Winterizing Cars Doesn't Have to Break the Bank

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By Dee-Ann Durbin, AP Auto Writer

DETROIT (AP) — You don't need to spend a lot to get your car ready for winter's tough conditions.

Cold temperatures are hard on engines, tires and even gas tanks. As you prepare to navigate icy roads, you can easily spend $500 on snow tires and a tuneup. But there are other steps you can take to make things easier on your car, and your wallet.

Here are 10 tips for winterizing on a budget.

Check your tire pressure. Properly inflated tires not only increase traction on snowy, icy roads, but they'll also help prevent damage from potholes. You should also check your tires for wear with a depth gauge — you can get one for about $5 — or with the wear indicators on the tires.

Replace your wiper blades. Don't wait until a driving snowstorm to find out your wiper blades aren't working. Carl Scavotto, manager of the training center for the Meineke car care chain, suggests winter wiper blades, which have thicker squeegees and rustproof covers. They cost around $12 apiece. While you're at it, make sure your wiper fluid reservoir is full.

Check your battery. The engine has to work harder in the winter, which puts pressure on the battery, and corrosion can wear it down even further. If you see a white, powdery substance around the battery's clamps and cables, clean it with a mixture of baking soda and water and put some petroleum jelly on the battery terminals to prevent further corrosion. "That can be dirty, but it's really easy to do yourself," said Rik Paul, automotive editor of Consumer Reports.

Get an oil change. The colder the oil is, the thicker it will be, and thicker oil doesn't circulate well in the engine. Scavotto suggests a lighter grade oil in the winter so it flows more smoothly. An oil change costs around $30.

Check your antifreeze. Ideally, the mixture in your radiator should be half antifreeze and half water, according to the auto information site Edmunds.com. If your radiator doesn't have enough antifreeze, the water inside can freeze, expand and crack the radiator. You can find a $10 antifreeze tester at auto parts stores.

Check the vehicle's belts and hoses. Cold temperatures can weaken them, and repairs can be expensive. Good hoses will feel firm but pliant. Belts shouldn't be frayed or cracked and should have some tension when you press on them. Breakage can cause a myriad of problems, including an overheated engine, loss of power steering or loss of electrical systems.

Keep the gas tank full. Changing temperatures can cause condensation to form on the walls of the gas tank, and water will drop down into the gas. If water gets into the fuel lines, it can freeze and block the flow of gas to the engine.

Check your four-wheel drive system, if you have one. Four-wheel drive can improve traction in slippery conditions, so check your owner's manual to see how to start it and then make sure it engages and disengages smoothly. Edmunds.com suggests that if your vehicle has multiple drivers, make sure each of them knows how to put the vehicle in four-wheel drive.

If it's time for your car's scheduled maintenance, don't delay. Scavotto said technicians can make sure parts are up to date and everything is in working order. "These are maintenance items, not drivability problems, so the typical tuneup is inexpensive," he said.

Keep an emergency kit in the trunk. Make sure you have bottles of water, a snow brush and ice scraper, wiper fluid, a flashlight, flares, extra gloves and a blanket. Sand, salt or non-clumping kitty litter also can give you added traction if your tires get stuck.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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