We're over a month out from the official start of winter, but the heavy snow falling this morning is telling us something else. It's blanketing those of us at Autoblog HQ in metro Detroit, and the storms are hitting many other large swaths of the country, too. Ideally, everybody would already have their winter tires on and be ready for the elements. We're sure the weather creeped up on many of you (as it did us), though.

So, it's time for a reminder to prepare your car for the blizzards to come and to adjust our driving habits to match those conditions. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but we see folks ignoring what some many consider to be obvious all the time.

Check your fluids: Antifreeze and washer fluid (not to mention gas) should be topped off. You also can prepare for the worst by keeping emergency provisions in the trunk: flashlight (with fresh batteries), warm clothes, first aid kit, flare, and a backup cellphone charger.

Check your wipers: If they're not fresh, invest in a new set. Also, make sure they're clear of snow and ice before setting off.

Mount winter tires: You'll have better traction in every direction. More important, they will reduce your stopping distance. Read up on why winter tires are far superior to all season tires here.

Adjust your tire pressure: When snow is present, it may be wise to let a bit of air out from the max PSI as the increased surface area of your tread (you still have tread, right?) will help with traction. On the flip side, be sure your tires have enough pressure in them as the temperatures dip. The colder air causes the pressure to go down, so your tires that may have been perfectly fine in the 90 degree summer heat may be low now. Temperatures are predicted to dip into the single digits this week in the north.

Clear your car: Remove all snow from your windshield, headlights and taillights. Don't forget the roof! Make sure you get it all. A massive chunk of snow flying off at 70 mph can easily spark an accident on the highway as you blind the drivers behind you.

Lock your doors: That safety cage around you will protect you better if your doors don't pop open in an accident.

Warm up your car: This one is a hotly debated topic, but when there's snow out, it makes sense to let the car run and melt the snow/ice off it before heading out. Allowing the car a couple of minutes to get up to operating temperature is also good for the engine under extreme conditions, and warms up the cabin for you. If you're more comfortable in the driver's seat, you're going to be a better driver in those extreme winter conditions.

Turn on your lights: A modern phenomenon is people driving around with daytime running lights at night, which means their taillights are not illuminated. It only makes sense to help others see you when the weather is poor by consciously turning on your headlights. A good rule, any time of year, is turn on your headlights whenever you need to use windshield wipers. Many new cars do this automatically with auto headlights, but it's always worth checking when conditions are bad.

Turn off your high beams: Your brights probably aren't the answer in heavy snow. Most of the time, they degrade your forward sight, and they'll certainly hurt the visibility of cars around you.

Slow down: All-wheel drive does not make you invincible. The vehicle will come to a stop just the same as a front-wheel drive car. And, regardless of what you drive, most states require driving under the speed limit in inclement weather.

Easy does it: Accelerate slowly, brake gently, and try not to do much of either while turning. Cars today can stop on a dime, but not when it's wet or icy. Increase your following distance. And remember that all-wheel drive can give you a false sense of security, making you think road conditions are better than they are. But when it comes time to slow down or stop, an AWD vehicle does not brake any better than anything else.

Be mindful of road conditions: Bridges and overpasses can get slick before other parts of roadways. Be aware of parts of the road that are in shadow. Slow down before you reach questionable pavement, not once you're on it.

Don't stop if you can avoid it: But do follow the rules of the road. This applies best to deep snow situations, which some parts of the country will be experiencing later today. If you know your car doesn't dig out of deep snow easily, don't strand yourself in the middle of nowhere for no good reason.

Don't use cruise control: Driving alertly, not passively, is called for in the snow, plus cruise control will contribute to an accident if you hydroplane, skid or encounter black ice. Additionally, your car's adaptive cruise control may not function as it should in snowy conditions. The sensors and radar could become blocked by snow and ice, leaving you to slow the car on your own.

Always use your turn signals: Does this really need to be said? It's especially important in severe conditions to communicate to others on the road.

Leave your phone alone: Ditto!

Check your mirrors: Know what's around you, in case you find yourself in a skid. Also don't forget to check your blind spot when changing lanes.

When faced with a skid: The natural reaction is to brake. Don't do that. Keep your feet off the pedals and steer into the skid until the car slows enough for you to regain control. If your car is front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, gently pressing the accelerator can help straighten you out.

Use a lower gear: If going down a hill in poor weather, shifting to a lower gear will help you control your speed thanks to engine braking.

