With the delightfully snow-free November, motorists may have missed last week's Winter Hazard Awareness Week, which came with a stark reminder that winter could arrive any day and that it's time to get the car ready. Now.
"No one wants to be stranded in the cold by a vehicle breakdown," says John Nielsen, director of Automotive Engineering and Repair for AAA. "Properly preparing your vehicle for winter driving is essential for the safety of all passengers and will greatly decrease the chance of your vehicle letting you down."
Millions of drivers are at risk for a breakdown during cold weather simply because they don't perform basic seasonal maintenance on their vehicles.
In a recent analysis of 29 million roadside assistance calls last year, AAA found that 35 percent of drivers ignored or delayed recommended maintenance or repairs recommended by a mechanic or the vehicle manufacturer.
More than 60 percent of drivers don't check their tire pressure regularly, something that's critical to safety. Two-thirds have not tested their battery, something AAA recommends be done annually once a battery reaches 3 years old. A battery's life span is between 3 and 5 years.
The data showed that 12 million vehicles were towed due to engine trouble, fuel issues or other mechanical mishaps, including brake and transmission failure.
"While today's vehicle technology incorporates maintenance reminders and dashboard alerts designed to prevent roadside trouble, drivers still must take action," said Josh Van Wynsberghe, AAA's automotive technical engineer.
Here is a checklist drivers can use to winterize their vehicles, compiled from AAA and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety:
Battery: Besides checking the juice, be sure connections are tight and free of corrosion.
Tires: Check the air pressure and tread depth. When depth reaches 3/32 of an inch, replace the tires. Don't forget about the spare tire, and keep any lug nut keys in the glove box for easy access.
Belts and hoses: Look for cracks, uneven wear and loose clamps.
Fluids: Be sure oil and brake, antifreeze, power steering and transmission fluids are above the minimum levels stated in the owner's manual.
Wipers: Be sure wipers can clear away water, ice and snow without leaving streaks or missing spots. Be sure windshield washer fluid has an antifreeze component.
Lights: Ensure all brake lights, headlights, taillights and backup lights are working — plus turn signals and emergency flashers.
Drivers should have a survival kit with these basics: jumper cables, shovel, ice scraper, sand or other abrasive material, tow cable or strap, flashlight with extra batteries, fleece blankets or extra clothing such as sweatshirts, snowmobile suit and hats and gloves. A first aid kit, road flares and basic tools also are recommended. It's advisable to have a stash of nonperishable food and drinking water. Store those items in the glove box or inside the vehicle in case the trunk becomes frozen shut or is inaccessible.
Finally, have a cellphone that's charged, or can be. Keep road rescue apps and numbers of family members handy.
For a longer list of tips, go to tinyurl.com/mj88e6d.