Check windshield washer fluid before setting out to be sure that the reservoir is filled. Do not fill the reservoir with water, as it will freeze. If you already have water in the reservoir, add at least 50% windshield washer fluid. Also, make sure that there is enough antifreeze in the vehicle’s cooling system.
Inspect the windshield wipers. The blades should work well enough to wipe the windshield clean. Given that most driving decisions depend on unimpaired vision, replace worn wiper blades immediately.
Use a snow-brush and scraper to remove any ice or snow from the windshield, windows, and mirrors before starting out. Clean the vehicle’s headlights, taillights, and brake lights so that others can see your vehicle if visibility is poor. Don’t forget to check the turn signals and emergency flashers. All lights on the vehicle should be in good working condition. The heater and defrosters should be operating properly as well.
Let someone know where you are going, especially if stormy weather is forecast. Tell a family member when you are leaving, and at what time you expect to arrive at your destination. Better yet, check on area road conditions before pulling out of the driveway.
Keep the gas tank at least half full at all times. Do not allow the tank to get below a quarter of a tank. You don’t want to be running out of gas in bad weather when slippery road conditions may cause travel delays or road closings. A full tank also prevents the gas line from freezing in frigid temperatures.
Take your vehicle to be serviced regularly throughout the winter months. Test the battery to make sure that it is fully charged. Cold weather drains a battery of its charge, and a weak battery can affect the performance of a vehicle’s engine. Inspect the brakes. If you notice that it takes the vehicle longer to stop, don’t drive it again until you can have the brakes checked by a mechanic.
Use a tire depth gauge to measure if you have enough tread on your tires. Tires must have enough traction to push the vehicle over wet pavement and snow. Front tires should have a minimum of 1/8-inch tread. Back tires should have at least 1/16-inch tread depth. Check the tire pressure, too. Have tires rotated every 5,000 miles and check the air pressure in all four tires at least once each month. Always carry a good spare in the trunk.
Drive slowly on snowy or icy roads. Avoid accelerating quickly or making sudden stops or turns. Leave more distance between your vehicle and the vehicle directly ahead of you. You should maintain a driving distance of at least 3 or 4 car lengths behind. Adjust your speed to the road conditions. If the road becomes too slippery to travel, stop at the first safe location.
Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle in the event of a breakdown. You should carry jumper cables or a portable battery charger, a flashlight and extra batteries, road flares, maps, a fire extinguisher, small shovel, first aid kit and a charged cell phone. Basic tools you may need include pliers, hammer, wrench, ratchet, utility knife, screwdrivers, and electrical and duct tape. Keep a warm blanket, dry change of clothing, bottled water, and food snacks in your vehicle during the winter months.