The first chill breeze of autumn means it 'Tis the season for snow and ice, slipping and sliding... and winter driving". Cold temperatures also affect the engine, fuel, cooling system, brakes and tires of your vehicle and now is the time to get your car tuned up.

Safe driving begins with thorough vehicle preparation. Before Heading for Snow Country, make sure your tires, brakes, chains, windshield wipers, heater/defroster, exhaust system, antifreeze/hoses, and battery are in top condition.

You should also check that the fluid levels of the oil, transmission and antifreeze. Carry emergency supplies for the car and passengers.

TIRES

Check your tires. Tires with little tread are just asking for trouble. You may get along on dry roads, but add a little snow or ice and water and your current tires may not cut it.

Make sure they are the properly inflated, check inflation frequently when the tires are cold, not after they have warmed to your driving. Remember that a sharp drop in temperature will drop the air pressure in your tires. Improper inflation causes premature wear, can degrade handling and can cause an accident.

Tires with minute cracks over large areas of the side wall are suffering from old age and should be replaced, no matter how much tread is left. Snow tires and/or all-weather radials that have worn to less than 1/4 inch aren't going to be of much use in real snow. Don't expect like-new performance from a 2- or 3-year-old tire.

No matter what season, tires at all four corners should match; different tread patterns on the same car will affect handling and braking for the worse. Check for cuts, abrasions, uneven wear. Inspect the rim to see if you may have lost a balance weight, a loss that could cause premature wear and annoying vibration.

BRAKES

When was the last time you had your brakes checked? Even in summer, many of us drive with the windows closed, the radio on and the air conditioner humming away. All of these conditions prevent us from hearing those tell-tale sounds of brake problems.

On dry pavement, uneven braking power can usually be adjusted for. But you will have an exciting carnival ride experience with uneven braking power on ice and snow. Just plan on sliding around a lot and possibly some 360 degree turns as well.

CHAINS

Some areas permit chains or adequate snow tires. However, in extreme weather you may also need chains. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order.

When you buy new tires, it is a good idea to confirm that your chains still fit. Carry chain repair links and a few basic tools to make the repairs. An old towel to clean your hands with and a flashlight would also be good planning.

WINDSHIELD WIPERS

If you cannot see out the windshield, how you going to enjoy the beauty of the drive. You also need every advantage you can have in winter driving and seeing the road and what other drivers are doing is important.

Assure you visibility by making sure your windshield wipers work well. Replace your wiper blades. Also refill the windshield washer container with a winter-safe solution so you can clear slush and dirt without freeze-up. You may want to add special solvent to your windshield washer reservoir to prevent icing.

Your summer wipers won't be much use in heavy snow. Remember last year? Invest in winter blades, a k a snow blades. These come with the fingers that hold the blade proper encased in a rubber boot that prevents ice and snow from building up between the blade and the arm that holds it. Such a buildup in a summer type blade will lift the rubber off the windshield, and visibility is diminished or gone altogether. (Do change back in the spring; winter blades do not work so well in summer rains.)

When you clean your windshield, clean the wiper blades, too. Dirt and oily scum build up on them, and it's of no use to clean the glass and then wipe it with oily scum on the blade.

Anything that washes a windshield will serve to clean the wiper -- in a pinch, a little soda water works great. When you clean your windshield, clean the lenses over your head lights and tail lights, too. They get even dirtier than the windshield. Now's the time to check for dead bulbs and replace them.

HEATER/DEFROSTER

To maintain good visibility, heaters and defrosters have to work satisfactorily. Make sure your heater and defroster are in good working order and seals on doors and windows in top shape. And, check to see that the controls that switch from cooling to heating positions work.

If you only occasionally use the heater function of the system, it may not make the change over. Air control flaps may stick, so try it before you need it. If your heater suddenly isn't keeping you toasty, it may be telling you that your antifreeze level is low and/or need replacing.

EXHAUST SYSTEM

Danger lurks here. It is not uncommon for the passengers to catch a little snooze while your driving, especially on the way home from skiing. Make sure you are getting some fresh air in the car at all times.

Crack a window so you get a steady flow of fresh air, and stop regularly to air out the car. The flow of leaking gases from the exhaust system can make you sick, make the driver drowsy which reduces safety, and in extreme cases can kill you and your passengers.

Exhaust leaks are especially dangerous when you are stuck in traffic with the car continuing to idle, or the roads are closed and you are trapped in your car.

ANTIFREEZE

Check your anti freeze and hoses, and be ready for colder temperatures. It needs to be the right fluid level, it needs to have the correct fluid mixture and the hoses that carry the hot engine coolant must be in good condition.

