There’s no denying it – winter has arrived, and the season’s snow, sleet, and ice create hazardous driving conditions and a higher likelihood of breakdowns and other problems. One of the most important steps you can take is to ensure your vehicle is prepared for winter driving conditions. By following this checklist, you’ll feel safer and more confident about being on the roads in winter.

1. Prepare an emergency kit

You can take this step well in advance of the first snow. Critical items often include: a first aid kit, flashlight, ice scraper, blankets, tools for repairs, sand for traction, extra windshield fluid, jumper cables, and flares. Consider other essential, personal items, such as: a fully charged cell phone and charger, personal medications, non-perishable snacks, bottled water, and extra clothing.

2. Bring your vehicle to your mechanic for a thorough maintenance check

Unless you’re especially skilled with the mechanics of your car, your best bet is to allow an expert to make sure it’s fully prepared for the season. A mechanic will check key problem areas, such as: your battery’s condition, antifreeze replacement, windshield wiper blades, properly functioning anti-lock brakes, tire tread depth and pressure, lights and signals, and the exhaust system. While you’re there, get an oil change and begin the winter with a clean, full supply in your engine. If you live in a particularly cold region with extreme winter driving conditions, you might consider swapping your tires for snow tires and adding snow chains and other traction devices.

3. Practice especially safe driving habits

Before heading out, let a friend or loved one know your route and destination and make sure your phone is fully charged. While driving, it’s even more important in unfavorable conditions to stay focused on the road and drive cautiously. Snow and ice creates a wintry mix that can be deadly if you steal a quick glance at an incoming text or attend to an unhappy child in the backseat. Watch the roads for potholes, which are more prevalent in the winter and can throw off a vehicle’s alignment and result in bent rims and axles, broken springs, and unbalanced tires. Maintain enough distance from other cars since snow and ice sliding off of them can hit your car and cause significant damage.

Additional safe driving tips include: keeping your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up; avoiding using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather if possible; and avoiding using cruise control when driving on any slippery surface.

Proper auto preparation and maintenance, combined with cautious driving are the two most essential components to keep yourself and your car safe this winter. Unless the roads are exceptionally treacherous, there’s no reason to stay indoors; follow these steps and you can feel much more confident.