By Jay W. Dankner
If you live anywhere other than in about 8 states in the U.S. that either never or rarely gets snow and ice in the winter, ask yourself this: is your vehicle prepared to keep you safe if you live in one of those remaining 42 states where winter driving is about to get a little-to-very dangerous, and the days much shorter.
I’m not saying preventative maintenance isn’t important year-round. But winter weather is on the way and it can get particularly hazardous if your car isn’t ready for rougher and slipperier road conditions.
I’ve yet to meet a person who takes pleasure in having his or her vehicle break down in any season. But when temperatures drop below freezing and days get much shorter, not taking preventative measures to prevent a break down when you’re behind the wheel, and worse still if you’re carrying passengers, is taking too big of a risk.
So why not start the season off right now by ensuring your vehicle is in optimal condition.
The first step should be a visit to your mechanic for a tune-up and other routine maintenance. Have your vehicle checked thoroughly for leaks, badly worn hoses, or other needed parts, repairs, tire and break condition and replacements.
Check for Recalls
Owners may not always know that their vehicle is under an open recall and needs to be repaired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Recalls Look-Up Tool lets you enter a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to quickly learn if that specific vehicle has been recalled in the last 15 years and whether it has been repaired or not. Check for recalls on your vehicle by searching: www.nhtsa.gov/recalls. If your vehicle is under a recall, get it fixed at your nearest dealer FOR FREE.
When you take your car out after the first snowfall, go easy and take the time necessary to reacquaint yourself with how your vehicle handles in icy winter weather conditions. You might try practicing driving in an empty parking lot until the “feel” of the vehicle returns from icy seasons past.
Before driving your vehicle clean snow, ice, or dirt from the windows, the forward sensors, headlights, tail lights, and backup camera (if your car has one).
IMPORTANT ITEMS FOR YOU AND/OR YOUR MECHANIC TO CHECK
When the temperature drops to freezing and below so do battery power. For gasoline and diesel engines, it takes more battery power to start your vehicle in cold weather. For electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, the driving range is reduced when the battery is cold. Battery systems work better after they warm up. When you visit your mechanic make sure the mechanic checks the battery to ensure it’s up to the challenges of winter.
Make sure all the lights on your vehicle are in working order. Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights.
Have your mechanic thoroughly check the engine cooling system for leaks and have the coolant tested for proper mix, proper pH (acidity) and strength of the built-in corrosion inhibitors.
You should fill your vehicle’s window washing fluid reservoir before the first snow hits and keep a spare bottle of fluid in your trunk or hatchback. Be sure to check your windshield wiper blades (consider installing heavy-duty winter wipers) for tears and be sure to check your defrosters.
On messy snowy and icy days floor mats that are not properly secured in place on the floor of the car slip easier and may interfere with the operation of the accelerator or brake pedal, increasing the risk of a crash.
If you plan to use snow tires, have them installed in the fall so you are prepared before the first snowfall. Check out www.nhtsa.gov/tires for tire ratings before buying new ones and look for winter tires with the snowflake symbol.
As the outside temperature drops, so does tire inflation pressure. Make sure each tire is filled to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressure. Check the vehicle manual for details.
Look closely at your tread and replace tires that have uneven wear or insufficient tread. Ask your mechanic if you’re not sure.
Stock Your Vehicle
Be sure to carry the following items in your vehicle at all times to handle common winter driving-related emergencies and tasks:
- Keep either abrasive material such as sand or kitty litter to use in case you’re your vehicle if the vehicle gets stuck in the snow.
- Always have a snow shovel, broom and ice scraper on hand.
- Carry jumper cables, a flashlight and warning devices such as flares and emergency markers in the vehicle.
- Stock blankets for protection from the cold. Despite your best efforts, your vehicle could get stuck or stall on you and unable to restart.
Driving in Winter Conditions
Drive slowly. It’s harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. On the road, increase your following distance enough so that you’ll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you.
Always wear your seat belt and ensure that everyone else in your vehicle is buckled-up in age- and size-appropriate restraints. Be sure to comply with all regulations regarding car seats for children.
Remember that all children under age 13 should always ride properly restrained in the back seat.
Jay W. Dankner is Managing Partner of Dankner Milstein, P.C., one of the top New York City auto accident injury law firms.
For more information, or if you have been in an auto accident and injured, contact the top New York auto accident injury law firm of Dankner Milstein, P.C. by calling 212-751-8000. Or you can E-mail one of the firm’s lawyers for a free consultation.