Many people simply admire the beauty of the fall as the leaves turn red or brown. They allow winter to sneak up on them without taking any precautions. This year, the Northeast has already seen snow and ice. It came slightly earlier than usual, reminding us of the need to use autumn as the time preparing for winter driving conditions. The question, of course, is what you should do. In part, this depends on where you live, what the winter usually brings in your area, and how frequently you are required to drive in bad conditions. Obviously, if you live in the south where little happens from one year’s end to the next, you can ignore the problem. But if you live in central or northern areas, there are varying degrees of hazard to contend with. Let’s start with the more extreme problems.

Experience should tell you whether you live in an area which is regularly serviced by snow plows. If not, you need to look carefully at the state of your tires (winter tires have a softer rubber to improve traction), and consider the need to learn how to fit chains. Now think ahead. You need to be able to see where you are going so wiper blades must be effective. The car must start when the temperatures fall below freezing. So maintenance is necessary to reset the ignition and prevent the water system from freezing. The battery must be reliable. The windshield wiper fluid must not freeze. Now let’s assume it has snowed. Before you get in the car, clear all the snow from the windows, headlights, and side mirrors. If you want to avoid annoying those following behind you, you can clear the roof as well. Before you set off, check the radio for warnings about the conditions where you propose to drive.

If your journey is not absolutely necessary, stay home. Even if you own a four-wheel drive vehicle, drive slowly. Any vehicle can slip on an icy road. Finally, you should carry an emergency kit. Your cellphone must be fully charged so you can call for assistance. If you may be in areas where signal strength is poor, carry blankets, candles and food. Should you feel like helping others who get into trouble, you can carry booster cables to deal with flat batteries and tow cables.

In all this, remember to check the car insurance rates by state. You want the premium rates tailored to the weather conditions you are facing. Now think carefully about your own claims record. You command the cheap car insurance rates if you go without ever making a claim. So the safer you make your own driving, the lower your rates will fall over time. One possibility to consider is going through a winter defensive driving course. Learning how to react when your car goes into a skid is useful. Put all this together any you should strike a balance between maintenance costs and cheap car insurance.