How to Avoid Winter Driving Mishaps

This winter has been relatively mild in many areas of the country, but that doesn't mean it will stay that way. A winter cold snap or two is bound to hit most of the U.S. before the winter is over, which means harsh road conditions could be in store for drivers. While winter driving can be dangerous and stressful for those behind the wheel, drivers can avoid or minimize accidents by following some basic rules of the road when it comes to driving in the winter elements.

"Winter driving can be very dangerous if you're not prepared or if your vehicle is not properly equipped to handle the effects of snow and ice," said Kit Johnson, 2007 NAPA/ASE Technician of the Year, who hails from East Helena, Mont., where they know something about snow and ice. "It is important to maintain your vehicle on a regular basis. If not taken care of, any small problems you had with your vehicle in good weather could very well be magnified once winter arrives."

First and foremost, Johnson recommends that drivers have their vehicles inspected by a NAPA or other independently-owned repair center that employs ASE-certified technicians prior to hitting the snowy roads. This will ensure that any major performance or safety issues will be identified and corrected so that the vehicle is operating at its peak performance for the winter season.

There are a number of things drivers can check on their own to ensure their vehicle is ready for winter driving. For example, if the battery posts are building up a layer of corrosion, Johnson suggests cleaning them with a paste of baking soda and warm water. Afterwards, it's a good idea to apply a small amount of petroleum jelly to the terminal posts to prevent future corrosion. During this coldest part of the year, drivers should also regularly check that all fluids are at proper levels. Make sure the anti-freeze is strong enough to avoid freezing and fresh enough to prevent rust. Checking fluids regularly during the winter season is an easy and inexpensive way to potentially stop a bigger problem from arising.

A clear windshield is important when driving through snow so make certain that wiper blades are cleaning properly. According to Johnson, drivers should not run wipers over an icy windshield because it cuts the rubber blade, preventing effective cleaning of the windshield.

"Besides cleaning the windshield, drivers should ensure that the rear defroster is working properly," said Johnson. "Changing lanes is difficult in a snowstorm, but it's almost impossible when snow and ice has built up and the rear defroster is not working."

In addition, quality all-season tires or snow tires with good tread will help maintain traction in snowy and icy conditions. It is a good idea to check the Tire Safety Web site for more recommendations on winter-related tire safety.

Lastly, NAPA encourages all drivers to be prepared for an emergency when driving in the winter elements. A vehicle's trunk is a good storage spot for anything drivers might need. The following are basic but essential winter supplies: Snow shovel, ice scraper with snowbrush on one end, flashlight and extra batteries, abrasive material to help with traction (sand, cat litter, salt or traction mats), jumper cables, candles, matches or lighter and high-energy food (chocolate or dried fruit is always good), warning device (flares or reflective triangles), winter clothes, boots, sleeping bags and blankets, and first-aid supplies. Some of these items might prove unnecessary if you live in Florida or Southern California, but why take the chance?

Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini has lived through more than his share of frigid winter weather.