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How to Winterize Your Car 

Drivers should follow these steps to stay safe in the cold and snow

Your Winter Car Checklist: 1. Test Your Wiper Blades 2. Be sure to have windshield-washer fluid on hand 3. Test your battery 4. Check your tires 5. Check your cooling system.

Sarah Peng/AARP

It can be dangerous driving in snow and ice; if you’re not prepared, you may be risking mechanical trouble or an accident in a storm or slick conditions. Here are a few things experts suggest drivers in chilly climates do to winterize their cars before the season begins.

Check your tires. Think about switching to a winter tire if you live in a climate that gets lots of snow or has long periods of very cold weather, says Jeff Cox, president of the Illinois-based Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association. “They deliver great peace of mind,” he notes. With a traditional all-season tire, the tread compound becomes harder in the cold and doesn't handle as well as it does in warm weather, Cox explains. The winter tire, which has a deeper, more flexible tread, helps in the snow as well as in cold and icy conditions. (Think about winter boots versus summer sandals.) 

If you don't want to spring for new tires, at least have the ones you have inspected. Worn tires can't grip the road as well newer ones, making it difficult to accelerate and to start and stop in icy, wet conditions. Cox recommends replacing any tire with a tread of 2/32 of an inch or less.

Test your battery. Very hot summers tend to take a toll on your battery, so getting it tested before winter can help prevent you from being stranded with a dead battery — a safety check that's especially important if you have health or mobility issues that would prevent you from walking to get help or waiting for a tow truck in cold weather. Cox suggests having your battery tested every time you go in for an oil change; it's often included at no extra charge as part of a regular maintenance check.

Have enough (and the right kind of) windshield-washer fluid. With snow and ice, there's more salt on the roads. You need to be able to regularly clean your windshield to remove the salt, which can impair visibility. Make sure that you have enough washer fluid and that the fluid you use has a low enough freezing point for your climate. Washer fluid used in the warmer months of the year typically has a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If this fluid remains in the system when temperatures drop below freezing, the frozen fluid can not only prevent your washer fluid from spraying, it might also cause damage to components such as the washer pump or washer fluid tank. Use washer fluid with a low freezing point to prevent this. (Depending on your car, you may have a separate rear-window washer tank to consider as well.)   

Check your cooling system. Similarly, it's important to check the freeze protection level of your antifreeze fluid (the mix of mostly ethylene glycol and water that's used as an engine coolant); make sure it's effective for the coldest temperatures expected in your area, says Tony Molla, vice president of the Texas-based Automotive Service Association.

Test your wiper blades."If your wiper blades are smearing, not clearing, it's time to replace them,” Molla says. Worn blades can impair visibility if they don't properly clean your windshield in snow and sleet.

A final note: When in doubt, don't go out. While you can equip yourself for driving in the snow, Molla says, you can't entirely safeguard yourself in icy conditions. Watch the weather forecasts, and if local authorities urge you not to drive, stay home.

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