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Winter Driving Tips
by Jeremy Henricks

When winter sets in, you want to be assured that your vehicle will make it through the coldest conditions. That's why it's a good idea to follow a few simple winter driving tips and guidelines to keep your car or truck on the road during the winter months.

It's important to check several key areas of the car on both the outside and the inside. It is also important to carry certain items in your car at all times. This ensures that you're properly prepared in case of engine failure, an accident, or in case you are lost.

  • Before heading out, check the weather and traffic reports for your local area and your final destination.
  • Keep an emergency road kit in your car (see "Creating an Emergency Road Kit for Your Car").
  • Keep your gas tank(s) full. If you're stuck in a snowdrift or you are stranded on the side of the road, you'll want to keep warm by starting your engine every so often. You may also need to take an alternate route should the weather become severe.
  • Check your tires for proper inflation and for even tread wear. Tires should be rotated every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. Four-wheel drive vehicles may require rotation every 4,000 miles.
  • Carry traction devices (chains or studded tires). Know how to install these beforehand. Chains should be installed on the drive wheels, while studded tires, if legal in your state, should be installed on all four wheels for added safety. Of course, studded tires should be installed before making your trip.
  • Allow enough time to get to your final destination. With wet or snowy roads, winter driving can take longer than summer driving. If possible, leave a little earlier than your designated time.
  • Examine all belts and hoses to make sure there are no cracks or leaks.
  • Check your car battery terminals for corrosion, which can prevent the battery from fully charging. To clean the terminals, use a wire brush dipped in baking soda and water.
  • Fill your washer-fluid reservoir. Add some windshield antifreeze to prevent freezing.
  • Make sure your cooling system is clean, in good repair (radiator, clamps, and hoses), and is filled with the proper amount of water and antifreeze/coolant. Usually a 50/50 coolant to water mixture is recommended to provide protection at -36 degrees Fahrenheit. An incorrect amount could leave you with a frozen engine block or radiator.
  • Clean all windows, both inside and out.
  • To defrost your windows faster, don't use the recirculate option on your climate control. Recirculating warm, moist air can cause your windows to fog.
  • Check the following items to ensure they are working properly: headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals. Replace bulbs if necessary.
  • Make sure the windshield wipers are functioning and replace them if they're cracked, split, streaking or skipping.
  • Turn on your headlights as soon as you start driving. This allows other drivers to better see you.

Note: Many states require motorists to turn on their headlights when it's raining and when visibility is less than 500 feet. Check with your Department of Motor Vehicles or consult a traffic officer if you're not sure about your state's policies on wet-weather driving.
  • Drive slower than the speed limit in bad weather conditions
  • Keep a greater-than-normal distance from the car ahead of you to compensate for poor braking conditions.
  • If it starts to rain so hard that you cannot see the road, pull over for your safety and for the safety of other motorists.
  • Take some food, water, warm blankets, and extra clothing.
  • Put a bag of sand in the back of your vehicle. Not only does this provide better traction while driving, but you also can use it for traction under spinning tires.
  • If your car is stuck or stalled, stay in your vehicle until help arrives. Try to conserve fuel while maintaining warmth.
  • Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
  • Beware of wind chill, the calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature about 35 degrees colder.
  • Listen for winter storm watches and warnings. A winter storm watch indicates that severe winter weather may affect your area, while a winter storm warning indicates that severe winter weather conditions definitely will affect the designated area.

We hope these winter driving tips were useful and keep you safe on the road this winter. For more tips and weather resources, check out the related links below.


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