You checked the battery, right?

Arrive in the snow safely with these simple tips, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.

If you're heading to the snowfields this season, chances are you're doing so behind the wheel. The big-ticket resorts of Thredbo and Perisher and the boutique fields of Selwyn Snowfields and Charlotte Pass are a five- to seven-hour drive from Sydney, depending on your skills, your car and the traffic.

It's vital to know how to prepare your car for the cold and important to know where to stop for good munchies on the way.

Four-wheel-drives handle ice-spotted roads better than two-wheel-drives, so if you drive a standard car, ensure your tyre tread and brake fluid are checked before you go. Ask the mechanic to make sure your car battery is running at full power, too, because if a battery hits freezing point, it will work at just over half its former capacity.

The battery is not the only part of the car to take the impact of freezing conditions, though, so add anti-freeze to your car's radiator to prevent a costly crack. Windscreen water will also freeze if you don't add methylated spirits to the water container.

All vehicles are expected to carry two sets of snow chains when in the Kosciuszko National Park. If you don't carry chains you risk a $200 fine. Most petrol stations in Cooma have chains for hire. Expect to pay about $50 for seven days. Tyre pressure is important when using snow chains; pressure should be 25kPa higher than normal. Depending on road conditions, you may not be required to fit chains.

However, if you need chains, fit them

to the driving wheels (front or rear, depending on car type) and keep to a speed limit of

40km/h or less to avoid having an accident or damaging your car. There are snow chain fitting stations on the side of the road in the national park if you need help.

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The speed limit in the park is 80km/h in some danger areas and the wind factor can be high along the Alpine Way, the road from Jindabyne to Thredbo.

If you hit ice on the road, reduce your speed by using the gears, rather than the brakes even in cars with automatic transmissions. By using the gears and driving more slowly, tyres will gain more traction on the road.

When parking in the snowfields, leave your car in gear with the handbrake off (if you're parking outside). Handbrake cables can freeze and snap if the brake is left on. Also, pull the windscreen wipers away from the windscreen to ensure they don't freeze on to the glass.

Road safety experts also suggest drivers take a break, or share the driving with someone else, every two hours to reduce fatigue. This would put the first stop from central Sydney on the M5 around Goulburn.

The Greengrocer Cafe on Clifford Street

is a must it's an eclectic mix of bike shop, fruit shop, delicatessen and cafe. Or try the famous, neon-lit Paragon Cafe for cream-filled gateaux.

Bypass Canberra or stop at the Lynwood Cafe in Collector and indulge in seriously good jam with scones and cream. Follow the road signs to Cooma where you can stretch your legs while picking up snow chains.

For a decent coffee, head to the Lott Cafe and bakery on the left side of the main road as you drive out of town.

The next main town will be Jindabyne and from there it's 30 to 45 minutes to Thredbo or Perisher. The national park entry fee is $27 a vehicle a day. You must pay before entering the snowfields.

Once you've arrived safely with your passengers and car in one piece, let's hope you get down the ski slope in the same condition.

TRIP NOTES

- Expert mechanical advice on preparing a car and driving in icy conditions is available from the Road Traffic Authority (rta.nsw.gov.au/roadsafety/snowdriving.html) and the NRMA (mynrma.com.au/cps/rde/xchg/mynrma/hs.xsl/drivingsnow.htm).

- The Paragon Cafe is at 174 Auburn Street, Goulburn. Phone 4821 3566.

- The Greengrocer Cafe, 37 Clifford Street, Goulburn. Phone 4821 0099, see greengrocercycling.com.au.

- Lynwood Cafe, 1 Murray Street, Collector. Phone 4848 0200, see lynwoodcafe.com.au.

- The Lott Food Store Bakery and Cafe, 177 Sharp Street, Cooma. Phone 6452 1414.

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