Those living in seasonal climes know that the days of perfectly crisp air and turning autumn leaves will soon come to a swift end, only to be replaced by violent, frigid temps.
Breaking down by the side of the road is a nuisance even in clear, warm weather. Getting stuck on the side of a road in a blizzard is even worse, and it can be dangerous. And then you have to deal with the bill afterwards. Car repairs can put a major strain on your budget, especially during the holiday shopping season when your finances are already strained. Putting car repair costs on a credit card could max you out before you buy gifts for family and friends, and it can also have a major impact on your credit. (You can see how your credit card spending is affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
Luckily, you can avoid a holiday disaster. Before the mercury drops, you should consider winterizing your vehicle. If you're like most, you may never have done this, but winter conditions are punishing, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
1. Have your engine serviced.
Get your car in to an auto mechanic before the snow flies. Have the shop perform all necessary maintenance including an oil change, and have them inspect everything under the hood (and around the car as well) to make sure it's good to go. Healthy belts, hoses and antifreeze levels are important, but so are basic necessities, like working (and effective) windshield wipers.
2. Check your tires and replace them if necessary.
Tire replacement isn't exactly cheap, but it's absolutely critical, especially if your tires are looking old and worn. If the tread depth on your tires is nearing 2/32 of an inch, they're getting to the end of their life – here's a guide to determine if your tires' tread depth is healthy. Do a quick visual inspection to check for dry rot, as old tires become brittle and lose elasticity.
Putting new shoes on your car could mean the difference between safely stopping, or having a crash ruin your day, your front end, and potentially compromising yours and your passengers' safety, so it's a worthwhile expenditure.
3. Throw an emergency kit into the backseat.
While everyone in snowy winter climes should have a simple road-trip safety kit, the key here is not to use it over the course of the entire winter. But at least if you have it in your car, you know you'll be well equipped if something does go wrong on the road and you find yourself stuck in a snow bank.
You can buy emergency winter kits for your car, or you can make your own to save some money. Make sure your kit includes the following: thermal blanket; a supply of water and dried food such as trail mix, a candy bar or some jerky; gloves; boots; a flashlight; a small shovel; a fully charged spare cellphone (even with no plan you can still dial 911 for help and get through) and a car charger; jumper cables; an emergency reflector triangle, flares; a candle with matches; a bag of sand or salt to aid traction in a pinch; and a first aid kit.
If you live in or will drive through an especially snowy area, consider purchasing tire chains or AutoSock to increase tire traction and performance in snowy and icy conditions – the price is a fraction of having to call a tow truck.
4. Check your fluids.
The simplest, cheapest thing you can do yourself is to check the windshield-washer fluid, to ensure you've got an optimal view of the road. Top it off and put an extra jug in your trunk – sand and salt spitting up from the roads means you'll be blasting through your reserve in no time. Also have the other five important automotive fluids checked – gasoline (another easy one), oil, coolant, transmission and power-steering fluids.
5. Check your battery.
Cold weather and blizzards are brutal on batteries. Car-battery capacity is reduced as temperatures plummet, so if yours is old, have it checked out. You and/or the mechanic should be on the lookout for cracks, holes or corrosion around the positive and negative terminals, and make sure your cables are well connected. If your battery isn't sealed and your fluid is low, pour in some distilled water. And if you've had a few dead batteries recently, bite the bullet and just get a new one. It's a quick, easy bit of maintenance and a small price to pay for assurance you won't be stranded.
Just as you prepare your house for the winter, stocking up on firewood and changing screens for storm windows, paying attention to the above car care tips will put you and your vehicle in a better prepared position for potential seasonal setbacks.
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