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Snow falls on Marine Corps Base Quantico on Jan. 9, 2012. Folks are encouraged to prepare their vehicles for the winter driving conditions.

Photo by Cpl. Antwaun Jefferson

Key to avoiding winter driving disaster is vehicle preparation

27 Nov 2013 | Mike DiCicco

With winter coming on, those who transferred to Quantico from warmer climes recently — or even in the last two virtually snowless years — may need a quick tutorial in winter driving preparation. But even veterans of snowy weather can get cocky and forget to check their antifreeze level or throw a bag of kitty litter in the trunk.

For those who lack experience driving in snowy or icy conditions, Ed Billig, head of Quantico’s Traffic Safety Branch, cautioned against trying to gain that practice in the high-traffic Quantico area. “If you haven’t done it before, [Interstate] 95 isn’t the best test spot for it,” he advised.

If they do attempt driving, though, Billig said the best winter driving advice for beginners is, “Slow and steady — slow movements. You’re not slamming on the brakes, you’re not making sharp turns.”

A flyer put together by Dave Waters, driver’s training instructor at the Traffic Safety Branch, lays out basic procedures for preparing a vehicle for winter weather, beginning with ensuring proper levels of antifreeze.

Waters also advises switching to a lighter-weight engine oil for better motor circulation in the cold, and checking the air pressure in tires. Cold temperatures cause air pressure to drop, but for an accurate reading, pressure should be checked after the tires have been warmed by driving a short distance.

Billig said drivers can find the proper air pressure for their tires on the vehicle’s data plate. The pressure indicated on the tire itself, on the other hand, is a maximum for a fully loaded vehicle.

Waters reminds never to warm a car up in a closed garage and never to fall asleep in a running vehicle if stranded on the roadside, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from the vehicle’s exhaust. One way not to get stranded is to have the battery serviced and load-tested, and to replace any battery more than four years old.

In rear-wheel drive vehicles, he suggests placing sandbags over the rear axle for better traction. Also in the trunk should be a winter emergency kit, containing a blanket, hats, boots, gloves, a change of clothing, an ice scraper, a small snow shovel, a flashlight, batteries, kitty litter for traction, jumper cables, a tool kit, tire chains, a properly inflated spare tire, a wheel wrench and a tripod-type jack.

Other items to carry in the trunk include a “help” sign to put in the windshield, a compass, a first-aid kit, wooden matches in a waterproof container, canned food and a can opener.

Lastly, Waters advises, always keep the gas tank as full as possible, and carry a cell phone.

Billig said making these preparations is the most important way to avoid disaster.

“Like a football player is going to prepare for the game, you’ve got to prepare for winter driving, and the big thing is your car,” he said.

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico