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Make sure pressure monitoring works with snow tires

Dear Car Fix: We purchased a 2011 Ford Focus equipped with tire-pressure monitoring equipment. I find purchasing wheels and snow tires eventually pays for itself in mounting/dismounting fees, not to mention convenience. I understand buying steel wheels without the tire-pressure monitoring equipment will leave me with a constantly flashing panel light, which would be irritating. Would buying comparable wheels from a junkyard have the pressure monitors in them? Would they work? Where is the pressure monitoring equipment located, and what is it? Can it be installed separately?

W.T., Cowlesville

Dear W.T.: Tire-pressure monitoring systems are very common. It's an indirect system that uses the vehicle's anti-lock braking system's wheel-speed sensors to compare the rotational speed of the tires. If a tire is low on pressure, it will roll at a different number of revolutions per mile than the other three and alert the vehicle's onboard computer. Indirect systems are unable to generate accurate readings in cases where all four tires are losing pressure at the same rate, such as the effects of time and temperature.

For every 10 degrees of outside temperature change, you can lose one to two pounds of pressure. For safety reasons and your personal sanity of not seeing the flashing TMPS light on your dash constantly, I suggest getting the sensors where you have your snow tires mounted on the rims. If you purchase a set of rims from a newer car from a salvage yard, the sensors will be in the wheels.

To make sure the sensors work with your snow tires, ask a tire technician to check before mounting the tires. If you don't have TMPS sensors on your car, you can purchase a separate system that offers sensors and a digital gauge for your dash.

The bottom line is that purchasing snow tires makes the most sense in snowy areas like Buffalo. Snow tires offer traction, handling and braking in snow.

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Dear Car Fix: With winter driving, I get a little concerned with all the plows and big trucks. Any advice on how to be safer on the road? I drive a small car and I'm afraid of getting run off the road.

-- E.M., Orchard Park

Dear E.M.: No matter where you travel, big trucks can leave you wary. Remember that truck drivers must have extra training and drug testing in order to earn their commercial driver's licenses. Here are a few tips to keep you safer on the roads:

*Stopping distances: Don't shift lanes to jump ahead of a truck on approaching a stoplight, or suddenly change lanes on the highway to get in front of them. Think about the tremendous mass of commercial trucks. Stopping them can be like stopping a charging elephant. You're putting the trucker's safety at peril and inviting disaster for yourself.

*Passing: When overtaking a truck, first ensure that you have room to make the pass. When you complete the pass, make sure you are well ahead of the truck before moving back to the lane of travel. Trucks may flash their headlights to tell you that you are clear and have room to pull in front of them. This is one way that truckers communicate among themselves. Remember, this is a courtesy to you.

*Trucks need a lot of space to make turns: With Alaska-sized blind spots and the awkward geometry of some trucks, they may require far more space to turn than a car. Don't get caught in a trucker's blind spot, especially at the rig's right rear. If you don't give a trucker room, the trailer may take a piece of your vehicle with it.

8Space at intersections: I always give truckers more space at intersections when they are turning in front of me. They need the room and appreciate your being aware of them, too.

* Look for a truck's side mirrors: If you can't see the side mirrors, you're following too closely and the trucker has no clue that you're there. Plus, you're reducing your safety options because you can't see around the truck. If the rig has to make a quick stop, you could end up under the trailer. Back off until you see those side mirrors. You'll know the trucker can see you, and you can see ahead.

*Snow Plows: Give them room to do their jobs. Following too close can be dangerous, plus your vehicle will get coated in road salt. If you do pass a plow, you are most likely driving on unplowed, unsalted roads. Your best bet is to be patient and let them do their jobs to clear the roadways.

Remember: Truck drivers are pros. Truckers must earn a commercial driver's license. CDLs require hours of classroom and driving experience, plus every driver must submit annual updated medical records to the federal agency that controls these licenses. A trucker can lose that commercial license more easily than other drivers for moving violations.

e-mail: contact@laurenfix.com

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