Photos: Ten ways to make your car winter-ready -- and avoid killing yourself or someone else

After publishing "Ten things for winter-driving virgins to know before hitting snowy roads," we heard from readers about stuff we left out -- like making sure your car is ready for winter, as opposed to heading to the interstate on tread-free tires and hoping for the best. Fortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has those angles covered, too, with tips that go beyond tires to wipers, antifreeze and batteries -- all key given our current brutally cold temperatures. Count down our photo-illustrated list of the NHTSA's most important info below. Number 10: Check the age of your tires.... ...including your spare tire. Look for the tire identification number on the sidewall of the tire, which begins with the letters "DOT." The last four digits represent the week and year the tire was manufactured.

Check the owner's manual for specific recommendations for when to replace a tire. Some vehicle manufacturers recommend that tires be replaced every six years regardless of use.

Number 9: Check tire pressure.... ... and make sure each tire is filled to the vehicle manufacturer's recommended inflation pressure, which is listed in your owner's manual and on a placard located on the driver's side door frame (called the "B-pillar"). If a vehicle does not have a B-pillar, then the placard is placed on the rear edge of the driver's door. Tire pressure drops as the temperature drops. Properly inflated tires ensure optimum tire performance and load carrying capacity. Continue to keep counting down the ten ways to make your car winter-ready -- and avoid killing yourself or someone else. Number 8: Don't forget to check your spare tire If you need to use your spare tire, you don't want to find out that it is flat. Number 7: Keep a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle at all times.... and check pressure when tires are "cold" -- meaning they haven't been driven on for at least three hours. Continue to keep counting down the ten ways to make your car winter-ready -- and avoid killing yourself or someone else. Number 6: Look closely at your tread.... ...and replace tires that have uneven wear or insufficient tread. Tread should be at least 1/16 of an inch or greater on all tires. Number 5: Check your battery When the temperature drops, so does battery power. For gasoline or diesel engines, be aware that it takes more battery power to start your vehicle in cold weather than in warm weather. For electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, the driving range is reduced and the battery systems work better after they warm up. Make sure your battery is up to the challenges of winter by:

Having your mechanic check your battery for sufficient voltage, amperage and reserve capacity.

Having the charging system and belts inspected.

Replacing the battery or making system repairs, including simple things like tightening the battery cable connections.

Making sure to keep fresh gasoline in a hybrid-electric vehicle, to support the gasoline engine.

Continue to keep counting down the ten ways to make your car winter-ready -- and avoid killing yourself or someone else. Number 4: Verify floor mat installation to prevent pedal interference Incorrect or improperly installed floor mats in your vehicle may interfere with the operation of the accelerator or brake pedal, increasing the risk of a crash. Remember these tips when installing new floor mats to ensure safe operation of your vehicle:

Remove old mats before the installation of new mats.

Never stack mats, as that may increase the potential for pedal interference.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for mat installation and use the available retention clips to secure the mat in the proper position. This will prevent the mat from sliding forward.

Check that the mats are the correct size and fit for the vehicle and do not interfere with the full operation of the foot controls (accelerator, brake and clutch pedals). Whenever the interior of the vehicle is cleaned or the mats have been removed for any reason, verify that the driver's mat has been reinstalled correctly.

Number 3: Check your cooling system When coolant freezes it expands. This expansion can potentially damage your vehicle's engine block. Don't let this happen to your vehicle this winter. You should:

Make sure you have enough coolant in your vehicle and that it's designed to withstand the winter temperatures you might experience in your area.

See your vehicle owner's manual for specific recommendations on coolant. A 50/50 mix of coolant to water is sufficient to avoid freezing in most regions of the country.

Thoroughly check the cooling system for leaks or have your mechanic do it for you.

Check to see if your coolant has been replaced by draining the system and replacing the coolant at the manufacturer's recommended interval. If it hasn't been changed for several years, have it done now. Over time, the rust inhibitors in antifreeze break down and become ineffective.

Coolant also needs to be refreshed periodically to remove dirt and rust particles, which can clog the cooling system and cause it to fail.

Have the coolant tested for proper mix, proper pH (acidity) and strength of the built-in corrosion inhibitors.

Continue to keep counting down the ten ways to make your car winter-ready -- and avoid killing yourself or someone else. Number 2: Fill your window-washer reservoir You can go through a lot of windshield wiper fluid fairly quickly in a single snowstorm, so be prepared for whatever might come your way.

Completely fill your vehicle's reservoir before the first snow hits.

Use high-quality "winter" fluid with de-icer.

Buy extra to keep in your vehicle.

Number 1: Check your windshield wipers and defrosters Safe winter driving depends on achieving and maintaining the best visibility possible.

Make sure your windshield wipers work and replace worn blades.

Consider installing heavy-duty winter wipers if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and ice.

Check to see that your window defrosters (front and rear) work properly.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from The Latest Word archive: "Ten things for winter-driving virgins to know before hitting snowy roads."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts