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September 26, 2012

Get your car equipped for winter

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

Most of us can’t take a sleigh ride down 1-75 or 1-696, but careful planning and a few precautions can help make driving safer this winter — even if the weather gets frightful.

Although the snow isn’t falling yet, Capt. Mike Johnson of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said slippery conditions will mean that motorists have to be more careful. Many crashes and spinouts are caused by speeding and nearly invisible “black ice.”

“They’re not seeing the ice. … People aren’t really paying attention to that,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to make sure that the other guy is stopping, too, when you’re going through an intersection.”

AAA Michigan spokeswoman Nancy Cain reported that a few common mishaps tend to boost incoming call volumes during the winter months.

“We have more people who lock their keys in their car by mistake,” Cain said. “We also in the winter months get more calls for dead batteries, cars in ditches. You do tend to see more fender-benders.”

Cain encouraged drivers to start early and prepare for the worst by putting together a winter survival kit. She recommended a snowbrush, gloves, hats, boots, and a cellphone for emergency assistance calls.

She said drivers should check their fluids, and gas tanks should be at least half full. Windshield wiper blades should be replaced before winter if they are worn or cracked, she said.

According to a list of advice from Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, cars should carry a small tool kit, emergency food — like granola bars, soup, water or juice — a flashlight, a first-aid kit and a shovel.

Drivers should perform regular maintenance checks of their vehicle’s brakes, lights and oil. And they should pay attention to windows, mirrors and lights, and remove any snow or ice that cakes up on those surfaces.

Joe Podgorski, owner of Madison Heights Tire & Auto, said the most common problem his business treats during the cold winter months is dead car batteries. He explained that the batteries often die because they’re old, and freezing or subzero temperatures tend to tax them and make them unpredictable.

“Batteries are probably only five or six years lifespan, and people are hanging on to their older cars now,” he said. “The thing with a battery is, it could work today, and tomorrow it’s gone. It just happens.”

The best solution, he said, is to get regular maintenance checkups. Podgorski said his business includes battery tests in inspections so that customers can be assured that the batteries are not on their last legs.

Podgorski said tires might need to be switched if they are too old or are only meant for summer driving. Podgorski said snow tires are making a comeback, adding that his business has sold more of them recently than it did a year ago.

“If their tread depth is too low, you’re going to want to definitely get something a little better or newer to help you get that traction through the snow,” he said.

To learn more about AAA Michigan, visit www.aaa.com or call (800) 222-6424. Learn more about Madison Heights Tire & Auto, 580 W. 11 Mile Road in Madison Heights, at www.madtireautorepair.com or (248) 543-4940.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.