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Driving in snowIt’s often said that Midwesterners are a pretty strong breed, in part because the harsh winters have toughened us up. We’re also practical, and know that understanding winter hazards is the best way to get through the season safe and sound.

Tips for avoiding costly weather-related repairs

When it comes to the prospect of months of snow, sleet and freezing temperatures, it’s important that your home and vehicles stay in tip-top shape and able to take on some extreme conditions. Here are some basics to help you do both:

Make Your Car Roadworthy

Even if the snow is flying, it’s not too late to get your car into an auto mechanic for a top-to-bottom checkup. Winter requires a lot of your vehicle, and this type of maintenance is your assurance that all critical systems are operating at peak performance.


  • Brakes. You’re relying heavily on your brakes, especially when roads are slippery or full of snow. Brake pads and rotors should be checked for warping, cracking or excessive wear.
  • Coolant system. Extreme temperatures and harsh conditions can diminish the effectiveness of your cooling system. Have your radiator pressure tested and hoses checked for cracks or bulges that could cause the system to fail.
  • Tires. There’s a lot riding on your tires – no pun intended. Balding tires don’t have enough tread to properly grip the road, especially in slippery conditions. Ask your local tire retailer to assess your tires’ integrity and replace in time for nasty weather if needed. At the very least, you should have your tires rotated to help them wear evenly. 

    If you’re able to afford special winter tires, make the investment. Winter tires are made with low temperature-resilient rubber and have deeper treads that do a better job of gripping snow and ice. It’s also important to keep your air pressure at the right level, including your spare. In addition to ensuring your tires’ optimum performance, the right air pressure helps improve gas mileage.
There are also maintenance steps you can do yourself, without the help of a mechanic:
  • Lights. There’s no telling when a bulb will fail, so it’s smart to keep a spare set of bulbs handy, ready to swap for one that’s burned out
  • Windshield wipers. If your blades are more than a year old, they’re probably leaving a pattern of wear on your windshield and should be replaced. While you’re doing the wipers, make sure your wiper fluid (freeze-resistant) is always at least half full

What To Do In An Emergency

Anyone who’s lived in a winter climate has seen a car stranded on the side of the road – a dangerous and often frightening situation to be in. If this should happen to you, the first thing to do is to call 911 to alert police of your location and let them know you need help. Your goal when stranded is to be very visible (so cars passing by know to keep clear of your car and avoid a collision) and to protect yourself from the elements.

Carry these items in an easy-to-reach tote in your back seat or trunk throughout the winter months:
  • a heavy blanket to keep you warm in case of engine failure
  • jumper cables to restart a dead battery
  • a flashlight and spare batteries
  • items to help you get “unstuck” from a snow bank: tire chains and/or sand (or cat litter), a small shovel, and a bag of salt to help melt snow and ice
  • a first-aid kit
  • lightsticks or reflective triangles to make your car obvious to passersby
  • protein-rich snacks like energy bars
  • an extra hat, coat, boots and gloves
  • an ice scraper to keep windows clear and the car more obvious

A little effort to get your car in tip-top shape will give you peace of mind as you set out on wintery roads, and help eliminate the risk of a costly repair. More importantly, planning ahead can help you stay safe!

Preparing Your Home

Winter is tough on homes, too. With snow and sleet come the risks of slips on the ice that can result in serious injuries, ice dams caused by excess snow on roofs, and frozen pipes that could burst. Here are some smart steps to minimize these and other risks associated with harsh weather.

Have your chimney inspected.Over time, burning wood in a fireplace causes creosote buildup – a sticky substance that can catch on fire in the chimney. A professional inspection and cleaning to remove this creosote should be done yearly. An inspection includes checking the damper to make sure it’s functioning properly, and a close look at your chimney cap to make sure animals can’t use it to access your home.

Keep eaves clear of snow and ice. After each snowfall, use a push broom to pull off the snow closest to the gutters to help eliminate ice buildup.

Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.We all know that daylight savings time is the time to replace the batteries for these devices. Because winter brings with it warm fires and strings of holiday lights and candles burning around the house, winter is a good time to check the age of your detectors. If yours are more than 5 years old, consider replacing new ones to ensure optimum performance. If yours are operated only by battery power, think about switching to hard-wired units with battery backups. This way, even if your power goes out, the detectors will work, assuming your batteries are in working order.

Have your furnace inspected.Ask your favorite HVAC professional to do a pre-winter check of all the system elements to make sure they’re in good working order. Not only will this help prevent costly repairs, but proper performance can help you save on heating costs, too.

Turn off water to exterior faucets. If you don’t have frost-proof faucets (homes more than 10 years old typically don’t), make sure the water supply to those faucets is turned off using the shut-off valve inside your home. Water left in pipes leading to the outside can freeze, causing pipes to burst. The damage a burst pipe causes can be significant!

Stay on top of snow and ice.Snow and ice are two of the most common causes of serious slip and fall accidents and the injuries that result. Keep your sidewalk, walkway, steps and porch completely clear by shoveling often and always following up with a generous dusting of salt. Keep an eye on water collecting from downspouts, as this could turn into a very dangerous spot should temperatures drop. Look, too, for icicles hanging from your roof or eaves and place orange cones (available at home improvement stores) beneath them to alert others to the danger.
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