Winter is here: Are you and your car ready for the road ahead?

Although we had a mild winter to start, the cold weather is here and we don’t know what the rest of January and February might bring. We could still have a couple serious months of potentially hazardous driving to come. We can’t stay home for all that time, so here are some tips for keeping safe out on the roads.

  • Make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape: Follow the suggested maintenance in your owner’s manual and regularly check the wipers, tires, lights, and fluid levels (radiator, windshield washer, power steering, oil and brakes). Make sure the brakes and transmission are working properly. Auto Lab can make sure your car is ready for whatever Mother Nature throws our way.
  • Keep your gas tank full or near full to prevent ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Make sure your car’s battery is in good shape. Cold temperatures can reduce the effectiveness of a battery by 50 percent.
  • Clear snow and ice from all windows and lights — even the hood and roof — before driving. You want to make sure you can see clearly from all directions, and you want to make sure chunks of ice and snow don’t fly off your car and damage another car, startle another driver or even injure a pedestrian.
  • Always check the weather and road conditions before leaving. If the forecast is iffy, determine if you really need to go out after all or if the trip can wait until the weather is more stable. Current road condition reports are available for Illinois’ interstate and freeway systems by calling 1-800-452-IDOT. Information is updated every two hours during a storm. You can also get this information here and at computer monitors located at interstate rest areas. You can get weather information from the National Weather Service, The Weather Channel and Accuweather.
  • If you do head out, especially on a longer trip, let someone at both ends know what route you are taking and when you will be leaving. They should also know your cell phone number and license plate number in case of emergency.
  • Always leave with plenty of time to get to your destination. Being in a hurry on icy and snowy roads is a recipe for disaster.
  • Be on the lookout for snow plows. Keep a safe distance behind them for two reasons: they blow a lot of snow around, which reduces visibility, and they often need time and room to move over for stranded or parked vehicles.

Having an emergency kit in your car can prevent a catastrophe if you are stranded in a storm. The Illinois Department of Transportation recommends the kit include the following items:

  • Ice scraper, snow brush, rags and paper towels.
  • Jumper cables, basic tool kit, antifreeze, no-freeze windshield washer fluid and extra drive belt(s).
  • Shovel, traction mats or old rugs, tire chains, salt, cat box litter or sand.
  • Blankets and extra clothing including hats, socks, waterproof boots, coats and gloves.
  • Non-perishable, high-calorie food.
  • Candles, waterproof matches and a metal container (coffee can) in which to melt snow into water.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries, flares or roadway reflectors.
  • A basic first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
  • A cellular telephone with a backup power source might be the single most important safety item available. A citizen’s band radio is a good alternative.
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