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Cars are scary. Every time you get behind the wheel, you are placing your life in the hands of a ton of rolling steel that you rely upon to function properly. You don’t need a lot of technical education to perform basic car maintenance, and this  becomes extremely important during the wintertime when dramatic temperature changes, precipitation and salt can affect the performance of your ride. A well-maintained car with run better for longer and will reduce your risk of accidents due to malfunction.

1. Before you drive, get all of the snow off of your car. Don’t just clear off your glass surfaces — you have to clear off all of it. A recently passed NY bill provides that motor vehicles, with certain exceptions, shall not be operated with an accumulation of snow or ice on the surface thereof.

2. Being able to see while you drive is a good thing. Ice can affect are your wiper blades. If, when  you turn on your windshield wipers, the blades do a sloppy job, there is a problem. Lift your wiper blades up gently and with your hand massage off any ice that may be sticking to the rubber portion of the blade. If this doesn’t help, consider replacing your windshield wipers with special heavy-duty winter wipers. But remember, any extra weight on your wipers (ice, giant, beastly wiper blades) can prematurely wear out your wiper motor, so don’t add that extra weight when it’s unnecessary.

3. Clean off the salt. Excessive amounts of road salt residue and grime on your car can slowly wear down protective coatings, eventually lead to rusting, and decrease the lifespan of your car. Wait until there is a predicted period of 24 hours of no precipitation at a temperature of at least 34 degrees Fahrenheit and give your car a bath — it will definitely appreciate it.

4. Check your tire pressure. As of 2008, tire pressure monitors are required on all new vehicles. So if you got your car before 2008 or your car doesn’t have a tire pressure monitor (check out the dashboard or your owner’s manual to find out), you need to check your tire pressure manually. Tire pressure drops by about one pound per 10 degrees of temperature, so in winter temperatures, your tire pressure will be low and worsen your car’s handling.

5. Top off all of your fluids. Keep your gas tank close to full (if you get stranded, your engine might be your only source of heat – ‘nough said). Fill up your washer fluid. Get the good stuff. And keep some extra around. And since we’re in Rochester, I like to supplement my windshield washer fluid with some concentrate to make sure that the fluid works well at low temperatures.

Unless you know how to properly balance your coolant mixture — and if you’re looking in CT for car tips, I’m guessing you don’t — have this fluid changed by a trained professional. Rust inhibitors in antifreeze break down over time and need to be renewed in order to maintain a well-working cooling system, and having good coolant will protect your engine block.

Walcer is a member of  the class of 2011.

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