Use your hazards: If you are in distress. Your hazard lights alert others to proceed cautiously around you. That said, don't overuse your hazards either. If conditions don't call for it, you become a distraction on the road.

Smartest tip of all: Stay home. Wait for the plows, and don't go out unless you absolutely have to.

Related video:

 

The CEO of the startup that plans to build an electric pickup truck at the shuttered GM plant it purchased in Lordstown, Ohio says he expects workers there to be unionized, although the plant will employ a fraction of the number of people it once did when it launches production late next year.

Lordstown Motors Corp. CEO Steve Burns made the comment in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. The company last week took possession of the 6.2 million square-foot plant after purchasing it from GM for an undisclosed amount earlier this month.

If his pledge holds, the repurposed plant would be a rare example of a non-Detroit Three assembly plant to open in the United States with a unionized workforce. The closure of Lordstown Assembly was also a key issue in the UAW’s decision to go on strike against GM, and it became a political football after being criticized by President Trump and by virtue of being located in a key swing state ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“To us, (the workers are) part of the secret weapon because we have taillights, we have seats, we have dash … we have all the things that require a human to assemble,” Burns told the Freep. “We still have to paint the vehicle and stamp out the metal so we need that skilled workforce.”

Burns says he hadn’t yet reached out to the UAW about his plans, but those plans are not likely to fully ease the sting of Lordstown Assembly’s closure. Burns says the plant will start its new life a year from now building the Endurance electric pickup with 450 production jobs, a far cry from the 4,500 workers the plant employed in its heyday over more than five decades in operation. GM, meanwhile, says it plans to build a facility nearby to manufacture electric vehicle batteries that could eventually employ 1,000. Lordstown Assembly was down to 1,400 workers on a single shift when GM announced it was ending production there and at four other plants in the U.S. and Canada last November.

Formerly known as the range-extended W-15 prototype, a plug-in electric hybrid, the Endurance is now described as an all-electric pickup truck aimed squarely at fleet customers. There are few updated specs on offer, beyond saying that it’s based on a four-wheel-drive hub-motor system whose appeal to fleet managers is fewer moving parts and, theoretically anyway, lower costs through less maintenance and fewer repairs. It also features an onboard power source to allow users to run power tools at the job site from the truck's battery without need for additional generators or other power sources.

The company says it has 6,000 pre-orders for the W-15 that it can transfer to LMC. It's also hoping to win a contract with the United States Postal Service.

Workhorse Group, which owns 10% of Lordstown Motors and is working to raise additional capital for it, said on Friday it recorded third-quarter revenue of just $4,000, down from $11,000 in the same period of 2018, for a net loss of $11.5 million. The company said it had $9.3 million in liquidity as of Sept. 30. Cincinnati-based Workhorse also makes electric delivery vans, delivery drones and fleet-monitoring telematics tools.

The Berlin Wall came down 30 years ago, on November 9, 1989. To celebrate that anniversary, on Saturday hundreds of Germans rallied together with their classic Trabant and other East German cars at a former border crossing between Thuringia and Bavaria.

Trabants were built by East German car manufacturer VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau and remain a potent symbol of the former East Germany. Joining the Trabants in the parade were Barka vans and Wartburgs—both East German car manufacturers. To see these cars running all together is appropriate and even touching as a way to commemorate such a pivotal moment in German history.

When the wall fell in 1989, it separated the Communist-ruled East from the capitalist West in Berlin. The destruction of the wall symbolized the end of the Cold War. The drivers who participated in the parade opened a gate at the former border crossing and drove through in honor of the freedom Germans gained 30 years ago.

Earlier this year, C/D columnist Ezra Dyer drove a 26-hp, 0.6-liter two-stroke-engine Trabant, saying it is "widely regarded as the worst car ever made." The cars have collector value because of their history as part of Communist-bloc culture and are the subject of a U.S. parade every year run by the Washington, D.C., International Spy Museum.

 

Despite many updates for 2020, the Volkswagen Passat is getting a fairly significant price cut compared to the 2019 model. It now starts at $23,915, a $2275 drop in base price. S, SE, R-Line, and SEL models are also available, which means the 2020 lineup doesn't correspond exactly to the 2019 trim levels, which included only Wolfsburg and SE R-Line.

