Part 1 of 2 – Before You Take Your Trip
Winter means snow, rain, and ice. Driving through these elements can be hazardous if you aren’t careful. Keep yourself and your passengers safe by exercising caution with these 10 tips:
Check for Recall Updates
Your vehicle may have been recalled by the manufacturer for a critical safety issue. Visit NHTSA’s site and use the Recalls Look-up Tool lets you enter a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to find out if you need to bring your car in for repairs.
Have Your Car Tuned-Up
Before you drive through snow and ice, take your vehicle to a mechanic for a tune-up to ensure it’s in optimal condition. Your mechanic should check hoses for wear, and any parts that may need to be replaced or repaired. Your battery, lights, wipers and coolant system should all be inspected.
Plan Ahead for Your Trip
Check the weather and route conditions before traveling so you know what you’re in for. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination and familiarize yourself with the directions. It’s also a good idea to let family or friends know your route and arrival time.
Stock your vehicle with supplies to help you handle the winter weather and for emergencies. Essential items include:
- Flares or emergency markers
- Snow shovel
- Ice scraper
- Sand or kitty litter (to help your vehicle get traction if stuck in the snow)
- Windshield wiper fluid
- Jumper cables
- Non-perishable food and water
- Distress flag or bright stickers
Inspect Your Battery, Belts and Cables
Ask your mechanic to inspect your battery for voltage, amperage and reserve capacity.
The charging system, belts and cable connections should also be checked. Replace the battery if necessary.
Inspect All Your Lights
Check your headlights, brake lights, emergency flashers, turn signals and interior lights to make sure they are all working properly. Replace bulbs if needed. Be sure to clean the covers periodically so the lights shine through brightly.
Ensure Your Cooling System is in Working Order
It’s important to check your vehicle’s cooling system for leaks. Your mechanic can help you with this task. Your car must have enough coolant and it needs to be properly mixed. Drain and replace the coolant in your vehicle to remove rust and debris (that can cause the cooling system to fail) before embarking on a trip. Consult your owner’s manual for coolant recommendations.
Check Your Wipers and Defrosters
Make sure your windshield wipers work and replace any damaged or worn blades. If you live in an area with heavy snow, consider purchasing heavy-duty winter wipers. You should also check your front and rear window defrosters to ensure they work.
Check Your Tires
Inspect your tires before going on a trip to make sure they are properly inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. Look in your owner’s manual or on the driver’s side door frame to find the correct pressure. Remember to also check your spare tire and your hand jack to ensure they are in good condition. If the tread on your tires is worn, consider replacing them. For more on tire safety, visit www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/tires.
Get Familiar with Your Vehicle
You should be familiar with how your vehicle drives on snowy or icy roads. Your car’s manual will help you familiarize yourself with its features. If you are renting a car, take the time to get familiar with it. Consider practicing your winter weather driving in an empty parking lot before taking a rental on a long trip.