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The weatherman said we should get ready for a cold winter this year. One of the problems with cold winters is that many of our vehicles are not prepared to deal with the change in climate.

Overlooking the need to prepare for winter driving can be a mistake -- and a deadly one at that. Conditions can change quickly. A road can be clear on the way to an appointment, yet hazardous when it's time to return.  Motorists can reduce their risks with simple maintenance to their cars.

Preparation Checklist

Inspect your vehicle:  This includes making sure that your battery and charging system are in good working order. Starting your vehicle in cold weather takes a lot more out of your battery than when the weather is warm. Check all your belts and hoses and make sure they are not cracked or worn.

You know Murphy's law, if something bad is going to happen, it will happen when it is most inopportune and you may find yourself stranded somewhere.

"Winterize your car." Make sure the coolant in your radiator is ready for the colder temperature. Having enough anti-freeze in your radiator is the difference between a cracked engine block and a running vehicle. Repairing this problem is very costly. Gas stations will usually check your antifreeze for you, but if you want to do it yourself, you can buy your own tool from an auto parts store for a few dollars.

Check your windshield wipers and your defroster. Make sure they are doing a good job of keeping your windshield as clear as possible. Poor visibility can lead to accidents.

  • Windshield wiper blades: Replace blades annually. Use a snow brush and ice scraper to clear the windshield, side and rear windows, head, tail- and sidelights. Using wipers as ice scrapers can damage wiper blades and mechanism. De-icer also can be helpful if a vehicle is left uncovered for a period of time.

  • Wiper fluid: Windshield washer fluids vary; some more expensive brands are less likely to "slush." Monitor this and other fluid levels. Consider placing a spare bottle in the trunk.

Tires: In most areas all-weather tires with good tread generally work well but if it's necessary to travel , a motorist may want to consider snow tires. Check the condition of the spare tire, and if the jack and lug wrench are in place.


Reduce Risks on the Road:

Before You Leave:

  • Check weather conditions by listening to radio and television weather reports.

  • Advise others of departure, estimated travel time and route. If you fail to arrive, rescuers will know where to begin their search.  

  • Plan to travel during daylight hours.

 Allow extra stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. And, keep an eye on the vehicle behind you.

If bad weather hits, the best thing you can do to avoid getting into an accident is to slow down. By increasing the distance between you and other vehicles, you should be able to react in time to upcoming dangers. 

If driving in snow, exaggerate the amount of distance you normally would have between you and other vehicles. Make your turns gradually and accelerate and decelerate slowly. Keeping traction is the key to controlling your vehicle in the snow.

Reduce speed when approaching an intersection, which can be particularly dangerous as snow melts and refreezes, turning corners and approaching or using on and off ramps.

What to do in a skid? The type of brakes dictates recommended responses. Generally, the rule is to turn into a skid and then correct, with care not to overcorrect. With anti-lock brakes, press firmly on the brake pedal. Without anti-lock brakes, let up on the gas and pump the brakes to avoid wheel lockup. Practice starts, stops and responding to a skid in an empty parking lot.

Slide off the road?
Staying with the vehicle is recommended. Tie a bright cloth or bandana to the antenna or put the hood up to signal the need for assistance. If you have a cell phone along, use it to call for help. 

To stay warm while waiting, bundle up and/or run the heater intermittently -- perhaps 10 minutes an hour -- to conserve fuel until help arrives. 

Lower windows two to three inches to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. When snow is a contributing factor and a car or truck slides into a ditch or snow bank, make sure that the area around exhaust is clear so that carbon monoxide fumes will be exhausted.

Keep the gas tank close to full to prevent condensation, add weight, and, if stranded, provide the fuel needed to run the heater.


Winter Car Kit


Be prepared for delays: Automobile accidents can leave you stuck in traffic for hours at a time. Pack a blanket, some non-perishable food items, and some water or a two liter of soda pop and leave it in your vehicle. Those items may come in handy in the event that you get stranded with automobile problems or are forced to wait while accidents are investigated and cleared up.

Think of a winter car kit as an insurance policy. What to include?
Here are some recommendations:

  1. Bright tie or bandanna to tie on antenna as a signal

  2. Cell phone, if you have one

  3. Extra warm clothes, such as insulated coveralls,
    jacket, hat, gloves, socks and boots

  4. Blanket(s)

  5. Flashlight with extra batteries

  6. Flare or reflectors

  7. Non-skid mats or cat box litter (for traction, if stuck)

  8. Bag of sand or salt

  9. Jumper cables

  10. Tow rope

  11. Shovel

  12. Tool kit

  13. First aid kit

  14. Two or more day supply of medications

  15. Candle, coffee can and matches (in water-proof container)

  16. Non-perishable food, such as dried fruit, nuts, cereal bars

  17. Water

  18. Battery-powered radio

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