It's officially "the most wonderful time of the year," which, for many, cues the long-awaited nostalgia that accompanies pulling dusty boxes of seasonal decor from storage, decking the halls and participating in beloved holiday traditions.

This winter, all of us at® encourage you to start a new tradition – one that can help keep your family safe on the road. Before the mercury drops to near-freezing temperatures, make sure your car is ready for winter by following these tried-and-true auto maintenance tips.

Banish battery breakdown

The last thing you'd want is for your car battery to die during a snowstorm or while you're on the way to grandma's house, leaving you at the mercy of a kind-hearted stranger to help get you back on the road.

To make sure your car battery is ready for winter, have an auto mechanic test its ability to hold a charge – especially if it's more than three years old. Next, check that all posts and connections are free of corrosion, which is a common result of summer heat. If your battery doesn't pass either of these tests, it's time to get a new one.

Check the winter-readiness of your tires

If you live in a hilly or mountainous area prone to heavy snowfall, regular tires likely won't do the trick. Ask your mechanic if you should switch to snow tires or if adding chains to your existing tires is a comparable alternative.

Also, cold weather can cause a decrease in tire pressure, which reduces traction on snowy or icy roads. To offset any mishaps, check your tire pressure often to make sure they're filled with an adequate amount of air. Proper pressure levels can vary based on car and tire type, so check the owner's manual for your vehicle to find out what you should aim for.

Install season-appropriate windshield wipers

Windshield wipers are essential to helping you see through your windshield – a crucial part of safe driving – but not all wipers are created equal. Swap your current set for their winter-specific counterparts, which are heavier and equipped with extra rubber for knocking away snow.

While you're at it, make sure your washer fluid tank is full – essential for clearing your windshield and melting ice – and put an extra bottle of the liquid in your trunk, just in case. Finally, double-check that your front and rear defrosters are functioning properly so you can maintain visibility.

Inspect the condition of belts and hoses

Cold weather can wreak havoc on rubber belts and hoses – key components of your engine and your car's steering mechanism – so it's important that they're in good shape before winter begins.

If certain belts or hoses show signs of deterioration, take a trip to your mechanic and have them replaced before it's too late.

Keep a roadside emergency kit in your car

While it's a good idea to keep a roadside emergency kit in your trunk at all times, it's crucial during winter months, when subzero temperatures can make being stranded life-threatening.

In the event that engine failure or a dead battery forces you to wait it out in the cold until help arrives, keep the following essentials in your kit:

  • A flashlight and extra batteries
  • An extra coat, pair of gloves and blanket
  • Sealed, leak-proof containers of antifreeze and coolant
  • A small shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares
  • A portable, battery-operated cell phone charger
  • An ice scraper

Have your vehicle regularly serviced

Proper vehicle maintenance isn't just a seasonal occurrence. To keep minor maintenance issues from becoming major problems, have your car serviced by a professional periodically – and especially just before winter is in full swing.

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