FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- During the winter, driving becomes more hazardous, and extreme weather can take its toll on both vehicles and drivers.

Taking appropriate steps such as conducting by-the-book preventive maintenance checks and services, and applying risk management before hitting the road could save drivers from breakdowns and potentially dangerous situations.

Climate changes have an effect on vehicles and equipment. Reliable transportation is vital to keeping Soldiers safe and accomplishing missions. Soldiers and leaders must realize highways and roads can quickly become slick and treacherous during winter.

As road conditions deteriorate, drivers shouldn't overreact with quick starts, turns, or stops. When starting, drivers should accelerate slowly while keeping the front wheels pointed straight ahead. They should also keep their speed down and increase following distances behind other vehicles. A four-second gap or more is a good interval on a slippery road.

Applying brakes with steady pressure may prevent locked wheels and skids. If the vehicle begins to skid, drivers should lightly turn into the skid and ease the foot off the gas pedal until they regain control.

Another important factor to consider before entering the winter season is vehicle preparation. Vehicle operators need to keep assigned equipment in proper running condition throughout the colder months. Vehicles should be winterized around September or early October - before cold weather sets in.

During the winter, not only should vehicles be kept fully mission capable, they also need to be winterized in an effort to avoid inconvenient or dangerous situations while traveling in inclement weather. The last thing a driver needs is a vehicle that breaks down in harsh winter weather.

As nearly any driver can attest, the cold months can be quite hard on Army vehicles. Not only does an engine require special attention to get it purring in freezing temperatures, the exterior and other components can take a beating as well.

Although Army vehicles are designed to operate well in all temperatures, take the following measures before the winter weather arrives:

• Perform preventive maintenance checks and services. Conduct the before, during, and after checks as prescribed by the vehicle's technical manual. Ensure scheduled maintenance is performed in accordance with the vehicle service intervals.

• Check engine coolant. Make sure the recommended coolant has the proper mix of antifreeze and water. A coolant system is not only designed to keep the engine from overheating or freezing, it's also responsible for protecting it against corrosion.

• Check the oil. Refer to the equipment manual for the vehicle-specific oil level and viscosity. When the outside temperature changes, it will influence the internal engine temperature, so make sure to use the proper oil for the conditions.

• Check battery. Have the battery checked by maintenance personnel. Ensure the battery connections are free of corrosion. A vehicle battery can die without notice. During extreme winter temperatures, a battery's life may be reduced by 30 percent.

• Check the lights, defroster, and heater. Ensure all components are fully operational.

• Check tire tread depth. Ensure the depth is within the measurement prescribed by the manual and the tires are serviceable to avoid hydroplaning or loss of control.

• Check tire pressure. Make sure to inflate tires with the proper PSI listed in the manual. Tire pressure is especially important during the winter, as a properly inflated tire will help guarantee better traction in wet, snowy conditions.

• Check brakes. Ensure the brake lines and hoses are serviceable and brake fluid is at the proper level.

• Check windshield wiper blades and fluid. Check the condition of windshield wiper blades and replace worn blades before driving. Also, check and fill the wiper fluid reservoir. Limited visibility while driving during the winter months can be frustrating. Precipitation and salt buildup on the windshield can wreak havoc while driving in winter weather.

• Check basic issue items. Ensure the basic issue item (BII) inventory is complete and all items are in the vehicle during operations. Components of BII are designed to help personnel during emergencies.

• Inspect tire chains. Ensure they are serviceable and crews are trained on how to properly install them.

• Carry an emergency kit. Additional items such as gloves, ice scraper, windshield washer fluid, jumper cables, first-aid kit, snow shovel, and flashlight will assist during emergency situations.

• Don't be overconfident. Whether the vehicle is a four- or two-wheel drive, both will slip on ice, so drivers must be extra careful.

• Check road conditions. Know the difference between conditions. Vehicle operations may start out as green or amber but could change to red or black during your mission.

Along with these tips, it's imperative that drivers heed the warning and caution statements listed in the vehicle's manual. Prior planning, winterizing vehicles, and applying safe habits are all key components of safe driving habits.

Through proper understanding of winter driving and vehicle operations, the Army can reduce accidents. With the information and resources available in the Driver's Training Toolbox, every Soldier has the tools to drive and complete the mission safely. Visit the Driver's Training Toolbox at for more information.