This means that the 2020 Passat's base trim level, the S, doesn't come with quite as many standard features as the 2019 Passat Wolfsburg. It does without that trim's heated front seats, faux-leather upholstery, and keyless entry and pushbutton start but does still include standard features including forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and a 6.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The $26,765 SE adds the Wolfsburg's features back in and also gets automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keep assist.

2020 Volkswagen Passat rear

Volkswagen

The $29,565 R-Line is now a standalone trim level costing $1325 less than the 2019 SE R-Line, and it adds a few bits of "sporty" trim, 19-inch wheels, a sunroof, ambient lighting, and an alarm system. The top 2020 Passat SEL starts at $32,015 and includes extras such as leather upholstery, heated rear seats, a Fender audio system, a power passenger's seat, and a park-assist system.

All 2020 Passat models come with the same 174-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic as last year, but with a higher torque output of 206 lb-ft. It will reach dealerships by the end of the year.

 

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Cooper University Health Care

Heading into surgery doesn't usually involve a test drive of a new luxury car, but that's what's happening now for young patients at Children's Regional Hospital at Cooper in Camden, New Jersey. A local auto dealership has donated three battery-powered toy cars—an Audi TT RS, a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT coupe, and a Volkswagen Beetle Dune—for kids to drive themselves through the hospital.

The benefit to the young patients is not about the brands, but the way to calm nerves.

"Surgery is stressful for everyone, but these cars are a wonderful way to relieve a child's anxiety anticipating surgery," Susan Bass Levin, CEO of the Cooper Foundation, the philanthropic and community outreach arm of Cooper University Health Care that facilitated the donation, told Car and Driver. "The children love the cars. Riding in and driving a car is exciting for everyone, at whatever age, and kids are no different."

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Cooper University Health Care

Levin said that when children get behind the plastic wheels, they feel a sense of control over their situation. This then takes some of the fear of the hospital away, and then helps promote healing and recovery. For children who cannot drive the toy cars themselves, parents or hospital staff can operate them via remote control.

"And of course, when a parent sees their child having fun, it puts the parents at ease, making it a better experience for everyone," Levin said.

In the past, the hospital has used hand-drawn wagons to transport kids to procedures, but when a hospital executive heard of a hospital in California that had little electric cars, they wanted in on the action. The owners of the local Cherry Hill Imports Auto Group—which sells Audi, Mercedes, and VW plus Porsche, Jaguar, and Land Rover brands—happen to be members of the hospital's Foundation Board, and they were asked to donate the cars, which they did.

Kid-size cars have been adopted by other hospitals in places from France to California, as well as the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in England, which lets kids opt for a Mercedes-AMG G63, as the video below shows.

BERLIN — Marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and defying the scorn of vehicle snobs around the world, hundreds of Germans on Saturday marked the historic event with a parade of historic Trabant cars at a former border crossing.

The revelers symbolically opened a gate at the former crossing between Thuringia and Bavaria, which used to divide East and West Germany, and allowed some 65 cars known affectionately as Trabis and other vehicles manufactured in the Communist-ruled German Democratic Republic to pass through.

Earlier, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel marked the anniversary by thanking Eastern European neighbors for spurring on the peaceful revolution.

The toppling of the wall, which separated the Communist-ruled East from the capitalist West in Berlin for nearly three decades and became a potent symbol of the Cold War, was followed a year later by the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Jeeps and the U.S. Army go together like apple pie and ice cream: they're great separately, but they belong together. For 2020, in a tradition dating back at least to 2003, Jeep will roll out a Wrangler Freedom special edition, this time to honor (and market to) U.S. military members. Another FCA brand, Ram, has done a similar appearance package in honor of the U.S. military with the Ram Built to Serve Edition.

The Wrangler, of course, is a descendant of the original Willys Jeep, which played a massive part in World War II in both the European and Pacific theaters, where it was used extensively and appreciated deeply by U.S. troops. Once it was introduced to the civilian population at the end of the war, the Jeep brand took off, and the rest is history.

The Wrangler Freedom, based on the Wrangler Sport S, is mostly a cosmetic package with unique accents inside and out. The exterior gets a painted star-spangled banner just aft of the front fenders on the driver's and passenger sides, a black premium Sunrider softtop roof with tinted windows, a set of side steps, and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels finished in Satin Carbon paint and wrapped in all-terrain tires.

