By AAA Mid-Atlantic
Nearly one-quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy roads, resulting in more than 1,300 deaths and 116,800 people injured annually, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. With AccuWeather’s winter forecast calling for above-normal snowfall in some parts of the country, AAA recommends motorists brush up on winter driving techniques before the weather outside turns frightful.
Before winter conditions hit, it’s important to prepare your car for harsh winter weather. AAA’s Winter Car Care Checklist can help determine a vehicle’s winter maintenance needs. Many of the items on the list can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, but others should be performed by a certified technician.
AAA’s Winter Car Care Checklist:
Battery and Charging System – Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather.
Battery Cables and Terminals – Make sure the battery terminals and cable ends are free from corrosion and the connections are tight.
Drive Belts – Inspect the underside of accessory drive belts for cracks or fraying.
Engine Hoses – Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or excessively spongy feeling.
Tire Type and Tread – In areas with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires work well in light-to -moderate snow conditions provided they have adequate tread depth. Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread
Tire Pressure – Check tire inflation pressure on all four tires and the spare more frequently in fall and winter. The proper tire pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker typically located on the driver’s side door jamb.
Air Filter – Check the engine air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.
Coolant Levels – Check the coolant level in the overflow tank when the engine is cold. If the level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. Test the antifreeze protection level annually with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.
Lights – Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights.
Wiper Blades – The blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots.
Washer Fluid – Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that has antifreeze components to prevent it from freezing.
Brakes – If there is any indication of a brake problem, have the system inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.
Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids – Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.
Emergency Road Kit – Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather.
Drive Distraction Free – It is also important when driving in winter conditions to drive distraction-free and in the right frame of mind. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for just two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash.
Do Not Use Cruise Control and Avoid Tailgating – Normal following distances of 3 to 4 seconds for dry pavement should be increased to 8 to 10 seconds when driving on icy, slippery surfaces. This extra time will allow for extra braking distance should a sudden stop become necessary. If driving on a four-lane highway, stay in the clearest lane; avoid changing lanes and driving over built-up snow. Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery (wet, ice, snow, sand) surface; not using cruise control will allow you to respond instantly when you lift your foot off the accelerator.
Know When to Brake and When to Steer – Some driving situations require abrupt action to avoid a crash or collision and in winter conditions the decision to steer or brake can have very different outcomes. When traveling over 25 mph, AAA recommends steering over braking to avoid a collision in wintery conditions, as less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop.
However, sometimes steering is not an option. Braking on slippery surfaces requires you to look further ahead and increase following and stopping distances. Plan stopping distances as early as possible and always look 20-30 seconds ahead of your vehicle to ensure you have time and space to stop safely. Shaded spots, bridges, overpasses and intersections are areas where ice is likely to form first and will be the most slippery.
Stay in Control Through a Skid – Even careful drivers can experience skids. When a vehicle begins to skid, it’s important to not panic and follow these basic steps:
Continue to look and steer in the direction the car needs to go – Avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.
AAA Mid-Atlantic, serves nearly 4 million members in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and throughout Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia, and is on the web at aaa.com/community.