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Winter Driving Tips

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter
Emergency Winter Vehicle Supplies
Driving Tips
Emergency Survival Kit
What to do if you get Stranded


It is important to have reliable transportation in the winter.  Before winter arrives, you should take your car to a certified mechanic and have the following areas of your car checked out:

In the Engine Compartment:

  • Ignition System:   Damaged ignition wires or a cracked distributor cap may cause a sudden breakdown.
  • Belts:  Belts which are cracked or frayed should be replaced immediately to prevent sudden breakdowns.
  • Heating and Cooling System:  The radiator and all the hoses should be checked for for cracks and leaks. Make sure the radiator cap, water pump and thermostat work properly. Have the strength of the anti-freeze and make certain cooling system antifreeze is mixed with an equal portion of water for maximum protection. Test the functioning of the heater and defroster.
  • Oil:  Make sure that the oil in your car is the proper grade and is filled.
  • Battery:   Cold weather starts require a battery that is fully charged. Recharge or replace weak batteries. Have your charging system checked, too.  Cold weather is hard on a battery. Keeping battery terminals clean helps, but a load test by a qualified technician will determine if your battery has what it takes this winter.

Other Parts of the Car:

  • Brakes:   Brakes should be checked and, if needed, serviced to ensure even braking.
  • Exhaust System:   Have the exhaust system fully checked for leaks that could send carbon monoxide into your vehicle.
  • Wiper Blades and Windshield Washer Fluid:   Make sure wipers are in good condition and fill up on winter washer fluid.  Clear windows, mirrors and lights. Keep windshield wipers and defrosters in good working order and washer reservoirs filled with no-freeze windshield washer fluid.
  • Tires:  The traction between the tires and the road surface determines how well your vehicle starts, turns and stops. Make certain your snow tires or all-season radials are properly inflated and in good condition. Ensure all four tires have the same tread pattern for even traction.
  • Lights:   Regularly check that all lights are functioning properly and that headlights are properly aimed

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A Citizens Band (CB) radio and/or cellular phone can be very useful to you or another stranded motorist in case of an emergency.  Also, think about keeping these items in the truck of your car during the winter.

  • Shovel
  • Sand, salt or kitty litter
  • Traction mats
  • Tow chain
  • Compass
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels
  • Warning light or road flares
  • Extra clothing and footwear
  • Emergency food pack
  • Axe or hatchet
  • Booster cables
  • Ice scraper and brush
  • Road maps
  • Matches and a 'survival' candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink, or use as an emergency light)
  • Fire extinguisher

The following items should be kept inside your car:

  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Blanket (special 'survival' blankets are best)

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Before you start driving, keep these tips in mind:

  • Check Your Own Condition.  Don't drive after drinking alcohol and don't drive if you're feeling drowsy
  • Put On The Proper Clothes.  Wear warm clothes that do not restrict movement.
  • Let Them Know Your Coming.  Before you leave, let someone know your route and intended arrival time so you can be searched for if you don't turn up after a reasonable delay
  • Clear snow and ice from all windows and lights before driving.
  • Buckle up at all times.  Not only is it the law, but seat belts will provide additional restraint if you should become involved in an accident.  Make sure you also properly secure small children in the appropriate child restraint.
  • Check the fuel level.  Always fill the gasoline tank before entering open country, even for a short distance, and stop to fill-up long before the tank begins to run low. Keeping your tank as full as possible will minimize condensation, providing the maximum advantage in case of trouble.
  • Pay attention! Don’t try to out-drive the conditions. Remember the posted speed limits are for dry pavement.

While You Are Driving:

