Prepare your vehicles for winter

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— When snow and ice blanket Colorado roads, will your car handle as reliably and safely as it should?

During AAA's designated October Car Care Month, you can get a leg up on your vehicle maintenance for better road handling.

Tires, alignment and proper maintenance for all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles are key to the best road-handling. Much as the battery is a car's heart, the tires, suspension and alignment are the "legs" that keep a vehicle on the road and performing safely. AAA provides the following maintenance tips to improve safe handling:

Check the tires

Tires should always be inflated to the factory-specified air pressure and have enough tread to handle all road conditions. To check the tire tread, look for "wear bars" that periodically run across the hollow of each tread. If the tread has been worn down to the same height as the wear bar, it's time for new tires. Driving in snow calls for all-season or snow tires. Tires also should be balanced on a regular basis.

Check suspension

The suspension system is a series of levers, pivots and cushions that connect the vehicle's wheels to the car's frame. The suspension, in conjunction with the steering system, enable a driver to steer.

Any unusual wear in shocks, struts, bushes, wheel bearings, ball-joints or steering components can contribute to unsafe handling, especially on snow or ice.

Check the alignment

An alignment means aligning the rear wheels with the centerline of the car, then aligning the front wheels to the rear wheels.

Last year's unprecedented snowfalls and subsequent perma-frosted roads and potholes have thrown many vehicles out of alignment. If, when on a straight and level road, your car "pulls" to one side or the other, there may be alignment problems. A car that's out of alignment handles poorly on ice and snow. In dry conditions, bad alignment contributes to accelerated tire wear. If the car's alignment hasn't been checked since last winter, you may want check it now.

Engage the 4WD

Vehicles with four-wheel drive should have it engaged before the snows to ensure it doesn't require servicing. When testing 4WD, do so on a dirt or gravel road.

AWD maintenance

This is similar to 4WD systems, with one big exception: All-wheel-drive vehicles can be operated on all road surfaces, not just on gravel, dirt or snow. The added complexity of the components that allow this style of driving also require regular service, particularly in checking the fluid levels of the various differentials associated with this style of drive-train.

For more information on automotive issues and to find a AAA-approved auto repair facility in your area, go to www.aaa.com/carmaintenance.

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