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Just as you dress yourself in extra layers to protect yourself from the cold, your vehicle needs extra preparation to make it through the winter as well. But getting ready is only half the battle. Winter driving conditions also mandate driving differently. Snow and ice need to be taken seriously and prepared for.

Hopefully,­ by the time winter’s first storm hits, most people are prepared with a closet full of heavy coats and boots. This winter make sure your car is as prepared as you are. Going the extra mile by getting your vehicle ready for winter and learning what it takes to drive safely through ice and snow could save your life.

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There’s no getting around winter. Instead of dreading it, prepare for it. The changing of the seasons is a great time to check out what your car needs to gear up for cold, wet, winter driving conditions. Do this before the first snow falls because small problems you ignored during warmer months could grow worse, leaving you stranded when the temperature plummets.

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A few simple tips could keep your car running all winter long.

  • Take your car to a mechanic and check out the following: battery, antifreeze level, thermostat, heater, brakes, and defroster.
  • Check to make sure your tyres have adequate tread. If the treads are worn, replace them. Better yet, exchange them for a set of snow tyres, which have treads that provide better traction and are equipped to handle extreme winter driving conditions. Check tyre pressures, which can be found in your owners manual for your specific tyre size and vehicle.
  • Make a visual inspection of your vehicle’s lights. Make sure the front and rear lights are operational, especially the car’s flashing hazard lights.
  • Often in the winter the windshield wiper fluid may freeze. Instead of toughing it out until spring, exchange the fluid with one made especially to spray in freezing conditions.
  • Similarly, purchase winter wiper blades to cut through snow and ice instead of using regular ones throughout the year.
  • Check the spray nozzles of your windshield-washer system. Sometimes they get blocked by wax or debris. Use a needle or pin to clear blocked nozzles.
  • Road salt commonly used during winter can damage your car’s paint. Rinsing it off every once in a while can help, but a good wash and coat of fresh wax will go a long way in preventing corrosion and keep your vehicle looking like new.

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A winter accident could leave you stuck on the side of the road. Packing your car with a few essentials will help keep you safe and ready for whatever conditions pop up on your trip.

  • Keep the fuel tank at least half full throughout the winter. This will reduce condensation, making your vehicle easier to start on cold mornings.
  • If you have a mobile phone, make sure it’s charged and bring it with you. A car charger for the phone is also a smart device to keep in the car.
  • Always store a snow/ice scraper and a shovel in your vehicle. A first aid kit is another must-have item to keep on hand. It should include all the usual items plus winter extras like torches, a fresh supply of batteries, blankets, matches, extra clothes, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. Peanuts and granola bars are good protein and carbohydrate-rich foods.
  • For rear-wheel drive vehicles you might want to keep a small bag of sand in your trunk to create traction under the tyres if you get stuck. The bulk of a vehicle’s weight is the engine in the front of the car. If the car is driven by it’s rear wheels instead of its front wheels, the heavy front end and light back end makes the car prone to slide around on ice or snow-covered road.
  • Clear off your car each time you go out for maximum visibility. Don’t forget the bonnet, roof, and your head and taillights. Sure it takes a few extra moments, but it’s better than dealing with an accident due to poor outward visibility. Also, leftover ice chunks from the roof or hood of the vehicle may become hazardous to yourself and those on the road around you while driving.
  • Before you go, listen to the radio for announcements about accidents, road closures, and road advisories. Check AA Route Planner if this information is not available on the radio.
  • Plan your route ahead of time to avoid any roads that become dangerous during bad weather. If a road is closed or blocked do not attempt to continue on this route.
  • Let someone know your route so if you do become stranded, your family can let authorities know where to start looking.
  • Be aware that bridges and overpasses freeze first. Slow down before reaching them and avoid sudden changes in speed or direction.
  • Use gentle impulses while driving: accelerate gently, turn slowly and brake carefully and early. Avoid unexpected quick movements that could put you in a spin by leaving ample room between you and the next car. Anticipate turns, stops and lane changes well before they occur.
  • Conversely; don’t go too slow. The car will need some momentum to be able to push through heavier snow without getting stuck.
  • Steer clear of trucks. They are heavier than cars and need considerably longer stopping distances. Their tyres also tend to spray snow and rain into parallel lanes, further hindering your visibility.
  • If you have a vehicle with four wheel drive or all-wheel drive, don’t get overconfident and rely on its abilities to get you out of a problem. The traction and force created by all four wheels driving instead of two helps you get going from a stop, but does not assist your vehicle’s braking ability. In fact, AWD and 4WD-equipped vehicles are heavier than 2WD vehicles and require more time and braking power to come to a stop.

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