Before you head out, get your car ready.
- Replace windshield wipers that have cracked rubber. If your area gets a lot of snow and ice, invest in winter blades, which shed ice better.
- Clean headlight covers. When they sit in the sun, they eventually turn yellow and cloudy, and that cuts the amount of light coming from your headlights. (Try Rain-X headlight-restoration kit; $16, advanceautoparts.com.)
- Check tire treads. Try this classic Real Simple trick: Insert a penny into the tires’ grooves in several spots. Make sure to slip the coin into the tread so that Abraham Lincoln goes in headfirst. If you can see the top of the president’s head, the tires are worn down too much and should be replaced. And if the place you live gets a lot of extreme weather, consider buying winter tires. “All-season tires” is a misnomer. These tires are made of a dense compound that turns hard as a rock in the cold and won’t stand up to slippery streets. Winter tires are made from a softer compound, which stays pliable and sticks to the road better.
- If you live in a cold-weather area, get your car winter-serviced, which includes adding winter-grade fluids that resist freezing, like antifreeze, oil, and windshield-wiper solution. Also make sure that the levels are topped off throughout the season.
- Stock an emergency kit with road flares, a blanket, a shovel, a flashlight, jumper cables, a tow rope, an air compressor, duct tape, and an ice scraper. You may also want to add dry food, water, toilet paper, and warm clothes.
If You’re Driving in Foggy Conditions:
- Make sure to turn on the fog lights if you have them. (There’s usually a switch on the dashboard or on the same lever that controls the turn signal, but you can also use low beams in a pinch.) The lights are yellow, which cuts through fog better than white lamps do, and they’re low to the ground so the beams illuminate the road well.
- Before you enter a fog bank, slow down by pumping the brakes several times to alert the cars trailing you to back off. If you wait to apply the brakes until you’re in the thick of it, you could get hit from behind.
- Be extra-cautious driving over the crest of a hill because you won’t be able to see if there’s another car stopped there.
If You’re Driving in Rainy Weather:
- Slow down by at least 5 or 10 miles an hour. At certain speeds, your car can hydroplane, lifting off the ground, and you will be driving on a layer of water. If that happens, don’t panic; just slow down until the car feels normal again.
- Avoid driving through flooded areas because it will be difficult to gauge the water’s depth. This is dangerous in itself. And if water gets sucked into the air-intake valve and then the engine, the car will probably shut off.
- Immediately after you’ve driven through a puddle, take your foot off the gas and feather the brakes. This creates heat and friction, which will help dry the brakes.
If You’re Having Car Trouble:
- Pull off the road and put on your hazard lights. Set out flares around your car so it will be clearly visible to other vehicles. Place three at 100, 50, and 25 feet behind the vehicle. Be careful that they aren’t too close to any combustible grass or vegetation.
- Don’t wander off. It’s easy to lose direction in a storm. Stay with your car until help arrives.
- If the car is buried in snow, first make sure that the exhaust pipe is exposed. If the pipe is blocked by snow, it can send dangerous carbon monoxide into your car. If your tires are stuck in the snow, try to dig out the wheels using a shovel. (Stock one in the emergency kit.) You can use cat litter, sand, or the floor mats under tires to help gain traction.