FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 6, 2012) -- Winter is a popular time for travel as people hurry to get to their Families in time for the holiday season, but Aviation Branch Safety Office officials want to make sure that people reach their destinations safely.

One of the keys to ensuring that people stay safe while traveling during the season is to make sure their vehicles are in tip-top shape for driving in cold weather, according to Scotty Johnson, ABSO air safety specialist.

"Preparing to drive in winter is essential [for safety]," he said. "One of the most important things is to make sure that your car is in good condition and ready to deal with the cold, snow and ice of winter."

Although much of the South doesn't experience winter weather like snow and ice, Johnson said its necessary to be prepared for anything.

And he also offered some tips to keep cars safe for winter driving.

Get the right kind of oil change

If you're approaching the time for a full service for your vehicle, don't procrastinate. Among other things, the service should include an oil change, which should have the right viscosity for the vehicle for this time of year. Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder, and if it's too thick, it won't do the best job keeping the engine lubricated. People should check their owner's manual for guidance about which oil to use in different climates and temperatures.

Make sure you can see

Make sure that you keep up with when the last time you changed your windshield wiper blades. They usually work effectively for about one year, so be sure to invest in some new ones if you're due. Also, make sure the windshield washer reservoir in your vehicle is full with windshield washer fluid. Plain water won't do the trick during this time of year because it can freeze in cold weather. Also, make sure that your vehicles' heater and defroster are working properly so that the windshield can be kept clear of frost.

Give your battery a little TLC

This is an ideal time of year to make sure that your car's battery's posts and connections are corrosion-free and the battery has all the water it needs. If the battery is more than three years old, have a certified repair shop test its ability to hold a charge.

Examine your belts and hoses

When having a full-service check done on a vehicle, make sure that the belts and hoses are checked for wear and tear -- even if you are driving a newer car. Cold weather can do a number on the belts and hoses of a car, so they deserve attention around this time of year.

Check your tire pressure

Tires must be properly inflated to ensure the best possible traction with the road. Traction is often severely jeopardized in wet, snowy or icy conditions. The air pressure in tires tends to drop when weather gets colder, so it's important to see where things stand. You can generally expect that tires will lose one pound per square inch whenever the temperature drops by 10 degrees. People should check their owner's manual to see what the proper tire pressure should be for their vehicle.

Think about switching to snow tires

If you live in a hilly place with lots of snow, it might be a good idea to invest in winter tires to improve traction. Although all-season tires are meant for winter driving, if you live in an area of heavy snow, the extra traction provided by winter tires could be a life saver.

Check your four-wheel drive

If your vehicle has four-wheel drive, it's important to check the status of your 4WD system and be sure it's working correctly. Most drivers don't use their 4WD systems in the summer months, so be sure that the system engages and disengages easily, and that all drivers in your household know how and when to activate it.

Get the antifreeze mixture just right

People should aim to have a 50-50 mix of antifreeze, or coolant, and water inside the radiator. This will prevent the mixture from freezing even at extremely cold temperatures. It's easy to check the status of the mixture with a tester that can be picked up at any auto parts store. If the mixture is off, the cooling system should be drained and refilled or flushed. People should also make sure they are equipped to dispose of old antifreeze properly if they do it themselves -- it can't just be poured down a drain.

Prepare an emergency kit

During the winter months, people should prepare a kit that they can store in their trunks -- especially if there is a road trip in their future. Some of the items people should have in their kit are: blankets; extra boots and gloves; extra set of warm clothes; extra water and food, including hard candies; an ice scraper; a small shovel; a flashlight; windshield washer fluid; windshield wipers; flares; jumper cables; a tool kit; tire chains; a tire gauge; a spare tire with air in it; tire-changing equipment; a first-aid kit; paper towels; and a bag of abrasive material such as sand, which can provide additional traction if a tire gets stuck in the snow.

Know what to do if you get stranded

If stranded, people shouldn't wander away from the car unless they are completely sure about where they are and how far away help is. They should light two flares and situate them at each end of the vehicle to call attention to them. Put on extra clothes and use a blanket to stay warm. If there is enough gas in the tank, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Leave at least one window open a little bit so that snow and ice don't seal the car shut, and suck on a hard candy to prevent your mouth from getting too dry.

Johnson also advises that people stay alert, slow down and stay in control.

"Weather conditions can change quickly, placing extra demands on your vehicle and your driving skills," he said. "Keep your focus on the road and on other vehicles, eliminate all distractions and make sure you are well rested."

In order to help people on Fort Rucker stay safe throughout the holidays, the automotive skills center is offering free pre-Christmas vehicle inspections Dec. 17 and 18. The inspections take about an hour and people should call to make an appointment.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 255-9725.