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Get Your Car Cold Weather Ready: Top 9 Things To Check Before Winter Hits

11/18/2013 10:31 EST | Updated 11/19/2013 04:59 EST
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You prepare yourself for winter, but is your car ready? Canadians spend a lot of time in their cars, and the weather waits for no one. Getting your car winter-ready could save your life.

Remember, you should take your car to your mechanic and have them give it a seasonal check-up. Some of these check-ups can be done by you, but the more complicated repairs should be done by a qualified mechanic.

Get Your Car Cold Weather Ready: Top 9 Things To Check Before Winter Hits

Battery

Knowing the condition of your battery can be a relief when driving in winter. No one wants to be stuck in a dark, lonely parking lot during a blizzard.

Batteries last on average about five years. At the end of summer/beginning of winter, check the condition of your battery cables for fraying, corrosion, and to refill the battery’s water levels. While you’re at it, check the voltage of the battery with a voltmeter and you’re ready to go!

Tires

Your car should have winter tires, but if you've had them for three to four years (and have used them every winter), check the treads. If they seem worn, it's time to buy another set. If you have doubts, try the Coin Test; place a penny inside the treads of one of your tires. If you can see the Queen’s entire head (or Lincoln’s head, if you grabbed an American penny), your tires need to be replaced!

Windshield wipers

Nothing's worse than trying to see through icy, streaky windows because your windshield wipers just can't clean as efficiently as before. Test their cleaning ability by cleaning your windows. If there are streaks, check the wipers. They may have cracked or the rubber might have started to peel away from the ribs.

On that note, check your windshield wiper fluid as well. Unscrew the cap and take a peek inside. If you can't see fluid, add more until it's full.

Ignition system

Different cars have different ignition systems depending on the age and model of car. Older cars have distributor caps and ignition coils. Check the coil to see if it's damaged (cracks, splits, etc.). Check the distributor cap to see if there is any moisture. If there is, dry it off.

Lights

Your lights need to work. It's a safety issue. Also, you can be charged for having faulty lights. Ask a friend to walk around and see if your lights (front, back, brake, and indicator lights) are all working. If one or two lights aren't working, it might be a blown bulb, loose wire, or blown fuse.

Brakes

Brakes can suffer wear and tear after a while, especially in cold, icy weather. You can check them pretty easily by getting down and looking through your tires.

Check your brake pad by looking through the spokes of your wheels. On average, they should be 1/4 of an inch thick. If not, get them changed.

Exhaust system

What's that rattling noise? Noticing traces of dust on your muffler? Give your exhaust system a thorough examination, because that problem that will go away.

Look for cracks, rust spots, and corrosion marks on your muffler and exhaust manifold. Turn on your car (in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning) and listen for sounds. If you hear pops or rattles, take your car to the mechanic.

Heating and cooling system

Leaks -- that's what you want to check for when looking over your heating and cooling system. Get down and look underneath your car. If you see any leaks, check the underside of the car.

Also check the radiator for rust or damp. These indicate that it's been leaking for a while. Check the hoses as well. If they're hard, cracked or have deposits on them, it's time to replace them.

Emergency kit

So you've checked your car and it's in great shape. But what kind of shape will you be in? The car will be fine if you have to stop on the side of the road, but how will you be when it's dark and cold? This is where your emergency kit will be handy (and no, a charged cell phone isn't an emergency kit). You should have, according to the Government of Canada:

• Food that won't spoil, such as energy bars

• Water -- plastic bottles that won't break if the water freezes (replace them every six months)

• Blanket

• Extra clothing and shoes or boots

• First aid kit with seatbelt cutter

• Small shovel, scraper and snow brush

• Candle in a deep can and matches

• Wind-up flashlight

• Whistle, in case you need to attract attention

• Roadmaps

• Copy of your emergency plan

The Government of Canada also recommends that you keep sand, salt or cat-litter, a tow rope, a fire extinguisher, road flares or warning lights, jumper cables, antifreeze, and windshield washer fluid.

You should check your emergency kit every year to see if all these items, such as flares, are still working.