We’ve all woken up to that silvery light illuminating the edges around our window. After pulling up the shades our eyes are met with a scene of white splendor from snow that draped itself over everything while we slept. At first we marvel at the beauty. But then our heart sinks as we contemplate the drive into town for work.

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet but parts of Montana have already received significant snow flurries, and more is undoubtedly on its way. Winter in Montana is a time for filling the back seat of your car with cookie-filled tins and colorful packages and heading to see relatives for the holidays. It’s about loading up ski racks and heading to the mountain for bluebird and powder-filled days. But before any of that, ensuring your vehicle is prepped for winter driving conditions is a must.

According to Brian Dugan, service consultant at DJ’s Automotive in Helena, the best time to begin preparing vehicles for cold weather is around Oct. 1 or in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. There are several things you can do right now to ensure your vehicle operates successfully throughout the winter months. Below are six strategies to follow.

Put a “winter supply” box in your vehicle

Even when all of the necessary precautions are taken, problems can still arise while traveling on unpredictable winter roads. Having a box/tub full of winter supplies in your trunk or the back of your vehicle can make all the difference if/when something goes wrong while traveling on a cold day.

 Below is a list of items you should include in your box:

• Road flares

• Jumper cables

• Small shovel

• First aid kit

• Flashlight

• Extra batteries

• Blankets

• Winter boots

• Extra gloves

• Change of warm clothes

• Radio

• Bag of sand or kitty litter

• Brush and ice scraper

• Non-perishable, high energy snacks like jerky, nuts, or protein bars

Make sure wiper blades are winter ready

Windshield wipers are your saviors during heavy snow and sleet storms, so make sure they’re in tip-top shape. Consider purchasing rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice buildup.

“If your wipers are streaking, it’s time to get new ones,” said Dugan.

Also, stock up on windshield washer fluid and don’t leave town without first checking washer fluid levels. Because not all wiper fluids are the same, consider switching out your normal fluid fora “winter” specific one. These fluids are designed for the rigors of winter weather and won’t freeze on your windshield leaving you with an icy mess.

Check your fluids

In the winter, antifreeze keeps your radiator and engine from freezing, so making sure you have enough antifreeze when the temperatures drop is critical. According to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), aim for having a 50-50 mix of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your radiator. This will prevent the mixture from freezing, even at extremely cold temperatures. Check the status of the mixture by purchasing an inexpensive antifreeze tester from your local auto parts store or take your vehicle in for a winter maintenance check.

Check tire pressure, tread depth

Good tires are the key to staying on the road and keeping safe when facing icy roads. The air pressure in your tires has likely dropped along with the temperatures so it’s a good idea to see where things stand now. Check tire pressure once a month or at least before hitting the highway to ensure they are at the manufacturer’s specified PSI.

Examine tires for remaining tread life using the “penny test”. Place a penny between the tread ribs on your tire. Turn the penny so that Lincoln’s head points down into the tread. If the top of his head disappears between the ribs, your tread is still above the minimum tread depth recommended. According to Dugan, tread depth should be about 12-14/32nds of an inch on cars and 14-16/32nds of an inch on trucks.

Consider switching to snow tires

Do you live in a hilly place that gets its fair share of snow? Do you plan on doing a lot of highway travel this winter? If so, you might want to improve your traction by investing in winter tires to use over the next few months instead of your usual all-season tires.

Dugan explained that owners can choose between studded and studless tires. Studded snow tires literally have metal studs embedded within the tread. These small, strong pieces of metal are designed to dig into ice, which provides added traction. Studless tires generally have deeper tread depths than summer or all season tires. Deep tread depths allow the tire to manage snow and slush dispersion from under the tire. It also allows the tire to provide better or snow-on-snow traction by packing it within the tread blocks.

The choice between studded versus studless snow tires orpurchasing winter tires at all ultimately depends on your preference. Dugan did stress, however, that while winter tires are an investment in safety, it’s a “financial commitment” to purchase two sets of tires.

Have your battery tested

Cold weather is hard on batteries so now is an ideal time to make sure your battery’s posts and connections are corrosion free and that the battery and charging system is operating correctly. While ASE stresses that the only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment, most motorist can perform routine care on their own. Be sure to wear eye protection and protective rubber gloves. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections, clean all surfaces, and retighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly.

Winter is a beautiful and busy season in the state of Montana. Don’t let the snow slow you down. Get your car geared up now for winter driving conditions.

“Getting your vehicle into your local shop and having all of these things looked at is recommended,” said Dugan. “Get it done before the snow flies,”

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