The exterior also gets special "Oscar Mike" badging on the rear tailgate and on the hood, where a military star is prominently displayed. "Oscar Mike," in military lingo, translates to "on the move." Inside, the McKinley cloth seats in black have leather bolsters and gray accent stitching, and "Oscar Mike" is embossed on the seatbacks, steering wheel, doors, seats, and front armrest.

The exterior colors available with the package are Firecracker Red, Bright White, and Ocean Blue in the first round of production, naturally. After the first production run, the Freedom Edition will be able to be paired up with the other vibrant exterior colors offered on the Wrangler: Black, Granite Crystal, Sting Gray, Billet, Punk'n, Hellayella, and Bikini. After all: freedom of choice.

The Freedom Edition isn’t special just because of the colors offered or because of the cool colors and wheels. Jeep will donate $250 to the United Service Organizations (USO) with every Wrangler Freedom edition sold. USO is a nonprofit charitable organization that provides morale and recreation services to U.S. armed forces personnel and their families. Jeep is taking another route to support veterans, too, with an offer to give away a Gladiator to a veteran; the automaker is taking video applications until November 30.

Pricing for the Wrangler Freedom Edition starts $34,190 for the two-door model and $37,690 for the four-door version, which is a $1200 premium over the regular Wrangler S. Even if you don't buy a Freedom Edition Wrangler, you can still support our troops this Veterans Day by donating to charitable organizations like USO that are committed to helping out those who have served.

Of the many "Batman" movies, director Tim Burton's adaptation had much to recommend it, including Michael Keaton's brooding, understated Batman, and Jack Nicholson's Joker. Also on that list is the Batmobile, perhaps the most recognizable iteration of the caped crusader's ride, outside of the George Barris-created original. Now the Burton Batmobile is a new Lego set, arriving in stores later this month.

The 1989 Batmobile (as the set is called) is positively massive: some two feet long and consisting of 3,306 pieces. Budget plenty of time, as the instruction book runs some 435 pages. The end result, however, is a model that is technically detailed, with a canopy that slides forward to reveal the cockpit, pop-up machine guns, and steerable front wheels.

Lego's 1989 Batmobile set goes on sale Nov. 29, priced at $250.

DETROIT — A government agency is recommending that all 50 states enact laws requiring bicyclists to wear helmets to stem an increase in bicycle deaths on U.S. roadways.

The recommendation was among several issued by the National Transportation Safety Board after a hearing Tuesday on bicycle safety. The agency says 857 bicyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles in the U.S. last year, a 6.3% increase over 2017. Bicycle deaths rose even though total road deaths fell 2.4%.

The NTSB also found that improved road designs to separate bicycle and vehicle traffic, and making bicyclists more visible through clothing, lights and technology would reduce the number of cyclist deaths.

The agency wrote in its report that head injuries are the leading cause of bicycle fatalities, and that use of a helmet is the most effective way for riders to reduce their chance of getting a serious head injury. Research shows fewer than half of bicyclists wear helmets, according to the NTSB.

“If we do not mitigate head injury for more bicyclists, additional bicyclists will die,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

Such a requirement may prove difficult politically. Currently no states require all bicyclists to wear helmets, but many require them for younger riders, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Nineteen states plus Washington, D.C., require motorcyclists to wear helmets, while 28 require them mainly for younger riders and three states have no requirement, the association said.

The NTSB also recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration evaluate a car’s ability to avoid crashes with bicycles as part of the agency’s planned update of its five-star crash test ratings program. Collision avoidance technology, such as automatic emergency braking or pedestrian detection systems, could be modified to detect bicycles, the NTSB wrote in a report. The report said that delays by NHTSA in updating the new car ratings program “have likely slowed the development of important safety systems for vulnerable road users and their implementation into the vehicle fleet.”

NHTSA has said it plans a significant update to its automobile crash test ratings next year, and it will look at including new technology to make roads safer. The agency said it would study new test procedures and updates to its rating system for automobiles, as well as technology that will better protect pedestrians and bicyclists.

Also, slow progress by the Department of Transportation in developing standards for connected vehicle technology has delayed use of potential life-saving devices, the NTSB wrote.

The NTSB report said that one-quarter of all fatal collisions with bicycles happened as a motorist was overtaking a bicyclist on stretches of roads between intersections. Intersection crashes were more frequent, but crashes outside intersections often were fatal more often because vehicles tend to be traveling faster, the agency wrote.

The NTSB investigates crashes and makes recommendations in an effort to stop them from happening again. It last issued a report on bicycle safety in 1972.