All these winter wagons look great in the showroom and in the fancy, hill-hugging ads, but Cox recommends that shoppers carefully consider their needs before jumping on the SUV/truck bandwagon. "Unless you need the carrying capacity or off-road capability, buy an all-wheel-drive car. It'll have a lower center of gravity [than a SUV or truck], and it'll be lighter. On snow and ice, a lighter, lower vehicle will handle better. And the handling will be more refined in the first place."

from winter wuss to winter warrior
new to winter driving or an old hand at it, we remind you that mother nature always holds the trump card. whether you're in the market for new wheels or not, these five easy steps, compiled from personal experience and tips from our friends at the bridgestone winter driving school, will increase your odds of staying safe on winter roads.

1: be prepared
this means giving your car a thorough once-over before the first snow hits. things to check: fluid levels, battery, suspension, tires, and brakes. remember that winter is merciless; just because everything is working fine now doesn't mean it'll hold up to sub-freezing temperatures and slippery roads.

2: pack it
if you're driving in the snow belt, don't hit the road without these basic provisions in the trunk: a small bag of sand (throw it under the wheels if you get stuck), a shovel (you know what to do with that), jumper cables, an emergency blanket, and flares. even if you're not expecting a call, bring your cell phone. and if you're not wearing 'em, pack winter boots, a hat, and gloves in case you have to walk to get help.

3: test road conditions