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‘Tis the Season for Winter Driving Tips to Protect You and Your Car

Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Wegrzyn

Cliff Ruud

Managing Director of Roadside Assistance, AAA

Temperatures are dropping, so it’s time to get your car – and yourself – ready for some winter driving. With a little planning, you can keep things running smoothly and avoid being one of the millions of people who get stranded on the side of the road in the cold.

By starting with some common sense steps, you can prepare yourself for winter’s worst.

That includes having your mechanic check your coolant levels, and test your battery and charging systems. Ask your shop to clean corrosion from battery posts and cable connections to ensure reliable starts in frigid temperatures.

Good visibility and traction are critical for winter driving, so have your headlights cleaned, old wiper blades replaced, and tire pressure and tread depth inspected. 

You can check tread depth yourself with a quarter by inserting it into a tread groove with the top of Washington’s head facing down. If the top of his head is not visible, your tires have at least 4/32” of tread. If you can see the space above Washington’s head, it’s time to go tire shopping.

Ready for anything

A well-prepared vehicle is only as safe as its driver. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says nearly 500,000 crashes and more than 2,000 road fatalities occur each winter. The season accounts for almost half of all bad-weather crashes.

Snow, sleet, and ice require drivers to be especially cautious. In inclement weather, drivers need to slow down and allow three times as much space as usual between their car and the car they’re behind. Don’t use cruise control in slick conditions and avoid unnecessary lane changes, which increase the chances of hitting patches of ice between lanes.

When approaching a red light or stop sign – spots where ice often forms – slowly brake and slow down in advance to minimize the need to brake on ice. If you hit a patch of ice and begin to skid, try to stay calm and resist the urge to slam on the brakes. Instead, look where you want the car to go and steer in that direction.

As always, you should minimize distractions by keeping your phone out of reach. If there’s an urgent need to make a call or send a text, find a safe place to pull over.

Winter driving means slowing down and giving yourself more time and space. There’s no substitute for a careful, engaged driver.

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