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Prepare your car for summer

My grandpa always said, if you rode a horse to work every day, you wouldn't forget to feed it. Taking care of your car, he warned, should be no different.

AAA estimates it will rescue nearly 47,000 stranded motorists in Western and Central New York this summer, many because they failed to properly maintain their vehicles.

Between the summer heat and the tendency to do more driving, neglected cars are at risk. So, rather than having to pay for a bigger repair down the line, this is your MoneySmart reminder to get ahead of the curve.

Here are some tips from AAA, TireRack.com and CarCare.org:

*Even if your brakes don't show any signs of a problem, have them checked. They may be the single most important safety feature on your car.

*Having your car's cooling system checked is money well spent. Also be sure to have proper coolant levels. Things can literally start melting under your hood in the blazing summer sun if your cooling system goes awry.

*Replace worn out winter wiper blades with fresh ones that will keep the road visible during a summer rainstorm.

*Keep an eye on your battery, and wipe its terminals clean every so often. Battery fluid can evaporate in the heat. Heat can also cause the battery to "overcharge," which will shorten its life drastically.

*Check hoses and belts for cracks, leaks and other damage. You may be able to see some damage just by looking. Otherwise, squeeze your hoses to make sure they're neither too hard nor too soft and squishy. Anything other than a firm hose could mean deterioration. Check all of your car's fluid levels -- if they're low, you could have leaks.

*Stay on top of your oil changes. You're probably going to drive more, which means you're going to need an oil change sooner than you might think. Keep an eye on the air filter, too.

*Check your tire pressure often. Tires that aren't inflated properly give you less traction, wear out faster, damage more easily and make for bad fuel mileage.

Check the tread, too. You've probably heard of the penny test, where you put an upside-down penny inside your tire tread, replacing your tires once Lincoln's head becomes visible. Instead, TireRack.com suggests you use a quarter. If you can't see George Washington's head, it means that your treads are at least one-eighth of an inch deep and therefore, safe.

*Summer road conditions can wreak havoc on your car. Driving through a single pothole can weaken your tire, bend your wheel, or knock your car out of alignment. Avoid potholes or slow down as much as possible if you're forced to drive through them. Avoid puddles, too, which can conceal deep potholes.

You'll also want to slow down in construction zones, most importantly for safety, but also for your car. Where the road has been ground away for resurfacing there can be sharp edges with up to a 2-inch difference in height between the lanes.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

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