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Prepping the car for adverse weather

6. Gas tank

In winter, keep your gas tank full. Why? As temperatures change during the day, condensation forms on the inside of the gas tank, drips into your gas, descends to the bottom and finds its way into your fuel line. Because the fuel line is exposed, if enough water accumulates there, it will freeze and you won't be going anywhere soon. Yes, alcohol-based "dry gas" additives such as HEET will help, but don't overuse them or you'll adversely affect the typical 90-10 gas-to-ethanol ratio of your gas, which could be hard on your fuel line.

Bad move: Running on empty. A new fuel pump will cost you $330 + one hour labor = $415; a new fuel filter $40 + one hour labor = $125.

Good move: Running full and keeping the dry gas to a bottle or two per winter. If your car is going to sit out the winter, add a bottle of gas stabilizer (Sta-Bil is one brand) to keep the gas fresh.

7. Wipers

Winter brings out what Paul calls "the U-boat commanders," who drive around peering through a periscope-sized clear spot on their windshields. As dangerous as it is to yourself and others to drive this way, it can also easily cost you a couple hundred bucks. How? If you don't clear the ice and snow from your entire vehicle and you hit the brakes while commanding your U-boat, the snow that remains, especially on the tops of sport utility vehicles, will slide forward onto your windshield, where it will pin your wipers. Unless you shut them off quickly, you'll fry your wiper motor, literally before you can see straight.

Bad move: Commanding a U-boat. A new wiper motor will cost $120 + one hour labor = $205.

Good move: Come on, captain, clearing the decks of ice and snow before shoving off.

8. Heater/defroster

If your U-boat vision is caused from the inside, it's time to check your windows, doors and heater core for leaks. Damp carpet and upholstery mixed with your car's heater system equals steam. If the culprit is your heater itself, you're looking at a fairly costly job, since heater coils are often one of the most difficult systems to access in modern vehicles. Similarly, check your defroster. If it can't generate sufficient heat to melt snow and freezing rain on the exterior of your windshield, it could spell disaster when the weather turns nasty.

Bad move: Cracking the windows and wiping the fog while you drive. Cost of a new heater core: $160 + four hours labor = $500.

Good move: Fixing the leaks, drying the carpets and checking your heater and defroster annually.

9. Winter kit

Perhaps the biggest mistake drivers make is to put off assembling a winter survival kit.

"The guys who die in the far north are usually the locals who basically just head down the road in T-shirts in 34-below for a six-pack and the car quits," says Duchene. "They decide they're going to walk a couple miles and they don't make it."

Don't find yourself in the same predicament. We've assembled a minimal list of winter essentials that should be in your vehicle every time you drive.

Winter kit:
  • Cell phone.
  • Flashlight.
  • Foldable army snow shovel.
  • Jack and inflated spare tire.
  • Gloves.
  • Blanket.
  • Reusable heat packs.
  • Extra winter clothing (scarf, boots, sweater, etc.).
  • Snow brush/scraper.
  • Flares.
  • Reflective triangle.
  • Sand, cat box filler or salt for traction.
  • First aid kit.
  • Jumper cables.
  • Energy bars or granola.
  • Paper towels.
  • Tools.
  • Duct tape.

Bad move: Putting off assembling a winter kit until Mom's birthday two months from now. "I remember the blizzard of '78 and people sat in their cars for three days," says Paul.

Good move: "It's a lot better to plan for the worst than to not be ready for it," he adds.

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