GateHouse News Service's weekly Auto Bits with tips on winter driving, the car of the year, and the Chevrolet Spark.

Tip of the Week

Snow, ice, slush and other winter driving challenges can threaten both driver and passenger safety, and adding distractions into the mix only exacerbates the situation. So instead of dashing through the snow in your four-wheeled "sleigh" and ending up o'er the hills, it may be best to simply drive with caution and focus, to stay on the road this winter.

Before heading out to the ski lodge or embarking on a winter road trip, take the proper precautions to ensure the safety of yourself, your friends and your family, as well as others on the road. According to Hankook Tire's latest Winter Gauge Index, 68 percent of those surveyed are worried about skidding across winter's icy roadways. Try these simple tips for staying safe while driving in winter weather:   - Put distractions on ice. Despite many recent public service announcements and news articles on the dangers of texting and driving, drivers between the ages of 18 and 35 say texting is their top distraction while on the road, according to the Hankook Tire 2012 Fall Gauge Index. Other distractions include talking on the phone, talking to other passengers and eating while driving. Whether driving to a New Year's party, heading back to school after winter break, or road tripping with a group of friends on a ski trip, it's important to keep your eyes on the road so you can reach your destination safely.   - Check your tire tread to prepare for snow. Worn tread is the No. 1 cause of skidding during the winter season, so it is important to make sure your tires are up to the task before hitting the road. A quick way to do this is to check your tires' tread depth indicators. Tread depth indicators are small raised bars that run in-between a tire's tread grooves. When a tire's tread is worn down to these indicator bars, it's time to change to a new set of tires.- If your winter driving plans include putting on a set of dedicated winter tires like the Winter i*cept evo, be sure to put them on your vehicle one to two weeks before the next anticipated snow storm.   - Check your tire pressure. Every 10-degree drop in air temperature can actually cause a vehicle's tires to lose up to 2 pounds per square inch (psi) in tire pressure. Improper tire pressure can result in increased tread wear and lowered performance, factors that are highly detrimental to one's safety in undesirable weather driving conditions.   - Be prepared and stock up. Getting stuck on the road is also a major concern during the winter season. Before heading out, check to make sure your engine coolant, no-freeze windshield washer fluid and your gas tank is topped off. Also make sure there are no blockages or obstructions to your heating or window defroster vents. Be sure to pack extra water, a spare tire, ice scraper, snow shovel and brush, blanket, booster cables and a flashlight in your car for emergencies.

-- Brandpoint

The List

Here's this year's winner, and previous years' winners, of Motor Trend's Car of the Year Award:

2013: Tesla Model S

2012: Volkswagon Passat

2011: Chevrolet Volt

2010: Ford Fusion

2009: Nissan GT-R

2008: Cadillac CT-S

Car Q&A

Q: I commute just under 100 miles a day, 90 percent highway driving. I prefer a manual versus automatic. Being a GM guy, my personal car is a 2011 Corvette ZR1. I have looked into the Chevrolet Spark. It looks like decent transportation for $15,000. What are your thoughts on the new 2013 Chevrolet Spark?

A: The 2013 Chevrolet Spark I had for a week evaluation was a manual finished in green. GM calls the color “jalapeno.” Our test car had the 2LT package, which includes options such as heated front seats, power windows and locks, steering hub controls, navigation, etc. Our test car had a window sticker price of $15,795 with delivery included. My commute is just under an hour each way, 75 percent highway. I found the Spark to have ample power under all driving conditions, with the 1.2-liter four-cylinder mated to a five-speed manual. The fit and finish were good, seating for four was ample and there are no blind spots. The electric power steering gave good feedback, and for a small car it was forgiving over rough pavement. Front heated seats are firm and multi-adjustable. Take one for a road test and see if the Spark is for you.

-- Junior Damato, Talking Cars columnist

GateHouse News Service