8 Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Tip No.5: Maintain a Safe Following Distance

Even the most skilled driver needs more time to stop a car on snow or ice than dry pavement. It's easy to become impatient on days when snow brings commuter traffic to a crawl, but tailgating is a recipe for disaster. Allowing a little extra space between your car and the vehicle in front adds an important margin of safety, and has little if any impact on travel times.

Tip No.6: Light the Path

Visibility is poorest in the winter because the sun stays lower on the horizon and is more likely to interfere with the driver's vision. Since the sun rises later and sets earlier, a lot of commuters have to drive to and from work in the dark.

Bi-xenon headlamps are a great safety feature for winter driving. They produce a brighter, longer beam of light than halogen headlamps. Adaptive lighting systems that swivel the headlamps in response to steering inputs offer the additional advantage of lighting the corners on dark rural and suburban roads.

Dirt and salt can cover the headlamp lenses, reducing the intensity of the beams. Some car companies include headlamp washers as part of winter driving option packages. If the car doesn't have this feature, check the headlamps at each gas fill-up, and clean the lenses if they are dirty.

Tip No.7: Cold Starts

Temperature extremes are hard on the car's batteries. Surface dirt and corrosion around the terminals leaches power out of the battery: in extreme cold, a clean battery is more likely to start the car.

Cleaning the battery is pretty easy: disconnect the terminals, and use a mixture of baking soda and water to clean the battery surface. Auto parts stores have special tools for cleaning the terminals and battery cable ends to make those jobs easier.

Drivers also need to know the correct way to start a car in cold weather. Back when vehicles had carburetors, the driver would pump the gas pedal a couple of times to give the car a shot of gasoline and set the choke.

Fuel injected cars are a different story: to start them, the driver should turn the ignition switch and nothing else. Pumping the gas pedal will flood a fuel injected car and prevent it from starting. If the car floods, push the gas pedal to the floor once and keep it there. This is the clear flood mode: it should fix the problem.

Tip No.8: Roadside Emergencies

Everyone has the occasional roadside emergency, even if the car is in good working condition. Most new car warranties come with twenty-four hour roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty.

If the car is off warranty, consider investing in a motor club membership such as AAA. In addition to providing emergency roadside assistance, these clubs offer discounts on lodging and special insurance rates.

The most important thing to do when a car breaks down is to get the vehicle safely onto the shoulder of the road, and make it visible to other drivers. Use the headlamps, hazard lamps or reflective markers around the car until help arrives.

Raise the hood: it's a signal to police and other emergency personnel that the driver needs assistance. Since it may take time for help to arrive, keep a blanket and some perishable food in the trunk so that the passengers can stay warm and comfortable.

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