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The keys to car care

The holidays often mean travel, for family get-togethers and to spend time with faraway friends. More than 37 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, according to AAA, and 83 percent of these travelers will go ...

The holidays often mean travel, for family get-togethers and to spend time with faraway friends.

More than 37 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, according to AAA, and 83 percent of these travelers will go by motor vehicle.

But before hitting the road, motorists should make sure their wheels are roadworthy.

Now is also the time for some winter maintenance, and to make sure a fully-stocked winter survival kit is in the trunk.

Owners of auto service centers recommend bringing vehicles in for a once-over before a long road trip. They'll check the important components of the car, such as the alternator, battery and starter, as well as shocks, struts, brakes and the exhaust system.

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Even owners without mechanical inclinations can take steps to keep their vehicles running well and gas bills lower.

Wheels go round

Henry Holtgard, owner of Meineke Car Care Center in Fargo, recommends checking air pressure in the tires. Keeping them at the proper pressure greatly improves gas mileage, he says.

"If your tire is over- or underinflated, it's more drag," Holtgard says.

With the cold weather, tires sometimes won't seal well on their rims, says Jack Christianson, owner of JC's Auto Service in Moorhead.

"If your tires are losing air, it's best to get them fixed now, because in the winter it will get worse," Christianson says.

Keep it clean

Replacing a dirty air filter is also an easy fix for increasing gas mileage, Holtgard says.

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Another idea is cleaning the fuel system. Motorists can use a fuel additive to do this, Christianson says.

Tom Draeger, store manager of Advanced Auto Parts in West Fargo, suggests adding the cleaner every third or fourth tankful.

He also recommends switching to a synthetic oil or synthetic blend, such as 5W-30, which flow better in below-zero temperatures.

"It can take the extreme cold, it can take the extreme heat," Draeger says.

Motorists should also switch to a better quality washer fluid, he says.

"Most standard washer fluid is only good to 10 to 15 below," he says. "You might want to get something to 25 to 30 below."

Fight the freeze

Another fluid that needs to handle extreme temperatures is antifreeze.

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It's important to check not only the level of the antifreeze in your radiator, but its effectiveness - in other words, how low it can go.

"A lot of people don't realize that antifreeze does deteriorate over time," Draeger says.

An antifreeze tester costs $2 to $7, he says.

The solution should be good to 40 degrees below zero, Christianson said.

Using a higher octane gas will also provide better performance, Christianson says.

Also, gas tanks should be kept as full as possible, Holtgard says. This cuts down on condensation in the tank.

Final checks

Several other items on your car should also be checked.

- Belts - Look for cracking.

- Hoses - If they feel soft, it's a good indication they may be breaking down and could leak.

- Wiper blades - Check that they're in good condition. Consider replacing them with blades designed for winter.

- Tire tread - Make sure tires have all-season tread and are in good condition.

- Exterior lights - Check that they all work, including headlights, blinkers and hazard lights.

"Perchance if anything were to happen out there on the road, you want people to be able to see you," Draeger says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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