe this winter:

Check those belts and hoses
Don’t be afraid to get under the hood and check the belts and hoses that connect different parts of your car’s engine. “In my 30-plus years of getting grease underneath my fingernails, I’ve seen a lot of ruined vacations, and it’s because of belts and hoses,” Fordin says. “They get brittle, dry and cracked, and they cause you to break down on the road. Be sure to check them before you go out for your winter travels so that you don’t get stuck.”

When inspecting belts and hoses, drivers should look out for rubber that looks loose, brittle, contaminated or bloated or has any rips, tears or cuts on the surface. “You don’t have to be a mechanic, you just have to look,” she says.

Check your wipers
“Ninety percent of decisions made on the road are based on being able to see,” according to Fordin. So check your wipers. Just like with belts and hoses, the rubber in windshield wipers can wear out and lose their effectiveness. “If they’re peeling or streaking, it’s time to replace them,” she says. “Because you want them to be in excellent condition to handle with winter weather.”

Check all your car’s lights
“Just like you need to see, people also need to see you,” Fordin says. So check all your lights, including headlights, tail lights, fog lights, and signal lights to make sure there’s no confusion about where your car is going.

Tread carefully
Be sure to check your tires — not just the pressure, but also the condition of the tread. “Tires are your vehicle’s first line of defense on the road,” Fordin says. “The tread actually grips the ground and then repels the water so that you maintain traction. If your tread is low, it’s time to replace your tires, especially in the winter when we know we’re getting rain, we’re getting moisture, we’re getting snow and you’re going to need to have good traction.”

Check your heater and defroster
Properly functioning heating and defrosting systems can make or break a successful winter journey, and fixing them on the road could prove tricky for the average driver. “Turn the heat on high, that’s going to defog,” Fordin says. “And then when you add the air-condition to it, it’s going to take the moisture out and dehumidify the air.”

And while it might seem counterintuitive on a cold day, don’t be afraid to open the windows — just a little bit. “It’ll help circulate the air a lot more quickly,” Fordin says.

Winter road-trip must-haves
Finally, Fordin advises that you make sure your vehicle is stocked with a few key items before you head out on the road this winter, including a full tank of gas, a fully charged cellphone with a cellphone adapter and a map application. A car that’s well-stocked for winter will also have some ice melt, a shovel, an ice scraper and a flashlight with extra batteries. Parents traveling with kids or a baby should also pack extra clothes, non-perishable food, warm blankets, toys and games and diapers.

This story was originally published October 29, 2018 as “5 money-saving tips to get your car ready for winter”.

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