The first significant snow arrived well before winter this year. Thankfully, it fell over Thanksgiving weekend, which meant I could savor the landscape’s transition to white from the comfort of my living room. This was fortunate because I hadn’t yet taken the proper precautions for cold, snowy weather.

My two-wheel drive truck didn’t have any added weight in the back. There also was no extra coat, extra boots with wool socks and a pair of winter gloves stashed in the cab along with an emergency blanket that looks like a big piece of aluminum foil. I’ve added all of those and also topped up the tires with air. If I do end up in a ditch, I’d much rather be warm and dry while waiting for help.

Despite all this preparation, I’d still rather not risk finding a ditch or worse during winter weather. The best course is to stay home. When that’s not possible, however, it’s best to be prepared with some extra clothes and a few essentials that should be in a vehicle regardless of the season. Items like a working flashlight, extra batteries, matches, candles and, if you regularly travel to areas with limited cell reception, some food.

Cold, wet weather makes the difference from a bad day to a catastrophic one razor thin. If you do run into trouble, help will take longer to arrive and your survival will depend on what you have in your vehicle. Topping off your gas tank before a trip can ensure a few extra hours of heat if you get stranded.

Usually, your vehicle will offer the most protection from the elements and will be easier to spot in the elements than an individual. If it’s safe, the best thing to do is stay inside the cab and keep warm. Being on the side of a slippery road with reduced visibility is a recipe for getting hit by oncoming traffic. And, in blizzard conditions, it’s exceedingly easy to get lost just a few feet from your vehicle.

Common sense when driving also goes a long way. Check the weather on the route to your destination before leaving. You can even check road conditions at places like Give yourself more time to account for driving slower and stopping more often if necessary. Do without the cruise control if it’s snowing or icing out and remember four-wheel drive doesn’t do anything to increase your ability to stop on slick surfaces.

If conditions allow you to be outside the vehicle, proceed with caution. If you’re attempting to dig out of a snowbank or performing other physical tasks, take plenty of breaks and stay warm. Slow and steady will help keep one accident from becoming another.

It’s far better to arrive at your destination a little late rather than never arrive at all. Take the extra time to prepare as we drive into winter so we can all enjoy the longer, warmer days that lie ahead.