Winter is coming are you ready?

Vehicle safety kits

Vehicle safety kits don't have to be large and bulky. Depending on the climate, equipment can be added or omitted as needed. Here are some suggested items: Flash light and extra batteries, jumper cables, tire chains, road flares, a can of fix-a-flat, ice scraper, some basic hand tools, spare fuses, a clean towel or rag, a wool blanket (even if it becomes wet, it still provides warmth), spare gloves or mittens, a can of sterno, matches, candles, an empty soup can to melt snow for water, trail mix and a first aid kit. Extras include a foldable shovel, compass, signal whistle, Meals Ready to Eat, a tow rope, an extra jacket, a wool cap, wool socks and chemical hand warmers.

Winter driving

Inspect vehicles now to identify any potential problems. Check the tread depth of tires -- about 4/32 to 6/32nd of an inch minimum for driving on snow, test vehicles' coolant for correct mixture for the temperatures expected in the region. Fill the windshield wiper reservoir with a winter-rated fluid and inspect or replace windshield wiper blades. Check heaters and windshield defrosters, and be sure to always clear all windows of snow and ice before driving. Allow extra time when roads are icy or snow covered, and travel at a reduced speed. Expect other drivers to make mistakes and give them additional room. Remember, stopping distance on ice increases from 3 to 11 times as compared to dry pavement.

Stranded? Stay with the vehicle

If stuck in snow, dig out behind and underneath the vehicle to allow the car exhaust to dissipate. Keep windows and lights clear. Start the engine intermittently to keep vehicle occupants warm and prevent the engine from freezing up. Remember to use the lights and horn to signal for help. Don't leave the vehicle unless absolutely certain of where help is and the ability to make it there. Don't rush, be safe and plan ahead.

Driving safely on icy roads

Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. Keep your lights and windshield clean. Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills. Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges. Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind. Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid...

Take your foot off the accelerator. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse this is normal.

If your front wheels skid...

Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck...

Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services

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