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TheStreet Open House

5 Steps to Winterizing Your Car

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- December is a great time of year to dream of a white Christmas, but odds are you'll end up walking in a winter wonderland if you haven't prepped your car for the cold weather and the vehicle breaks down.

"It's much more pleasant to check out your car when it's inside your garage than when you're stuck on the roadside in a blizzard," AAA auto-repair expert Mike Calkins says.

Fortunately, readying your car for the winter doesn't involve much time or money these days, Calkins says.

Whereas drivers once had to outfit cars with special antifreeze and winter-weight oil, Calkins says today's vehicles need little cold-weather preparation.

"One of the big changes that's occurred with vehicles in the last few years is that if you're doing the recommended maintenance, there's really not a whole lot you need to do to prepare for winter," he says. "You're mostly just doing visual inspections."

Below are some things Calkins recommends all car owners who live in cold climates do now to prepare their vehicles for the coming bad weather:

Inspect the car battery
Dead batteries represent the No. 1 cause of AAA roadside calls during the winter, so Calkins recommends cold-weather drivers check any car batteries that are three years old or more.

Make sure the battery's wiring is on tight, and remove any crusty corrosion that's built up over the device's terminals.

Even better, spring for a mechanic to clean and test the battery professionally (estimated cost: $25 to $50, although some garages and auto-parts stores will do this for free).

Calkins says professionals not only have special equipment to gauge battery strength, but will also hook your car to a temporary power source before disconnecting the battery for cleaning. That eliminates the risk of the vehicle's onboard computers dying (and requiring costly reprogramming) due to a temporary power loss.

Check tire pressure
Getting into a skid is one of winter's biggest driving hazards, so Calkins advises making sure your car's tires have enough air pressure to handle slippery conditions.

You can check your car's tire pressure yourself using a variety of inexpensive gauges available at auto-parts stores.

Just remember to always test "cold" tire pressure  how much air the tires contain before you've started driving for the day.

Also consult your owner's manual or a placard you'll typically find inside the driver's door frame to determine your car's correct tire pressure. Don't use the number written on the tire's sidewall, as that refers to the maximum safe pressure.

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