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Tech Tuesday: Is Your Vehicle Ready for Winter?

It’s that time of the year again. The air is brisk, temperatures are dropping, the trees are bare, malls are getting crowded and holiday décor is everywhere! As holidays and finals are upon us, life is getting pretty hectic, but you might be forgetting one thing — your car. As cold temperatures begin to amplify, roads begin to get slick and the possibility of snowfall increases, it becomes extremely important that your vehicle is prepared to fare the winter so you do not get stuck out in the cold. Cold weather alone can change how your vehicle performs, and once snow arrives, other factors begin to take effect. Here are five ways you can start preparing your vehicle to be winter ready.

1. Improve your visibility

The importance of good driving visibility cannot be understated, as “80 percent of driving decisions are made based on visibility,” said Lauren Fix, the car coach. In order to maximize your visibility during the winter, make sure your wiper blades are in good condition. If they are not, simply replace them.

You should also be sure that your headlights are clean and funcitonal. On older vehicles, headlights tend to become “fogged” over, so cleaning them with one of a variety of aftermarket products could greatly improve visibility when it gets dark out or if there is snow, according to the site. Having well-functioning headlights are also important so you are more visible to other drivers on the road. 

2. Check your tires

Tires are a crucial part of being ready for the winter, as these are the only parts on the vehicle in direct contact with the road. Having maximum grip will be helpful in any condition, so be sure to check that tires are inflated to the proper air pressure. A vehicle’s recommended tire pressure is located on a sticker inside the driver door pillar when the door is opened.

Pressure should be monitored, if possible, and checked at least once a month to ensure it is not running too low. In the cold, air pressure tends to drop quicker, so it is important to remain aware and check often if possible, according to the site. 

Now is also the time to check your tire tread. If you insert a penny into the tread with Washington’s head facing down into the tire and you can see his hair or the top of his head, it is time for new tires, according to the site. Here in New Jersey, most vehicles fare well with all season tires, although considering winter tires is never a bad idea. 

Experts suggest that if outside temperatures remain below 45 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis, then it is a good idea to have winter or snow tires on the vehicle. “Winter tires are not to be confused with snow tires”, said Joerg Burfien, director of research and development for Continental Tire North America Inc in article in Modern Tire Dealer. 

Snow tires have deeper tread and grooves that help grip a slippery surface better than a traditional tire, aiding in steering and braking maneuvers. Winter tires, on the other hand, look similar to all season tires, albeit they can handle the colder temperatures better than an all season. 

Winter tires help grip the road better than all season tires in normal operation when on clear winter roads, which is a typical road most individuals drive on in the winter. Snow tires are more helpful when driving through deeper snow, more than you would get in a light snowfall, according to Lauren Fix. 

In New Jersey, the majority of vehicles will fare fine with all-season tires, although if  planning on driving on roads regularly that may be very slippery, have a lot of snow or if driving a rear wheel drive vehicle, one may want to consider winter or snow tires for better grip, according to the site. 

3. Check your battery

Cold temperatures can greatly affect how a vehicle operates mechanically, and one part that takes a great deal of this stress is your battery. In temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, battery power decreases by 35 percent, and at zero degrees Fahrenheit, power decreases by up to 60 percent. Most batteries last three to five years in a vehicle, but the more ultimate factor is how much voltage your battery has, according to the site.

One can have the voltage checked at an ASE certified mechanic or local dealer, and they will give suggestions on if it is time to replace the battery. Dead car batteries are one of the most common issues during the winter, according to the site. 

4. General vehicle maintenance 

Now is also the time to be sure all your general vehicle maintenance is up to date, as the cold weather puts stress on other areas of your vehicle apart from just the battery. Make sure you are up to date on your oil changes, your brake pads have decent life left in them, and that all your vehicle’s fluids have been checked. Most vehicles have 7 to 9 different types of fluids in them, all of which ensure safe operation of your vehicle. The levels of each fluid should be checked, and filled to the proper levels prior to the winter. 

If there are any warning lights on, such as the “check engine” light, be sure that this is attended to, as it can be any early sign that something on your vehicle needs maintenance in order to continue safe, efficient operation. 

For all these procedures, follow the schedule outlined in your owner’s manual to be sure you are maintaining your vehicle to manufacturer recommendations. As with batteries, use an ASE certified mechanic or your local dealer for maintenance. All these fixes may seem minor now, but it may prove to have been worth it once the weather gets rough. 

5. Be prepared in case you get stuck

In the winter, if one happens to get stuck, its best to come prepared. Here are some recommended items that Lauren Fix recommends everyone have in their car in the case of a winter emergency — granola bars/non-perishable snacks, blankets, phone charger, ice scraper, hand warmers and jumper cables. 

Of course, if weather conditions are severe, try not to go out. If you must go out, be careful and make sure you have come prepared.

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