Preparedness checklist for your vehicle


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Happy Thanksgiving. How’s your washer fluid?

Whether you live in an area where cold temperatures, snow and ice are routine or occasional, the beginning of the holiday driving season is a good time to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for winter. Climate change has made regions well beyond the traditional frost belt susceptible to tricky, even dangerous, conditions.

In fact, cities that didn’t traditionally get freezing rain or snow can be more susceptible to dangerous conditions. Accumulations that would barely inconvenience drivers in Detroit, Chicago or Boise can bring travel to a screeching halt in cites from Atlanta to El Paso.

With winter coming, experts say you should consider these things when preparing for driving:

Winter tires really do make you safer

Formerly called snow tires, winter tires are perhaps the most significant thing you can do for greater winter safety and mobility, but correspondingly the most expensive.

The thinnest layer of ice or snow can impair your ability to drive and perhaps most important, steer. Winter tires give you more control.

If you live somewhere the temperature is regularly below 40 degrees F, you’re a candidate.

Winter tires have tread patterns that help on ice and snow, but the more important difference is in materials that maintain grip in cold temperatures.

“Winter tires help keep you safe by providing better control for emergency maneuvers or even day-to-day incidents, shorter stopping distances,” said T.J. Campbell, tire information manager at online retailer Tire Rack. “More traction to get up an icy incline or power through snow and slush, and even additional grip on cold, wet roads. All your vehicle’s safety systems — all-wheel drive, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, lane departure and braking assist — they all work better when the tires have improved traction.”

Most new vehicles come with tires labelled “all-season.” That’s optimistic. You can use them year-round, but their chemistry means they get stiffer and offer less grip below 40F, when you’re also most likely to encounter snow and ice.

Winter tires do the opposite. They wear out faster at temperatures above 40F, though. That means drivers in much of the country can plan on using them from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day or April Fool’s Day. Plan according to your local climate.

An extra set of winter tires — and cheap steel wheels that’ll endure dings and road salt — cost money, as does having them mounted and removed when the seasons change.

However, using winter tires three to four months a year extends the life of your other tires.

“During a typical vehicle ownership cycle, the driver will purchase at least one set of replacement tires. That could mean a set of all-season tires used year-round and then a replacement set of all-season tires run year-round, or it could mean a set of all-season tires used for seven-eight months out of the year and a set of winter tires used for four-five months out of the year,” Campbell said.

That offsets the tires’ cost, not to mention saving repair money by preventing dings and accidents.

Regardless of which tires you use, check their tread before winter sets in. You can check tire tread easily with a coin, and many tires have a built-in tread indicator.

Vehicle prep

Here are some things to have taken care of before the weather gets bad.

Ice scraper: If you don’t know where yours is,  buy one today. A sturdy one that won’t shatter on a cold day, long enough to reach at least halfway across your windshield. You may use this dozens of times in a season. It’s not a place to scrimp.

Washer fluid: Keep yours full. You go through it faster dealing with ice, snow and slush, and your wipers struggle to clear them.

Wipers: Get new ones regularly. Consumer Reports says even the best become noticeably less effective in as little as six months. And protect your wipers. Tip them up off the windshield when parked and you expect precipitation, and never use them to remove accumulated ice or snow. That’s why you got that good scraper.

Tire pressure: Check it. Cold temperatures reduce air pressure as much as 1 psi for every 10 degrees F, and it’s easy to forget to check on cold, slushy days. Choose one or two dates each month to you check the pressure in all four tires.

Removing  snow and ice: Clean ALL snow and ice off your vehicle, driver-ed prep Zutobi reminds us, not just the windows, but the roof, trunk, bumpers and especially lights. This improves your view of the road, makes it easier for other drivers to spot you, and helps avoid being the schmuck whose car erupts in snow, covering the windshield of the vehicle behind you.

Winter to-go bag: Keep one on board. At a minimum, jumper cables, flashlight, gloves, a hat and warm clothes. You only have to be stranded without them once to regret not preparing.

Lights: Check them. It gets dark earlier in winter, and winter weather conditions reduce visibility. Are all the bulbs working? Headlight lenses can get foggy over time, reducing what you can see and making it harder for other drivers to see you. Autotrader recommends replacement, but says restoration kits also work well. If you don’t have daytime running lights, consider keeping your low beams on all the time.

Winter driving strategies

It’s not just bridges and overpasses that get slippery in winter. The heat of tires can melt snow and ice on them, leaving it to drip onto the apparently clear surface of the road beneath the underpass. Watch for reflections that warn of black ice that can lurk on highways and road that run below overpasses.

