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4 tips to avoid costly winter car repairs

Tara Baukus MelloWith cold temperatures as well as snow and icy conditions blanketing much of the country, many drivers who are not familiar with winter car maintenance can find themselves with some costly repairs. Here are four items to keep in mind as you brace for the next winter storm.

Fill up your fluids properly. Not maintaining your fluid levels or doing so with the incorrect mixture can lead to numerous expensive repairs. Keep your windshield-washer fluid reservoir full using an antifreeze version in the winter to ensure your reservoir doesn't freeze and crack and your washer pump continues to operate properly. Monitor engine coolant to ensure it's the right strength and in good condition. Coolant needs to contain the proper amount of antifreeze to ensure it doesn't freeze and cause cracks, but too much antifreeze in the coolant can prevent proper circulation and cause heating problems. If temperatures are very cold, keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent the fuel lines from freezing, and fill up if you are going to be leaving the car parked for a long period. Consider using a lighter-weight or synthetic engine oil and transmission fluid to reduce wear on these components during extreme temperatures.

Watch the road. There are all sorts of hazards in winter that are rarely problems at other times of the year. Watch the road for potholes and be prepared to avoid them whenever possible. The deep ruts can result in unbalanced tires, bent rims and axles, and broken springs as well as out-of-alignment cars. Keep your eyes open for snow and ice sliding off other cars as they drive down the road. Both can cause serious damage if they hit your car as well as an accident if you swerve to avoid the debris. Remember, too, that bridges and overpasses freeze before pavement, so use caution driving over them.

If you are stuck, be prepared to dig out. Whether you slide off the road and into a snow bank or are just stuck in your parking spot due to snowfall overnight, be prepared to dig out instead of rocking the car in forward and reverse to get unstuck. Transmissions can be irreparably harmed when wheels spin at high speeds and the car doesn't go anywhere. The result can be a transmission repair that costs thousands of dollars. Instead, have a snow shovel ready in the car and some sand or other material you can spread around your tires to give you traction.

Check your tires. For every 10 degrees the temperature drops, tire pressure decreases by about 1 pound. If you haven't checked your tire pressure lately, it's probably low. Maintaining proper tire pressure will improve your fuel economy as well as give you better traction on slippery roads. The correct PSI, or pounds per square inch, is listed on the driver's side doorjamb or in your owner's manual. Also, be aware that summer and all-season tires have reduced performance at cold temperatures, even when the roads are dry. As a result, you'll need to drive accordingly to compensate or consider purchasing winter tires if you live where the temperature is regularly below 45 degrees.

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If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
 

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