Safety specialist Robert Sinclair of AAA New York provides his must-do checklist for car owners.

1. Check the Tire Pressure

Check the air pressure in your car's tires once a month at minimum, but ideally once a week. Underinflated tires can build up heat, which can lead to bursting accompanied by a rapid loss of air pressure. A tire "blowout" is one of the most dangerous driving situations. Also, underinflated tires create handling problems and cause increased rolling resistance, which destroys fuel economy.

2. Check Your Battery

Many cars have lights that shut off automatically, but for those that don't, always remember to turn them off. Every time you let your battery go dead, it loses power. A battery generally needs to be replaced every four years. But if you've had several instances of a dead battery, it will be weaker, and will need to be replaced sooner. Ask an auto technician with a load meter to check the power. Also, look for a white, powdery residue on the battery, which can build up over time and impede the flow of electricity, preventing the car from starting. Clean off the battery terminals if residue is present.

3. Replace Your Windshield Wipers Every Six Months

Replacing your windshield wipers is especially critical before the winter and spring because of the weather conditions. Your windshield wipers are exposed to the elements 24 hours a day (a little less if you have a garage). This constant exposure to rain, snow, and sun wears down your wipers, which can lead to streaking and obscured vision.

4. Invest in a Spare Key

A lock-out can be an extremely dangerous situation, particularly in the winter months. Of AAA's calls, 18 to 19 percent are from folks who are locked out of their vehicles. These types of calls have increased because many people now have high-tech keys, which can cost between $200 to $300, but they are worth the investment.

5. Keep an Emergency Kit in Your Car

Items that are essential in an emergency kit: a tire pressure gauge, flashlight, jumper cable, gloves, antifreeze, oil, first-aid kit, warning triangle, reflective vest, basic tools, fire extinguisher, and life hammer. For winter, add in: an ice scraper, blanket, bag of abrasive material (such as non-clumping kitty litter), and a small shovel.


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