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Prepare now for winter driving

POSTED November 30, 2011 9:26 a.m.
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Driving during the winter is more hazardous than other time of the year. There are fewer daylight hours and frequent occasions of inclement weather. The two combined make for more difficult driving conditions and increased chances of being in a crash.

Motorists can improve their chances for safe driving by taking just a few simple steps to ensure that their vehicles are safe to operate in the rain, fog and during evening hours. The first thing is to do is replace windshield wipers. They generally do not last for more than one year, and if the vehicle is always outside, the wipers have a shorter lifetime. Wipers range in price from about $7 to $20, depending on their overall quality. They are easy to install and readily available in easy-fit sizes. It is also important to make sure that vehicle windshield defrosters are functioning properly. If there are problems with the defroster, there may be a considerable repair expense, but being able to see clearly when driving is so important that whatever the cost, the repairs must be made.

Headlights, tail lights, brake lights and dash lights should all be functioning properly. Dash lights can be a challenge to replace, and may require the services of a professional mechanic, but the other lights can usually be replaced at home. Non-functioning vehicle lights, especially those for the brakes, can lead to traffic collisions and should therefore be checked frequently. Vehicles with only one headlight, for example, can be mistaken for a motorcycle. The reduced lighting leads to significantly reduced visibility. Many motorists switch to high beams to compensate for the lighting loss creating hazards for oncoming vehicles.

Tread depth on tires and having proper inflation is also important. Slick or "bald" tires are a major hazard in the rain or snow, so they should be replaced without delay. We also recommend that motorists keep their fuel tanks at least half full at all times, vehicles should contain fire extinguishers, an inflated spare tire, a lug wrench, jack, blanket, flashlight and a first aid kit. The aforementioned items are particularly useful when traveling anywhere outside of the local city limits. Assistance may take an extended amount of time responding to motorists who break down in rural areas, so it is important to be prepared.

Most of what I have described in this column is a matter of common sense, but things around this time of year get busy and people tend to forget about basic issues like preparing for winter driving. I hope everyone has a safe winter!
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