Get your car ready for winter with this handy checklist

Proper tires and good brakes can mean the difference between getting into an accident and avoiding one.

Prior to winter's arrival, preventative maintenance on your vehicle is vital for the comfort and safety of you and your passengers. While mechanical failure is an inconvenience anytime it occurs, it can be life-threatening if you become stranded in extremely low temperatures. There are several steps you can take to successfully prepare your car for the hazardous elements of a New England winter — some you can do yourself, and others require the skill of a professional auto technician.

Justin Olshan, owner of Tire Plus Brakes in East Lyme, strongly recommends people go to a repair facility that does oil changes for a major safety check in preparation for winter. "Oil and other fluids should be checked and full," Olshan said. "The battery and windshield wipers need to be checked and replaced if necessary." Light bulbs should also be checked and lenses cleaned from road build-up.

Proper tires and good brakes can mean the difference between getting into an accident and avoiding one. "It's essential that tires and brakes get a proper safety check," Olshan said. "In the winter months you want an all-season radial tire with a traction rating of 'A' or snow tires. Always check tires for the snow rating. Someone who drives frequently in winter may consider a tire rated specifically for temperatures 45 degrees and below." While these specialized tires are more expensive than standard tires, they are designed with special tread for added traction in icy and snow-packed conditions. They will wear out prematurely in warmer weather and should always be replaced after winter and saved for the next year.

Another tip from Olshan is to have your spare tire checked, see that the jack is in good condition, and to make sure your tires' lug nuts are torqued to specifications so you can get them off yourself if you have to. "I do highly recommend a tow service membership such as AAA or another that your insurance may cover," said Olshan. "It can be hazardous to try and change your own tires in bad weather, especially in a situation where more than one tire is affected or on a roadside in poor visibility to passing drivers."

For comfort as well as safety, having a remote starter installed in your vehicle can help avoid the hassle and danger of scraping ice from the car's windshield while out in the cold and snow. Jay Dufresne of Great Scot, an audio retailer and installer in New London, suggests a remote starter always be installed professionally. "You really need to know what you're doing to make a proper installation," said Dufresne. "Remote starters are very useful, and of course very convenient, if you want to get in a car that's warm and clear of ice."

At Submarine Carwash in Groton, clients bring cars in to get ready for the season with an interior detailing and exterior treatment including a detailed wash and wax. Clean windows are important for optimum visibility, while exterior preparation protects your vehicle from the salt and sand abundant on the roads in the winter. And having a freshly wiped down and vacuumed car interior is pleasant in any season.

As for do-it-yourself winter preparation — add a bottle of fuel de-icer to the gas tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Also, keep items in the car that you may need in case of an emergency: jumper cables, a flashlight, ice melt and ice scraper, gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, and sand or kitty litter. Put a few "high-energy" snacks in your glove box and always keep fresh water on hand.

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