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Ready to roll: Preparing your car for winter driving

Oct. 23, 2017

Photo of a winter car crash scene.
Photo: There are things you can do now to avoid situations like this once the snow flies. Fall is a great time to prepare your car for winter driving.

Let’s see: The window air conditioner units are put away. The vegetable garden is cleared. You’ve mowed the lawn one last time. You’re ready for winter, right? Close – but not until your vehicle is ready too. Winter driving in Minnesota poses its own unique set of hazards, and it’s important to be prepared.

For starters, get a tune-up. You want to make sure everything is in good working order. While you’re at it, have your mechanic check the tread depth on your tires (and make sure those tires are winter or all-season) and make sure your headlights and windshield wipers are in good working order. Those last two go hand-in-hand: if your windshield wipers are on, your lights should be, too, even in broad daylight.

Next, put together your winter emergency kit. You’ll likely have your own variation on it, but make sure it contains the basics: a scraper and brush, a small shovel, jumper cables, a tow chain and a bag of cat litter or sand for tire traction if you get stuck. Additionally, you’ll want blankets, heavy boots, warm clothing, a flashlight (check the batteries!) and high-energy snacks like chocolate or protein bars.

Before setting out on winter roads, make sure you have at least half a tank of gas. Tell someone where you’re going, and take a fully charged cell phone with you. And right before you get in the car, clear it of ice and snow. We’re not just talking windows, here, either: Snow can fly up from the hood of your car and impair your visibility. Clear the top and back of your car as well, because ice and snow can be a hazard to those driving behind you. Also clear the headlights, brake lights and directional signals.

The key here is to do all these things, not just some of them, to be ready for winter driving, as Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Neil Dickinson can attest: “I have assisted stranded motorists where they simply ran out of fuel when temperatures were well below zero. This could be a life-threatening situation as some of the occupants were not prepared with extra warm clothing or a winter survival kit.”

So once you have the rest of those leaves bagged, get started on your winter driving checklist. You’ll have it out of the way, and you and your family will feel safer all winter long.