Four-wheel drive may help you get started and pull you through mounds of snow, but it won’t help you slow down. That 4×4 SUV rocketing past you on a slippery surface is a good candidate to be in the ditch around the next curve.

If you lose traction, keep your eyes and the steering wheel pointed in the direction you want to go, AAA recommends. If the drive wheels start to spin or slide going up a hill, ease off on the accelerator and gently resume speed.

Even if you and your vehicle are perfectly prepared, not everybody else will be. Give other drivers a bit more space and time. Not everybody can afford the winter tires and gonzo ice scraper you just bought, but we all share the same roads.

Drive safely this season.



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Smart home holiday vacation checklist: Prep your house to be home alone


The appeal of the smart home is, in part, the management and monitoring that can happen while you’re out running errands or at work. Your smart home can perform just as well if you’re gone for days or even weeks, with the right setup.

If you’re hitting the road this holiday season, we have the tips you need to leave your smart home home alone with confidence. 

Read more: The best travel gifts | Best DIY home security systems to buy in 2021

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The new Amazon Smart Thermostat is currently our top pick for smart home climate control. 


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Thermostats

If you have a smart thermostat, most types will detect that you’re away and offer a way to change the thermostat remotely. After all, that’s probably why you bought the thing in the first place. It’s a nice perk when you’re out for a few hours or a workday.

For longer periods of time or for thermostats that include a vacation mode, it’s a good idea to check the threshold settings before an extended absence. These temperatures are the minimum and maximum your system will allow before it kicks in. To save energy, set them to a bit colder and warmer than you would if you were home.

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Sure, you can adjust the temperature remotely, but the whole idea here is to set it and go. So before you leave, set the temperature ranges on your thermostat so you can save money while keeping your home safe. 

Read more: Amazon Smart Thermostat review: A steal at $60

High and low temperature thresholds save the most energy when they are set closer to the outside temperature than you would probably prefer when at home. However, they should still be safe enough for your home. 

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If you have shades or window coverings, it’s best to lower them in your absence.


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Lights and shades

My parents always left the TV on when we were away so people would think we were home. I thought it was a weird game of pretend as a kid, but now as a homeowner it makes sense. Lighting isn’t a fail-safe protection against intruders, but having your lights or TV set to mimic human activity is a good start. Smart switches and schedules can do just that.

Read more: Our review of the Lutron Serena Remote Controlled Shades

A good rule of thumb is that outdoor lights should be on at night and off during the day, while indoor lights should go on and off in different rooms. If you have smart switches, consider creating a schedule based on time of day that replicates what you’d typically do while home. You can also set smart light bulbs to power on and off intermittently. 

If you have automated window shades, consider setting them to stay down while you’re away. Keeping lights on might deter crime, but leaving your shades open could turn your living room into a window display for a burglar.

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The Ring Alarm Pro is our top pick for DIY smart home security. 


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Cameras, doorbells and security systems

You have plenty of choices when it comes to both DIY smart home security systems and professionally monitored ones. While they do most of the work for you once they’re out of the box, it’s important to give them a quick status check before you leave. Security settings will differ depending on what products you have.

Regardless of brand, it’s a good idea to make sure all the integrated motion sensors, cameras, locks and doorbells have fresh or fully charged batteries and notifications correctly enabled to reach the right emergency contacts. 

Read more: Our review of the Ring Video Doorbell 4

When it comes to cameras and smart doorbells, be sure the lens is free of dirt, cobwebs or decor that might obstruct the view. If you’ve turned down motion sensitivity or set your camera to ignore motion in some areas around your home, now is a good time to put those features back to maximum vigilance. Finally, ensure all notification settings are set to notify the appropriate people at the appropriate times.

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Be sure detectors and sensors are powered up and ready to notify you in case of an incident. 


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Environment detectors

Leak, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors offer peace of mind every day, and even more so when you’re out of town. Making sure all of these have fresh batteries, a solid Wi-Fi connection, updated apps or firmware and correct notification settings is worth a few minutes of your time before you hit the road. 

Read more: Smoke detector placement guide: Where and how to install sensors

If your detectors aren’t connected to a live monitoring service, it’s even more important to get a notification sent to the right mobile device. That way, you can ask a friend or neighbor to check out any suspicious alerts.  

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The iRobot Roomba S9 is our favorite robot helper.


