Winter Driving Tips

Winter sneaks up on us quickly every year, and it always seems to catch everyone by surprise. When you're driving a car it's more important than ever to drive with caution and to consider the different approach required for handling your car when dealing with the weather.
 
What to do exactly? Well, the first steps aren't to do with driving at all but preparing your car for the cold. The most obvious thing for us alpine and northern folk is to switch to our winter tires, and it's best to do it before the first dump of snow and that big drop in temperature (otherwise you may be waiting weeks for an appointment if you don't have the resources at home). Your tire professional will have a good idea of whether or not your winter rubber is still usable, but it doesn't hurt to check yourself. There are two treadwear indicators to look for; one is for the legal standard tread depth, 2/32", at which point tires must be replaced, while the other is a higher 6/32". This second marker is for the slits cut into the tread block, which is the source of grip in slippery fresh snow. Tires are still legal below this point, but their effectiveness in snow is greatly reduced.

The foul weather associated with winter is an opportune time to check your windshield wipers. For the cost of a six-pack, new rubber refills will save you a lot of grief when you're caught in that torrential downpour or grounding snowstorm, so go and replace them. While you're at it, topping off your windshield wiper fluid with an alcohol-based mixture to ensure it won't freeze is a wise move, too.

Since you're under the hood already, you might as well check the battery, since cold weather tends to play havoc with it. If you have a sealed, maintenance-free battery, you simply need to ensure the terminals are clean and have no corrosion (it can be cleaned off with a brush and a baking soda-water solution), and that the cables and battery itself are secure. It might also have a little window with color-coded instructions telling you if the battery is still reliable or not. If you have a battery that requires maintenance, check the level of electrolyte in each of the covered cells, and top off with distilled water if required.

So, what else? Let's look at tire chains. Drive a two-wheel-drive car and get snow where you live? Having a set of chains makes good sense. Even AWD vehicles can benefit from them. You'd be crazy to not keep a pair in the back if you get snow regularly. Check to make sure there are no damaged links and that you remember how to fit them. They need to be fitted to the driven axle, so knowing if your car is front-drive or rear-drive will help a great deal.

Do you live in a remote area, or plan on making a road trip away from the suburbs? If you haven't already considered it, a recovery kit of sorts is an excellent addition to the trunk of any car. A small shovel, a recovery (or snatch) strap, a flashlight with fresh batteries and gloves will get you out of almost any situation, and make sure that you can also play the part of Good Samaritan should you pass someone in a bit of trouble. 
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