Prepare your car, improve your driving, avoid winter crashesWinter storms create treacherous driving conditions, evidenced by news stories of crashes caused by icy roads and reduced visibility. Before you hit the road this winter, follow these steps to avoid nasty crashes.

Prepare Your Car for Winter
Ensure your car is prepared for winter weather – and a safe trip – before you trek to your destination..

  • Clear ice and snow from your car.
    Brush or scrape your windshield, windows, mirrors, headlights and taillights. Ice and snow can block your view of the road and other cars. Make sure the top of your car, your trunk and hood are cleared of heavy snow that could slide onto your windows and block your view. Turn on defrosters to reduce condensation inside your car windows and to help melt ice on the outside of your windshield.
  • Check your windshield washing fluid reservoir.
    Make sure the reservoir is full so you can keep your windshield clear – significantly more windshield washer fluid is used during the winter months to clear off salt and slush sprayed by passing cars.
  • Fill your gas tank.
    Keep your gas tank full so you have sufficient fuel to reach your destination. When traffic moves slowly, trips take longer and cars consume more fuel. A full gas tank also helps prevent gas line freeze and helps fuel injection systems work more smoothly.
  • Check your tires.
    Check the tire treads to verify they’re not worn and to ensure they’re ready for snow. You might even consider putting all-season or winter tires on your car. Remember to check the spare tire and its pressure.
  • Stay on track with car maintenance.
    Change your oil regularly. Consider putting synthetic oil in your car since it remains fluid in cold weather, while petroleum-based oils can thicken. Make sure your battery is in good working condition. Verify that your windshield wiper blades are new and can handle snow. Top off all fluids, especially the antifreeze.

Drive slowly — and safely
Once you’ve prepared your car for winter weather, follow these tips to make your trip safer:

  • Increase your following distance on icy roads.
    A general rule of thumb is to increase following distance from 3 seconds to 6 seconds. Many winter car accidents are caused when one car hits an ice patch on the road and slides into another car. Allowing more distance between your car and the car in front of you can prevent a dangerous accident.
  • Accelerate carefully and avoid sudden starts, stops and turns.
    Your car may take longer to react when the road surface is slippery. Pump your brakes to slow down or stop, or keep steady pressure on your brake pedal if you have anti-lock brakes.
  • Drive slower.
    Speed limits posted on the road are set for ideal road conditions. In treacherous winter weather, driving slower can protect you and your car. Driving slowly and carefully also enables you to watch other cars and anticipate trouble so you have time to change lanes and avoid an out-of-control car.
  • Invest in a cell phone.
    Even if you take precautions, an accident is possible. You could find yourself on the road in the middle of a storm, waiting for help to arrive. A cell phone can be a lifesaver if you’re stranded since it enables you to call for emergency assistance immediately from where you are. Some phone companies even offer low-cost cell phones that can be used strictly for emergencies.

Prepare for an emergency.
Even if you’ve called for assistance, help may not arrive immediately. Here are a few useful tools to have on hand when you’re waiting for help:

  • An ice scraper and a snow brush – these are necessities.
  • Jumper cables to revive a dead battery.
  • Heavy work gloves to help clear away snow and ice. They also might hold up better than suede or leather gloves.
  • A bag of sand, kitty litter or a small carpet to provide traction to free a car that’s stuck in the snow.
  • A small shovel to help move snow away from your tires.

Put together a winter emergency kit for your car.
The kit should contain the following items:

  • Flashlight with fresh batteries
  • Maps
  • Matches and candles
  • Pocket knife
  • First-aid kit
  • Flares or triangle reflectors
  • Tow rope
  • Jug of antifreeze
  • Blankets and extra clothing
  • Bottled water
  • Nonperishable foods like granola bars or energy bars

These items will help keep you comfortable while you wait for help to arrive. The most important tool to use in winter weather is common sense. Preparing your car, taking your time and driving carefully can help you reach your destination safely.

The most important tool to use in winter weather is common sense. Preparing your car, taking your time and driving carefully can help you reach your destination safely.