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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE WINTER DRIVING AGENDA:
PLAN CAREFULLY, BE PREPARED


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

November 18, 1999 -- Punishing snow and ice storms humble even the most confident drivers. It should also teach travelers that safe winter driving requires careful advance planning and an extraordinarily high degree of preparedness.

Here's what you should do to drive comfortably and safely this winter.

PREPARE YOUR CAR
Before you depart on a winter trip, make sure your car is in good mechanical condition. Ask your repair shop to inspect the hoses and belts as well as the electrical, exhaust and coolant systems. Test your headlights, turn signals and flashers. Make sure the seat belts and wiper blades operate properly. Change the oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles and rotate the tires on schedule. Check the inflation on your spare tire and keep your container of windshield washer fluid full.

CHECK YOUR BATTERY
Pay particular attention to your car battery because it is a common cause of on-the-road problems. Today's batteries don't require water, but make sure that the terminals ends are clean and free of corrosion and that the cable connections are secure. Carefully monitor the condition of any battery more than two years old. Replace any battery more than four year old.

PLAN YOUR ROUTES IN ADVANCE
Joyriding and getting pleasantly lost may be fun in summer, but it could be dangerous in winter. Plot your route--and an alternate--with Mapquest. Print out the results and supplement your Mapquest directions with a supply of current road maps. Stick to the major highways rather than trying short cuts on unfamiliar smaller roads. Calculate your travel time to include rest stops every two hours, preferably at places with restaurants, fuel and rest rooms. Make hotel or motel reservations in advance. Limit your driving to seven or eight hours a day.

MODIFY YOUR DRIVING HABITS
Different winter weather conditions call for different driving strategies.

If you're driving in rainy weather, for example, you can improve your traction by reducing speed and allowing at least four seconds' stopping distance between you and the car ahead. To keep your brake linings from getting wet while driving through puddles, put your left foot lightly on the brake pedal. Once you've cleared the puddle, pump the break pedal a few times.

Driving in ice and snow is a matter of making sure that the tires make good contact with the road. To improve traction when starting out, spread sand, salt or other abrasive materials in front or behind wheels. (If you prefer, buy reusable plastic "traction mats" at an auto-supply store, then store them in your trunk.) When stopping on snowy and icy roads, slowly ease off on your accelerator and pump your brakes. Abrupt braking causes skids.

In foggy weather, turn on your low-beam headlights. Don't use your high beams ("the brights") because they shine directly into the fog and cause glare.

BE READY FOR THE WORST
A basic supply kit--flashlight, jumper cables, flares or reflective triangles, hand tools, duct tape and gloves--is absolutely essential. But it is not enough protection if your car is disabled in winter weather.

During the winter months, be sure your trunk is also stocked with a first-aid kit, matches, a transistor radio, extra batteries and blankets. Also pack a supply of large plastic garbage bags because they can be worn for protection against the wind. If you own a cellular phone or citizen's-band radio, bring it along. Either can be used to summon help.

This column originally appeared at Mapquest.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.