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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Proper Car Maintenance, Safe Driving Tips Help Motorists Prepare for Winter Driving

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appeared in the January 4, 2004 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Just as important as preparing your home for winter is being prepared for winter driving. Snow and ice can make driving dangerous.

Before winter travel, it's a good idea to have vehicles thoroughly serviced, including checking the battery, alternator and charging system, heater and defroster, lights, wipers, brakes, anti-skid braking systems, cooling systems, belts, hoses and antifreeze.

In addition, motorists should check their tires and set them to proper pressure. Replace tires if treads are worn down. It may be helpful to install all-season or snow tires or consider tire chains if most travel is on unpaved roads.

Drivers often add weight to their vehicles, believing this will improve traction. However, adding sandbags or weights in the trunk of a front-wheel drive vehicle or pickup bed only makes it heavier and increases stopping distances. However, weights in pickup beds may improve startup capability.

If motorists choose to add weight in any form, they should secure it to avoid shifting during sudden stops or sharp turns.

If possible, people should avoid traveling during bad weather. Check weather forecasts before traveling or dial 511 on a mobile or stationary phone to access the Nebraska State Patrol's automated road condition system. If travel is necessary, drive slow on wet, icy or snow-packed roads since it takes longer to stop. Skids can result from one or more wheels locking up. Make smooth, slow steering corrections, and accelerate and brake gently. Some cars are equipped with anti-lock or anti-skid braking systems, which can dramatically increase stopping distances, but allow drivers to maintain directional control. If the system activates, maintain steady pressure on the brake pedal. Don't pump the brake pedal unless the automobile doesn't have an anti-skid system.

When front- or all-wheel drive vehicles begin to skid, drivers should steer in the direction they want to go and maintain speed until the vehicle is under control. For rear-wheel drives, motorists should gently steer in the direction of the skid and slowly ease up on the accelerator. In all cases, don't brake until there is directional control, then brake gently.

Four-wheel drives may create a false sense of control on wet or icy surfaces. Drivers are much more likely to drive too fast for conditions in four- or all-wheel drive vehicles. In addition, steering response can change when four-wheel drive systems are engaged, but it does not reduce stopping distances.

If one wheel drops off the edge of the pavement or onto a soft shoulder, don't attempt to steer back on the road until the car can be slowed down and maintain directional control. If the automobile slides completely off the roadway, attempt to maintain directional control. Steer to avoid hitting objects such as utility poles, bridge supports and trees. It's better to hit softer objects like guard rails, brush or wire fences to prevent high energy impacts.

If the car becomes stuck or stalls, stay in the vehicle unless it is dangerous to do so. Blowing snow can be disorienting and cold temperatures can cause hypothermia.

In addition, it's much easier for searchers to locate a car than a person. Motorists should call 911 if they are involved in an accident. Nebraska travelers can also (800) 525-5555 to report collisions, dangerous drivers, road hazards and other highway emergencies to the Nebraska State Patrol.

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