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How to make sure your car is ready for winter

While winter specific tune-ups have become quietly obsolete, there are still many practises that prepare your car for the harsh months to come.

Winter Tires

Set aside for a moment, all the other benefits of winter tires and think singularly about stopping distance. Once the temperature goes sub-zero, on pavement that is wet or dry, winter tires will always stop your vehicle in a significantly shorter distance. Following a vehicle equipped with winter tires and you are not? They will out-stop you every time. This is a big deal only realized when making a panic stop. Ask yourself why insurance companies offer a policy discount encouraging the purchase of winter tires.

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Tire pressures and condition

Tires lose 7kPa or 1 Psi for every 5C temperature drop. Consult the driver's door jamb for the tire placard, which shows the optimum tire pressure for your vehicle. Recheck the pressure after every 10C drop with a tire pressure gauge and adjust accordingly. Opinions vary regarding the use of a different tire pressure for winter; your safest bet is to use the manufacturers recommendations. Inspect for age cracks, rubber separation, bulges and cuts in the sidewalls or tread before installation. Any passenger tire is considered bald when it has 2 millimetres remaining anywhere across the tread face. Wet traction is severely limited below 4 millimetres and should be considered a winter minimum.

Related: The problem with winter tire skeptics

Related: Are winter tires really worth it?

Read more: The science behind winter tires and how they work

Battery

The first seriously cold day inundates your local roadside assistance company with no-start, dead-battery calls, subjecting you to a lengthy wait for a service truck and a day of missed work. Most batteries generally last at least five years. Check the age of yours, have it serviced and replaced if questionable.

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Visibility

If you can't see it, you can't avoid it. Peering out through a small patch of clean glass is undeniably unpleasant. If any part of the windshield is left un-cleaned its time for a set of quality wipers and to top up with winter washer fluid. A clean windshield is only part of the equation, poor forward lighting on a dark, unlit road is dangerous. With the assistance of a helper, take a walk around the vehicle checking all the lights including rear running and brake lights.

Fluid levels

Most drivers know little about maintaining critical fluids. Open your owner's manual and look up all the reservoir and fluid access locations. It might take a few minutes of exploring with a flash light but checking your brake, power steering, oils and coolant levels is a task every driver should be able to perform. Learn the basics, it may help prevent an avoidable breakdown. Caution: The engine's exhaust pipes and coolant can burn; check fluids when the car is cold.

Emergency preparedness

Roadside breakdown kits are readily available. Purchase one that features booster cables, a safety blanket, candles and a flashlight. Every car parked in the driveway should have its own kit. Before you throw it in the trunk, bring it in the house and go through it to familiarize yourself with its contents. Go one step further and supplement it by adding your own safety items.

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Interior care

A vehicle's leather interior slowly deteriorates from extreme temperature and UV radiation. Intense cold strips moisture from the leather, slowly causing it to contract and tear. Treating the leather with a quality product before the temperature dips allows conditioners to be absorbed fully into the material.

Exterior and rustproofing

Water, air and salt create a robust environment for corrosion to set in and make your car looker older than it actually is. Every manufacturer has a corrosion prevention program, but some vehicles seem to suffer cosmetically more than others. A small investment in an annual rust spray is worth considering.

Vehicle service

Many drivers save up a year's worth of uncompleted maintenance for this season, which creates an intense period for most garages. As shops get overwhelmed, quality takes a hit and things get missed, so get in early to beat the rush.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing "Lou's Garage" in the subject area.

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