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Tips for keeping your family safe on the road during winter months

Posted February 1
Updated May 19

This story was written for our sponsor, LeithCars.com.

With short days, slick roads and possible storms, winter is a scary time to drive, whether on paved highways or the roads less traveled -- and less plowed.

In fact, more than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured every year in crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Avoid becoming a statistic this winter by following these four tips.

Invest in a Winter Vehicle

Buy a car that thrives in winter and still drives well in summer. For example, Jeep vehicles are known for their ability to perform off-road and in winter conditions.

"Jeep is truly an all-season vehicle, capable of handling the elements with ease, comfort, stability and of course, class,” said Jody Bailly, internet sales and leasing specialist for Autopark Chrysler-Jeep. “Anyone looking for a stylish vehicle with the strength of an athlete, should consider a Jeep, I should know because I own one too."

Audi vehicles also have been known to tackle winter weather with aplomb, and Car and Driver reported an Audi A4 with snow tires made it through the cold season without hurting gas mileage.

Do your research when shopping for a car that needs to get you through all four seasons, and don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions when you visit a dealership so you can choose the best vehicle for you.

Use Four-Wheel Drive or All-Wheel Drive

The type of driving you do will guide you to which system you want in your car. Although four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive have similarities, there are a few key differences.

Four-wheel drive transmissions divide power equally between the four wheels, with the highest amount of torque possible. This is helpful when you get stuck in the mud or snow and need your car to power out of it.

You can turn the four-wheel drive on when driving off-road and turn it off when driving on paved roads or taking a corner that doesn’t need maximum and equal power to all wheels.

All-wheel drive usually stays on and splits power between car wheels. It works in varying road conditions, which can be helpful with changing seasons.

As long as you don’t go off-road a lot, all-wheel drive is a good choice for you to increase your control in winter weather.

Put on Snow Tires

Although it costs a little extra, snow tires will save you stress and possibly your life.

Additionally, you can use snow tires for several years, having your mechanic put them on at the beginning of the season, and then switching back to your regular tires come spring.

Popular Mechanics tested the difference between snow tires and regular tires in the dead of winter and found “it's clear in all situations that with either FWD or AWD there's a substantial advantage to having proper rubber under you.”

Preparing your car for winter driving

Get a Winter Safety Check

There are things you can do on your own, such as keeping an eye on tire pressure throughout the cold months. When the pressure drops, pull into a gas station that offers a free or low-cost air pump.

Also, check your antifreeze levels and try using a winter blend windshield washer fluid to prevent freezing so you can count on a clean windshield the next time you’re driving through a storm.

A concern that is often overlooked is your car door freezing shut. But something as simple as a trash bag can take care of that.

“You can put a trash bag between the door and the door jamb when you get home or to work,” suggested Kirby Morrow, consultant for fixed operations at Leith, Inc. “You can also spray some form of rubber dressing on your door seals to keep them from freezing the door shut.”

Morrow added, “In an emergency, you can use nonstick cooking spray. You can also use silicone in an emergency, but if you leave the silicone on the door seals for too long they can potentially cause them to prematurely deteriorate. So, if you have to use silicone be sure to wipe it off as soon as it is feasible."

The National Safety Council recommends enlisting a mechanic to check -- and fix, if necessary -- these areas:

  • Ignition
  • Brakes
  • Wiring
  • Hoses and fan belts
  • Spark plugs
  • Air, fuel and emissions filters, and PCV valve
  • Distributor
  • Battery
  • Tire wear and air pressure
  • Antifreeze level and freeze line

Finally, stock your car’s emergency kit with essential items recommended by AAA, as well as anything your family will need if you get stuck on -- or off -- the road.

This story was written for our sponsor, LeithCars.com.

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