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Winter Driving Checklist - How to Prepare Your Car for Winter Conditions

Winter weather can dramatically alter road conditions, bringing unique (and sometimes dangerous) challenges. No matter what type of vehicle you drive, it's best to mitigate the risks by making sure you pack the right equipment.

Winter will soon be arriving which means rain, snow, ice, slick roads, and everything in between. Holiday travel can be hazardous when Mother Nature doesn’t want to cooperate, but adequate preparation can minimize the risks associated with driving in winter conditions. Our staff at Bestcovery has compiled a list of must-haves to help you safely make the trek over the river and through the woods to visit grandma for the holidays.

Wipers

Forward visibility is essential when driving in inclement weather, and your vehicle's windshield wipers are one of the only components that can help maintain a clear view. Unfortunately, worn-out wipers are usually detected when they start streaking right when they're needed the most. It's best to replace them before they let you down this winter, and we've compiled a list of the best replacement windshield wipers for your convenience. Our top pick, the Rain-X Latitude Premium Graphite Coated Wiper Blades, are a great all-around choice that won't break the bank.

Window Treatment

Wiper blades will keep your windshield clean, but what about your mirrors and the rest of your windows? Rain-X produces our top pick for replacement windshield wipers, but they're much better-known for their window treatment chemicals. The hydrophobic formula clings to the glass and will make water bead off on contact, improving visibility in rain, snow, and sleet. Apply Rain-X window treatment to all exterior windows to ensure ultimate visibility.

Winter Tires

If you plan on driving in areas that get real winter conditions such as ice and snow, we strongly recommend fitting your vehicle with winter tires. All-season tires are a good compromise for most seasons, but very few of them can deliver a safe level of traction when snow and slush builds up on the roads. If you've never used winter tires before, they're a revelation when the temperature plummets and frozen roads are a real possibility. No tire can offer perfect grip in all conditions, but dedicated winter tires like the Michelin X-Ice can just about eliminate white-knuckle traction loss from unpredictable road conditions. The difference in performance between an all-season tire and a winter tire is so profound that even 2WD vehicles fitted with winter tires will outperform AWD/4WD vehicles equipped with all-season tires in winter conditions.

While it's definitely annoying to have to deal with two sets of tires for a single car or truck, the silver lining is that each set of tires will last twice as long since they'll alternate based on the seasons.

Note: It may be tempting to keep the winter tires installed on your vehicle year-round, but we strongly recommend against it. The pliable compound that allows the tires to provide traction in freezing conditions will wear out at an accelerated rate when driven in warmer weather, and will quickly render the tires useless in any environment.

Tire Chains

For weekend getaways or quick jaunts up the mountain to hit the slopes, winter tires might be overkill. In this case, tire chains are the next best temporary solution until you're away from winter conditions. Keep in mind that it's illegal in many jurisdictions to drive on tire chains unless certain stretches of roads have been designated or approved, such as a snow-packed mountain pass on the way to your favorite ski resort. We have compiled a list of the best tire chains if you would like to learn more about our top picks. Our favorite is the Thule/Konig CG9. It may be a little more expensive, but ease of installation and materials to protect your alloy wheels ranks it the highest on our list. When it's well below freezing outside, the ability to quickly install chains suddenly becomes important.

Emergency Equipment

Whether it's to install chains or perform a quick roadside repair, we always recommend putting on a good set of work gloves. One of the best gloves out there are the Mechanix Original Covert Glove. It's form-fitting with a single-layer palm for extra dexterity, so you can do what you need to do and get back on the road as soon as possible.

Any time you're stopped at the side of the road, it's absolutely crucial to alert other motorists to your presence. Road flares are one of the simplest and easiest ways to signal that you're stopped, and technology has enabled drivers to move away from the old pyrotechnic kind in favor of bright LED lights. The best of the bunch are bright enough to be seen in the worst weather conditions, and are shatterproof, rainproof, and can even float when submerged. Our recommendation is the Gear Gurus LED Road Flares Kit; they're powered by three AAA batteries and are compact enough to bring multiple units without taking up valuable luggage space.

Since there's no guarantee that roadside emergencies will happen only during the day, make sure you have lighting options available. Flashlights are an obvious choice, but the downside is that they require a hand (either yours or a helper) to steady the beam. Headlamps are a great alternative, since the light follows your direct line of sight and keeps your hands free for other tasks. Foxelli offers a pair of headlamps that we highly recommend - the Rechargeable model and the standard battery-powered model. The former is charged using a regular micro USB cable and provides up to 40 hours of light from a single charge, while the latter uses 3 AAA batteries as the power source. They're available in a wide range of colors, but we recommend picking a bright, high-visibility color such as Neon Yellow to make sure other motorists see you. Both models are rated IPX5 waterproof, meaning they'll survive if exposed to rain. These headlamps comfortable to wear for hours on end, and are durable enough to withstand rough treatment for years. Best of all, they're very affordable and widely available.

Preparation is key when it comes to safe winter driving, and there's really no such thing as being too prepared for extreme conditions. Be safe out there, and more importantly, have fun during this winter season! For additional equipment in the event of a breakdown our guides on the best battery jump starter, replacement headlights, jumper cables and anti-freeze.

Bestcovery Staff
Our research team searches out the best of everything so that you can confidently pick the perfect products and services for your needs.
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