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Winter car care tips

A few simple steps to ensure safety and performance in the cold months.

Winter temperatures can be tough on cars. Here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your car performs its best in the cold:

Keep battery backup. It takes more electrical power to start a car in cold weather, yet those chilly temperatures also drastically reduce the battery's cranking power. To compensate for the increased need and reduced output, keep a good set of jumper cables or a portable power pack in the trunk.

Check climate controls. Make sure the heater and front and rear defrosters are working properly. If it takes more than a few minutes to feel or see a change, take the car in for service. In addition, take the extra time in the mornings to wait for the windows to defrost completely.

Replace wiper blades. Windshield wiper blades should be replaced every six months to a year, depending on the climate (although most drivers only replace them once every few years). Well-made, effective blades are essential for maximum visibility in bad weather.

Change the oil. Consider switching to a different grade of oil to help protect your engine in the cold. Base your decision on the lowest temperature you expect to encounter; for example, use 0W-30 in climates where the temperature drops below zero. While there are many differing opinions about which grades of oil to use, a good rule of thumb is to choose a multi-grade with the narrowest range of viscosity possible (meaning, the smallest difference between the low number and the high number on the label). Make sure to check the owner's manual for specific guidelines for your car.

Check filters, hoses, fluids. Inspect hoses to make sure they're properly connected and free of damage or leaks. Also check the oil, gas, and air filters. Coolant should be changed every two years (five years for extended-life coolant). Also check the radiator or coolant tank pressure cap.

Keep a full tank. A sudden storm or unexpected car problem could leave a driver stranded for hours. Get in the habit of filling the tank when it reaches the half-full mark to ensure there will be enough fuel to run the heater for a long period of time in case of emergency.