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Prepare yourself and your vehicle for winter driving

THE number of calls the British Columbia Automobile Association gets for roadside assistance typically doubles during wet, snowy winter months.

THE number of calls the British Columbia Automobile Association gets for roadside assistance typically doubles during wet, snowy winter months.

But, according to a recent BCAA press release, many breakdowns, emergencies and related inconveniences can be avoided. You just need to prepare yourself and your vehicle, and drive according to the weather conditions.

"Whether you're unable unlock your car, start your car, or need to be recovered from a snow bank, our team sees first-hand how distressing winter-related breakdowns can be for our members," BCAA's associate vice president of Road Assist Ken Cousin said in the release. "Drivers need to appreciate that wet or freezing conditions place added stress on a vehicle, and can trigger a malfunction or breakdown at the most inopportune time, or worse - contribute to an accident."

BCAA's Roadside Assistance technicians recommend a full pre-winter vehicle check-up, and advise drivers to take the following precautions: Prepare your vehicle

- Ensure tires are properly inflated. Use high-quality winter tires, all four the same.

- Test your battery and replace if necessary. Colder temperatures and using more electrical accessories will reduce a battery's power output, making engines more difficult to start.

- Top up your windshield washer reservoir regularly with winter-grade washer fluid.

- Ensure all lights are clean and working properly.

- Ensure your engine's cooling system has the appropriate strength antifreeze.

- Spray lock lubricant into your key cylinders regularly to prevent door locks from freezing.

Manage your journey and be prepared for an emergency

- Check for the latest weather information to ensure conditions on your planned route are OK.

- Allow extra travel time. Let someone know your destination, planned route and expected time of arrival.

- If you're planning on driving over snow-bound mountain passes, purchase correctly sized tire chains, and practise installing them at home, rather than at the roadside.

- Only put tire chains on drive wheels. Never exceed the speed limit recommended by the chain manufacturer. Watch for other cars around you when installing chains.

- If you're a BCAA member, keep your membership card handy in case you need to call for roadside assistance.

What to carry with you

- Warm clothes (ideally some reflective), blanket, good winter boots and gloves.

- Fully charged mobile phone and phone charger.

- A windshield scraper, snow brush, shovel and spare container of winter-grade washer fluid.

- Emergency and first-aid kits and a supply of food and water for longer trips.

- Sunglasses. When it's sunny, glare from icy or wet roads can be blinding.

How to drive in winter conditions

- Slow down to help you stay in control.

- Completely clean all the snow from your vehicle's windows, hood, roof and trunk.

- Ensure your windshield, windows and mirrors are free of frost and ice, and are de-fogged.

- Drive for the conditions, not the speed limit. Use your turn signals well in advance.

- Increase the distance between yourself and the car in front of you.

- Steer gently and avoid harsh braking and acceleration, especially if you begin to skid on ice or snow. Gear down instead of braking, especially when driving down hills.

- Use lower driving lights in poor visibility and snow, so others can see you!

- If you enter floodwater, drive slowly so your vehicle doesn't stall. Go through one vehicle at a

time and don't cross if the water seems too deep. Test your brakes after you're through the water before driving at a normal speed.

What to do if you breakdown

- If it's safe to do so, stay with your vehicle until help arrives.

- Pay attention to your surroundings and ensure your passengers are safe.

- If you have to leave your vehicle, wear high visibility clothing so others can see you.

- If you have to abandon your vehicle, park safely to avoid obstruction to maintenance vehicles such as snow plows. Give local police details of your vehicle's location immediately.

For more tips on winter driving, visit BCAA's Learning Centre.