FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Although winters in the South tend to be mild, Mother Nature will sometimes send a cold front that can ice over roads or even bring a little snow, leaving the most experienced Southern drivers unable to cope.

Fort Rucker officials want to make sure that people on the installation are ready for anything, especially when hitting the roads this winter season, said Rebecca Ghostley, garrison safety director.

Ghostley suggests that people stay prepared by making sure their vehicles are in tip-top shape before they take long trips or venture out in less-than-favorable weather conditions, adding that they can make sure they're ready by having necessary maintenance checks performed.

People should make sure they get an engine tune-up and check to make sure that all lights are in good working order, said the safety director. They should also have their brakes adjusted, and have their battery and voltage regulator checked, as well.

To ensure that their vehicle's engine is able to perform in colder weather, people should switch to winter-weight oil if they aren't already using all-season oil, she said, and make sure to check tires.

When checking tires, people should make sure to check tire tread to make sure the tires aren't too worn and ensure the tires are properly inflated, she added.

Having a car in proper working order isn't the only thing people should consider before heading out on trips, said Ghostley, who offered up tips people should consider before taking an extended trip:

• Get plenty of sleep the night before and never drive while tired;
• Map out a route prior to leaving;
• Let others know their route, destination and estimated time of arrival;
• Check weather forecast along the route and avoid traveling in areas with advisories;
• Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area due to possible carbon monoxide poisoning; and
• Prepare an emergency kit in the event they become stranded.

An emergency kit should include blankets, warm clothing, food and water, booster cables, flares, flashlights, battery-powered radio with extra batteries, cell phone, first-aid kit and any needed medications, said Ghostley.

While driving, people should always take extra caution, especially when operating a vehicle in inclement weather, she said.

"Always ensure everyone in the car is buckled up, and take a break at least every two hours," said the safety director. "Never use cruise control when driving on slippery or wet surfaces, and make sure you're familiar with your braking system before attempting to drive on wet or slick roads. Be extra careful when it rains after an extended dry period because the oil on the road will have built up creating an ultra-slick surface.

"People should always maintain a safe following distance behind another vehicle," she continued. "Depending on road conditions and speed, the following distance can vary between three to 10 seconds from the vehicle in front of you, with a minimum of six seconds during inclement weather."

In the event that people become snow-bound or stranded, she said the best course of action is to stay with the vehicle, which will provide a temporary shelter and make it easier for rescuers to locate them. Additionally, people should continue to move their arms and legs to keep blood flowing; tie a bright cloth on their antenna to signal they're in distress; turn on the dome light at night; make sure the tailpipe isn't blocked or clogged with snow or mud; run the engine and heater no more than 10 minutes every hour to conserve gasoline; and keep a downwind window open for ventilation.

In order to help people on Fort Rucker stay safe throughout the holidays, the automotive skills center is offering winter vehicle inspections by appointment through the month of December for authorized personnel.

"We want to make sure Soldiers and their families are safe before they go on long trips," said Tina Barber, auto skills center program manager.

The mechanics will perform an overall inspection of the vehicle -- checking multiple areas, including engine fluid levels, radiator fans, tire condition, belts and lights. Appointments are encouraged for the inspections, so people should call ahead and reserve a time.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 255-1075.