In most years, October in Minnesota is filled with football, falling leaves and the inescapable fact that winter is not far behind. That transition period gives motorists an ideal opportunity to check over their vehicles before the first bone-chilling cold snap.

While not everyone has the tools or talent to fix major mechanical issues, all motorists can find time to improve their vehicles and record-keeping inspection skills. That single step - combined with the addition of some low-cost comfort items - can make winter driving much more pleasant. Here are some quick tips to get started.

Exterior inspection

Look for rock chips, dents or other nicks where paint has been compromised. Left unchecked, those little intrusions can open the door to rust - perhaps the single biggest enemy of a vehicle's surface integrity. While most small paint dings can usually be handled with some fine-grade sandpaper and touch-up paint, bigger rust spots or holes often mean a trip to the body shop.

Tire inspection

In winter driving, good tires make a big difference. If the vehicle has "all-season" tires that have performed well in the past, do a quick check for proper inflation, wear and tread depth. In snowy conditions, many experts recommend that tires have at least 6/32" tread remaining for safe driving. To test the depth, insert a penny into several tread areas. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered, the tread depth is still acceptable.

Engine inspection

Pop the hood and look over the hoses and belts. For hoses, look for any loose fittings or signs of leakage. For belts, inspect for cracking or glazing on the surfaces. If any of those elements are visible, bring the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a closer look. If the engine is cool, pull the crankcase dipstick and check the oil, topping it off with the recommended grade if it is low. If the car is frequently parked outside, consider installing a block heater, which keeps engine oil and coolant warm on frigid winter nights.

Safety gear inspection

The Canada Safety Council recommends that drivers carry winter emergency supplies, including a small shovel, bag of sand, flashlight, first aid kit, flares and battery jumper cables. For extra protection, motorists may also wish to add blankets, candles, waterproof matches, flares and emergency food rations. In addition to these items, drivers should double-check that the vehicle's spare tire and jack are in good working condition.

Record-keeping inspection

Regular maintenance is one of the best ways to keep vehicles running strong under all conditions. For oil changes, every three months or 3,000 miles is a good rule of thumb - though owner's manuals for various makes and models may recommend different intervals. For batteries, check the installation date stamped out on the top or side. If the battery has been in the vehicle longer than its stated lifespan, consider replacing it before winter arrives. At the same time, determine when the vehicle's coolant system was last serviced. If it has been more than two years, the coolant may need to be flushed and refilled with fresh anti-freeze.

Comfort items

Motorists can select from a wide array of accessories that make winter driving far more bearable. For example, sheepskin or heated seat covers can be a big mood-lifter on a below-zero morning. For those who want to warm up the car without heading outside to do it, a remote starter is a great option. A second choice - the electric auxiliary heater - allows drivers to heat up the vehicle cabin without having to start the engine.