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Robot vacuums and other small appliances

There are several robot vacuum cleaners out there with some version of a scheduling option. If that’s a feature you use often, turn it off while you’re away. If no one’s home to make messes, the vacuum doesn’t need to run. Plus, if you’ve enhanced the sensitivity of the motion detector portion of your security system, a robot vacuum could trigger false alarms.

Read more: Our review of the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus vs. Neato Botvac D7 Connected

You’ll save battery life and wear and tear on your vacuum by making sure it isn’t running when it doesn’t need to. The same goes for other small appliances that might run on a smart schedule or with smart switches. Run through your list of managed devices to be sure everything is on or off accordingly. 

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The human element

Yes, smart homes are cool. They can do a lot for you on a daily basis, and they keep you connected to home when you’re hundreds of miles away. Still, smart homes aren’t perfect, and it’s a good idea to have one or two very trusted (and tech-savvy) humans keeping an eye on things.

Whether it’s sharing a camera feed, security code or plain ol’ house key, knowing someone could physically check on your home if anything looked suspicious will help you travel happier.



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Car Maintenance Checklist for a Summer Road Trip





a man checks tire pressure


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4. Check the tires

Tires are critical for car safety and fuel efficiency, so make sure yours are in road-worthy shape by checking for signs of wear on the side walls. Check that you have enough tread depth and enough tire pressure. You can find out how much air your tires need on the sticker located inside the driver’s door, or in your owner’s manual.

5. Top up fluids

In order to run properly, your car’s six essential fluids — oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and windshield fluid — must be checked and topped up regularly. Have your oil changed every three months or every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, and check it every time you fill up with gas during your road trip.

6. Replace the filters

Air filters prevent dirt, dust and insects from infiltrating the engine and the inside of your car. Clogged air filters decrease your engine’s performance, gas mileage and interior air quality, so it’s important to swap them out for clean ones at least once a year or every 10,000 miles. Cabin filters should be replaced every 12,000 miles.

7. Check belts and hoses

If you look under the hood and see significant damage on your serpentine belt — located beside your engine — it will need to be replaced, O’Dell says.

“Start checking the belt when the car is at 30,000 to 40,000 miles,” he says. “You’ll start to see little cracks in the rubber. And when you see enough of those cracks within an inch or so, I would replace it.”

Check your hoses; if you see any fluid leaks, get them verified by a mechanic. Having a belt or a hose fail in the middle of a road trip could mean major engine trouble, leaving you without a car and with a hefty repair bill.




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Arizona travel expert breaks down ‘Monsoon Checklist’ before drivers head out in stormy weather


PHOENIX — Road safety begins before a driver even turns on their engine.

AAA Arizona is hoping that people will watch the weather and use it as a warning to check some things around their vehicle ahead of time, with a focus on fuel, tires, and windshield wipers.

“During monsoon season… we’re getting hit with a double-whammy,” explained Aldo Vazquez with AAA Arizona.

He tells ABC15 that drivers in this area have a lot more to think about.

For checking the vehicle’s tires, Vazquez offers an at-home tip that only requires a quarter.

“Just take the quarter to check the tread of your vehicle and then you place the quarter upside down,” Vazquez described. “And if you can see the top of Washington’s head, that’s a good sign that you need to get…your tires changed.”

The tread of the tires is very important. Operation Safe Roads talked about hydroplane safety just last week.

How to steer clear of hydroplaning during a monsoon storm

“It’s said that our tires need to displace about a gallon of water per second… for your vehicle to meet the road and reduce your risk of hydroplaning, even when there’s 1/12th of an inch of water on the road,” Vazquez said.

From there, he suggests moving inside the car to check your windshield wipers.

“They should be clearing your windshield,” Vazquez said. “And if they’re leaving any streaks or they’re missing any spots, it’s time to change them.” Which, in sunny Arizona, is every three months.

Also, Vazquez stresses the importance of filling up the gas tank before it gets below a quarter tank.

“A lot of us let our gas tank run down to empty and that’s one of the worst things we could possibly do,” Vazquez said.

In case of an emergency, AAA Arizona suggests also keeping a safety kit in the car that is packed with a first aid kit, snacks, water, phone chargers, and reflective gear.





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Vaccinated And Considering International Travel? Dr. Dave Hnida Shares A COVID-19 Checklist – CBS Denver




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Vaccinated travel: Here’s your pre-trip checklist


Here is how they should work: You will upload proof of your vaccination, plus any required coronavirus test results or health waivers, into a mobile app (or if you don’t have a smartphone, there will be something you can print out). As a result, you will be allowed access to foreign countries, cruise ships, flights and more.



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