  • Stick to the main roads.
  • Leave plenty of room for stopping. 
  • Drive with your headlights on.
  • Leave room for maintenance vehicles and plows. Stay back at least 100 feet and don’t pass on the right.
  • Know the current road conditions.  Watch the local news, weather channel, or check road conditions  or weather conditions on-line.  Keep your radio tuned to a local station for weather advice.
  • Use brakes carefully. Brake early. Brake correctly. It takes more time to stop in adverse conditions.
  • Watch for slippery bridges.  Even when the rest of the pavement is in good condition, bridges will ice up sooner than the adjacent pavement.
  • Don't use your cruise control in wintry conditions.  Even roads that appear clear can have sudden slippery spots and the short touch of your brakes to deactivate the cruise control feature can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • Don't get overconfident in your 4x4 vehicle.  Remember that your four-wheel drive vehicle may help you get going quicker than other vehicles but it won’t help you stop any faster. Many 4x4 vehicles are heavier than passenger vehicles and actually may take longer to stop.  Don’t get overconfident in your 4x4 vehicle’s traction. Your 4x4 can lose traction as quickly as a two-wheel drive vehicle.
  • Watch Out For Skids.  A skid occurs when you apply the brakes so hard that one or more wheels lock, or if you press hard on the accelerator and spin the drive wheels. Skids also occur when you are traveling too fast on a curve and encounter a slippery surface.  Skids can best be avoided by anticipating lane changes, turns and curves, slowing down in advance, and by making smooth, precise movements of the steering wheel.
  • Do not pump anti-lock brakes.  If your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes, do not pump brakes in attempting to stop. The right way is to “stomp and steer!”
  • Look farther ahead in traffic than you normally do.  Actions by cars and trucks will alert you quicker to problems and give you a split-second extra time to react safely.
  • Remember that trucks are heavier than cars.  Trucks take longer to safely respond and come to a complete stop, so avoid cutting quickly in front of them.
  • Don't press on. If the going gets tough, turn back or seek refuge.
  • Frozen door locks. If your door lock freezes, it can be overcome by carefully heating the end of a key with a match or a lighter. A squirt of de-icer spray is another quick method
  • Go slow!

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You easily can equip your vehicle with essential survival gear for winter. Here's what you'll need:

  • A 2 or 3 pound coffee can (punch 3 holes at the top of can, equal distance apart). You'll be storing the other items inside the can.
  • 60-inch length of twine or heavy string (cut into 3 equal pieces - used to suspend can).
  • 3 large safety pins (tie string to safety pins and pin to car roof interior to suspend can over candle).
  • 1 candle 2" diameter (place on lid under suspended can for melting snow).
  • 1 pocket knife, reasonably sharp (or substitute with scissors).
  • 3 pieces of bright cloth 2" wide x 36" long (tie to antenna or door handle).
  • Several packets of soup, hot chocolate, tea, bouillon cubes, etc. (mixed into melted snow to provide warmth and nutrition).
  • Plastic spoon.
  • 1 small package of peanuts (provides protein) & fruit-flavored candy (orange slices, jelly beans, etc.-avoid chocolate).
  • 1 pair of athletic socks (cotton) and 1 pair of glove liners (cotton).
  • 2 packages of book matches.
  • 1 sun shield blanket or 2 large green or black plastic leaf bags (to reflect body heat).
  • 1 pen light and batteries (keep separate).
  • Two quarters and two dimes for telephone calls.

When complete, place stocking cap over kit and carry in passenger compartment of car. If you have a 3 pound can, you will still have additional room for band-aids, aspirin, small radio, etc. If there is still room left, increase the quantity of any of the above items or improvise items you feel might be necessary.

Other items you may want to keep in the vehicle:

  • Large plastic garbage bag.
  • Pencil stub and paper.
  • Plastic whistle.

You may want to keep the survival kit in the passenger compartment in case you go into a ditch and can't get to or open the trunk.

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  • Stay in your vehicle. Walking in a storm can be very dangerous. You can lose your way, wander out of reach, become exhausted, collapse and risk your life. Your vehicle itself is a good shelter.
  • Avoid overexertion. Attempting to push your car, trying to jack it into a new position or shoveling snow takes great effort in storm conditions. You could risk heart attack or other injury.
  • Calm down and think. The storm will end and you will be found. Don't work enough to get hot and sweaty. Wet clothing loses insulation quality making you more susceptible to the effects of hypothermia.
  • Keep fresh air in you vehicle. It is much better to be chilly or cold and awake than to become comfortably warm and slip into unconsciousness. Freezing-wet or wind-driven snow can plug your vehicle's exhaust system causing deadly carbon monoxide gas to enter your vehicle.
  • Don't run the engine-unless you are certain the exhaust pipe is free of snow or other objects. Keep the radiator free from snow to prevent the engine from overheating.
  • Keep your blood circulating freely by loosening tight clothing, changing positions frequently and moving your arms and legs. Huddle close to one another. Rub your hands together or put them under your armpits or between your legs. Remove your shoes occasionally and rub your feet.
  • Don't expect to be comfortable. The challenge is to survive until you're found.

If you have access to a telephone, you should dial 911 to summon help. In other states you may be able to dial 911 or "0" to get the operator on the line. When you talk with authorities, be prepared to:

  • Describe the location, condition of your companions and the trouble you are experiencing.
  • Listen for questions.
  • Follow any instructions. You may be told you should stay where you are to guide rescuers or to return to the scene.
  • Do not hang up until you know who you have spoken with and what will happen next.

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