Smart tips for extreme winter driving

Seventy percent of the cars on the road aren't prepared for winter, so first and most important is to be proactive. If you have 4-wheel drive and heated seats, that's not enough. If you are looking to purchase a new vehicle with all the incentives and low interest rates — now is the time. That means making sure your car is mechanically sound before the temperature dips and the streets get icy. Many vehicles are designed for all-season driving but it is your job to get that auto ready for the extreme weather that you will experience. I recommend the following tasks:

Check the owner's manual: Are your driving habits are considered "severe"? That means stop-and-go traffic, towing or lots of idling of your vehicle. If so, you will need to be on top of the vehicle's maintenance. Nine out of 10 drivers have something wrong with their vehicles, according to the Car Care Council's studies.

Engine oil freezes: Have the oil changed according to your owner's manual, usually every 3,000-5,000 miles; consider changing to a synthetic oil if you live in a cold climate.  Check the coolant or antifreeze: It should be flushed and refilled every two years in most vehicles unless you have long-life coolant. This fluid is what helps your vehicle give you heat and not freeze the engine.

Check the battery: If the engine starts slow, that is a hint that the battery needs to be replaced. Also, carry a set of jumper cables or a self-enclosed battery jumper — it's easier and safer to use!

Make sure everything works: Air filters should be changed to keep your vehicle breathing properly and improve fuel economy, too. Also, be certain the heater and defroster (the mechanical portion) are working properly — warmth is the key if you get stuck!

Fill ’er up: Keep the gas tank at least half full; this will decrease the chances of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing. Also use fuel line antifreeze.

Check tire-tread depth and tire pressure: Winter tires will give you the best braking, handling and safety in the cold temperatures. If you find yourself sliding around more than usual, check your pressures. For every 10 degrees of air pressure you will lose 1-2 pounds of pressure, which will give you poor handling and braking and wear out your tires quicker. Check tire pressure against the number inside your driver's door for the correct tire pressure for your auto.

Be prepared more than usual: A winter prep kit should include:

Jumper cables or, even better, a battery starter Ice scraperWindshield de-icer fluidTire inflation product Flashlight with extra batteries Aggressive snow brush Blanket Extra clothes (hats, winter jacket, scarf, gloves and winter boots) LED light source instead of flares  Bottled water Snacks (not sugary ones) Necessary medications First-aid kitAt least 4 hand warmers per person

Few of us are educated and practiced in how to drive in heavy rain, snow or on slippery road surfaces. For a safe drive, use these tips:

Adjust your speed to the current conditions When driving in challenging conditions, slow down. By decreasing your speed you will allow yourself more time to respond during a difficult situation.

Anticipate difficult situations
Many studies have shown that 80 percent of all accidents could be prevented with only one more second to react. This one second can be gained by looking far enough ahead of you to identify problems before you become a part of them.

Use grip effectively When roads are slippery, always brake in a straight line before the curve in the road. Taking your foot off the brake before you steer into the corner allows you to use the entire grip available for steering. Don't accelerate until the steering wheel is straight.

Drive with your headlights on
Whenever daytime visibility is less than clear, turn on your headlights, to be seen by other drivers. Remember this rule of thumb: "Wipers on, lights on." When traveling in snowy weather, remember to clear tail lights, turn signal lights, and turn on headlamps regularly.

Anti-lock brakes can't perform miracles
ABS braking systems give you the ability to brake and steer, though they are still limited by the grip available on the road and the type of tires on your vehicle. If you're driving too fast into a corner and then try to brake, even ABS won't keep you on the road.

Get help from your headlamps Leave your headlamps on low beam when driving in snow or fog. This will minimize the reflection and glare, improve visibility, and will help reduce eye fatigue.

Wear quality sunglassesGood-quality sunglasses help highlight changes in the terrain and road surface even in low-visibility conditions. Polarized lenses are your best choice.