Temperatures have started to drop, and the holidays are upon us — it’s time to get the car ready for winter road trips. Winter driving conditions are inherently dangerous; the right preparation and tools can end up literally saving your life. Here’s what you can do to ensure your car remains roadworthy and safe throughout the frigid winter months:
Get a Tune Up
If you haven’t caught up on your car’s regular maintenance, there’s no time like the present. The following vehicle systems need to be in top condition before you hit the road:
- Spark plugs
- Hoses and fan belts
- Air, fuel, and emissions filters
- Antifreeze level and freeze line
- Windshield wipers
- Windshield wiper fluid (freeze resistant)
There’s a good chance your vehicle will be subject to harsh weather soon, so it’s incredibly important to take care of any potential problems now.
Good Tires Are Key
The right tires are like the right shoes — you wouldn’t walk into a blizzard wearing flip flops, so don’t expect your car to do the same. Worn tires are dangerous on wet or slick roads, as they reduce traction. Depending on your location (or length of time you'll be experiencing snow), it’s not a bad idea to invest in snow tires. These tires are made with low-temperature resilient rubber and have deep treads that better grip snowy and icy roads. Furthermore, because the rubber compounds remain pliable in low temperatures, your car's safety systems (all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, and so on) continue to function properly in extreme conditions.
Check the Weather Before You Go
It’s best to avoid driving during blizzards, extreme cold, and high winds if possible. Keep a good eye on the forecast — if it looks problematic, sit tight and wait out the storm. Before you leave, let a family member, friend, or neighbor know where you’re headed and when you expect to get there. Contact them if you’ve been delayed and notify them when you reach your destination.
Know What to Do to Avoid a Crash
Even when you've done everything possible to prepare your car, the weather can surprise you (and not always in a good way). If you find yourself in a whiteout, pull off the road and don't attempt to drive farther until visibility improves. Of course, there are other conditions that can be equally surprising, such as black ice. When driving in winter weather, take the following tips to heart:
- Do not use cruise control when there is water, snow, or ice on the road
- Increase your following distance to 10 seconds
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly and steadily
- If at all possible, don't stop when going uphill
- Keep your gas tank at least half full (full is better)
- Know how to make emergency stops in inclement weather (this is especially important if you don’t have antilock brakes)
Stock Your Car With Emergency Gear
The single most important thing you can do for your personal safety it to have a box full of winter supplies in your trunk. If something goes wrong and you find yourself stranded, not having the right supplies can be downright deadly. Carrying the following necessities can prove to be life-saving in a pinch:
- Properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack
- Jumper cables
- Tow and tire chains
- Tool kit
- Windshield cleaner
- Ice scraper and snowbrush
- Ice melt, salt, or kitty litter
- Reflective triangles or flares
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Matches in a waterproof container
- First aid kit
- Blankets, gloves, socks, and hats
- Thermal underwear
- An extra USB cord to plug in your phone
- Nonperishable foods (nuts, dried fruits, snack bars)
Though safe, driverless cars may be our future, for the time being we’re still stuck slogging through the snow and ice on our own. Winter driving conditions must be taken seriously, so go the extra mile by readying your vehicle for winter and learning how to drive safely in inclement weather. The right preparation and tools will not only protect you from the elements, they just might save your life.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter@LizVGreene.