Check hoses every year for wear. Squeeze the hoses to check for loss of elasticity, not just in the middle but at the ends, where they wear the most. Cracked, brittle or limp hoses should be replaced immediately.

Also check and/or change the antifreeze. On the antifreeze container, it says permanent. Permanent in this case doesn't mean forever; change the antifreeze every two years at least.

Why? Because antifreeze does more these days than just prevent ice forming in your engine block; the basic ingredient, ethylene glycol, does that, but antifreeze is a complex chemical soup containing rust and corrosion inhibitors and acid neutralizers.

The ethylene glycol doesn't wear out, but everything else does. Worse, with today's lighter, flimsier and much more expensive radiators, you run the risk of overheating; dirty antifreeze contains sediments that eventually plug up radiator passages.

While you are checking the hoses, check the belts.Look for cracks, glaze, frays and replace belts where you find same. And be sure to check the belt tension as too tight a belt can ruin an alternator and too loose can leave you stranded with a dead battery. Belts also drive your cooling system, so a loose belt make give you cooling system problems which could leave you without heat.

BATTERY

I don't think there is anything worse than a dead battery. It just puts a crimp in your plans and usually it can be avoided. Winter driving is hard on the battery, you drain the battery for the heater motor, more use of the lights and more energy use for starting the engine.

So be nice to it. Check the connections to assure a tight fit, and clean the terminals now and then. Most batteries can be checked for fluid levels, and low fluid levels are the biggest cause of battery problems. Battery problems can also affect the car computer functions which seem to be controlling more and more including some transmissions.

If you are going to jump the battery from another vehicle, be sure you know what you are doing. The terminals are marked for positive and negative, but some car makers make it difficult to see the markings.

Make sure you have them correct, you can wipe out the computer system in your car. Also, keep your face back from the battery when making the connections. There is the possibility of a battery explosion so just be safe.

OIL

Be sure the engine oil is the correct viscosity for the temperatures you expect to drive in. You may want to use a 5W-30 multigrade oil (refer to the owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendation).

Oil changes should be made at shorter intervals than season changes -- unless your car serves mainly as driveway sculpture and doesn't go anywhere. Around these parts, ordinary driving is considered driving under extreme conditions, and a 3,000-mile change interval is recommended.

TRANSMISSION

The highways to the ski slopes will have more grade to them than you are normally accustomed to. While your transmission may work on relatively level ground, when you start up the hills it will need its maximum pulling power.

If the fluid level is low or the transmission is worn out, you could be setting along the side of the road. Take the time to stop at your favorite service facility and have the transmission serviced. It will make your trip easier and you may save a lot of money on future repairs.

EMERGENCY SUPPLIES

Carry emergency supplies for your car including a shovel, and traction such as sand, salt and burlap for the wheels should you become mired in snow. A snow scraper, commercial deicer and a broom for brushing snow off your car will make life easier. Don't forget the booster cables

Carry emergency supplies for your passengers, including blankets (space-age blankets are small and give great protection),warm clothing for everyone, a flashlight, and extra food and water.

Nothing is worse than a car full of hungry and thirsty people when you are stuck in traffic, stuck in snow or broke down. Have plenty of snack items to tame the dragons with.

A good rule of thumb is to have an extra day of food items for each person. You can always eat them later, and besides, it will give you a good excuse to buy those delicious food bars and treats that you been looking at. Better get a lot of extras, just in case (Grin).

HAVE A SAFE TRIP

Remember to buckle up, its the law and most states enforce it. Fines are an unnecessary expense and you are certainly more likely to survive death or serious injury during an accident if you and your passengers have seat belts on.

Give yourself plenty of time. Of all the things you can do to make winter driving less stressful, giving yourself a little more time is the most important. More time to get to and from your destination and more time to stop when you're on the road. Going slower is the key to safe driving on slippery roads, and it's pretty hard to go slower when you're in a race with the clock.

The biggest hazard of winter driving is slippery roads - caused by ice, slushy snow, or rain, especially the first rain after a dry spell when oil and grease have built up on the roads.

Remember how far it takes to bring your car to a stop on dry pavement? In winter conditions, allow at least 3 times that distance to reach a full stop and avoid skidding. This means your safe distance behind the car in front of your should be 3 times as far. And you must begin braking 3 times as far away from the stoplight or corner where you turn.

Reduce the danger of skidding by driving more slowly and by pumping the brakes as you slow down for a turn rather than holding them down. Use low gears on slick surfaces, especially hills and curves. Test your brakes frequently and never tailgate.

 
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