While the official start of winter may still be a couple of weeks off, many parts of the country have already experienced the first icy blasts of what's to come. To assist motorists in rolling though the upcoming holiday season and safely on into spring, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has assembled a tip sheet that outlines the kind of precautions every owner should take in preparing both their vehicles and themselves for coping with whatever an often-fickle Mother Nature decides to dish out. 

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As always, preventive maintenance is pivotal to ensuring your car or truck will be up to the cold weather challenge. That process should start with a complete inspection of its battery, tires, wiper blades, lights, heater/defroster and brakes as well as a full servicing of all key fluids and filters. While the engine oil type and level remains critical as always, remember the coolant and washer fluid in any vehicle that will be operated in sub-freezing conditions also must be capable of withstanding the rigors of extreme cold without going "solid-state" at the worst possible time. Finally, the NHTSA stresses the importance of proper fitment of floormats to prevent potential interference with the accelerator or brake pedals.

The driver has an equally important role to play in the overall winter motoring equation. It focuses on planning ahead for both the likely and the unexpected. Part of that vigilance involves remaining alert at all times and aware that conditions can -- and do -- change in a moment, so prior to  setting out on any trip, be sure to check all weather and road advisories along your travel route. And stock your vehicle's trunk or cargo bay with a few key survival items like a small snow shovel, ice scraper, jumper cables, a flashlight, road flares and some salt or sand as well as emergency food and water, blankets and additional warm clothing, just in case. 

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In addition to familiarizing yourself with the vehicle's navigation system if one is present, the NHTSA advises bringing along your cell phone as well as a charger to maximize chances of staying in contact with the outside world should things suddenly take a big-time turn for the worse. It also recommends keeping the fuel tank close to full whenever possible as insurance against running out of gas due to delays caused by unanticipated traffic tie-ups or road closures. Finally, just assume getting anywhere in these types of adverse conditions is likely to take longer than normal and leave extra time to get to your destination in a safe, sane manner. The complete NHTSA checklist as well as a helpful interactive winter driving graphic can be found at www.nhtsa.gov/links/WinterDrivingTips/index.html.

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