Tips to help you drive in the snow this winter
Road conditions can become very hazardous during winter weather. 116,800 people are injured, and 24% of yearly weather-related crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement. These things, along with poor visibility, and extreme cold can disable your vehicle or make roads impassable.
State and local agencies spend $2.3 billion every year for snow removal and ice control, but even on a relatively short trip, you can find yourself stranded for several hours. It's important to plan ahead, like bundling up to stay warm, for the conditions and situations that can arise as winter conditions develop.
Prepare your vehicle for winter
The best time to get ready for winter is before the first storm of the season. Some items to check and talk to your mechanic about include:
- Test the battery strength.
- Inspect the exhaust system and the air, fuel and emission filters.
- Check the cooling system, windshield wiper and antifreeze fluid levels and change the oil.
- Make sure hoses, fan belts and all components are working properly.
- Consider changing the spark plugs.
- Check the tire pressure, tread life and consider installing winter tires.
- Locate the spare tire, jack and ice scraper.
- Inspect your wiper blades to make sure they're functional and in good condition.
- If your vehicle runs on diesel, be wary about the fact that diesel fuel can gel in very cold temperatures. Winter fuel additives should be considered as a preventative. Also be cautious that your fuel filter could potentially become blocked with gelled fuel, which would cause the vehicle to stall. Timing with an anti-gelling fuel additive would be a good preventative.
Some simple winter driving tips
Winter driving has its own set of challenges from the moment you start your vehicle. Here are some useful winter driving suggestions:
- Clear frost, snow and ice thoroughly from all windows and exterior mirrors of your car. Brush snow away so it does not blow into your line of sight while driving.
- Never warm up your vehicle in a closed garage. This could lead to carbon monoxide problems.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent gas line freeze-up.
- Make sure your exhaust pipe is not clogged with mud or snow.
- Don't use cruise control on icy roads.
- Allow more time and space for braking when visibility is poor.
- Stay calm if you start to skid and be prepared for black ice.
- If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, and most do, be familiar with how they operate so you are not surprised if your ABS brakes engage in slick driving conditions.
All drivers should use extra caution when driving in winter conditions. Slow down and allow additional time to get to your destination. You may need more distance to come to a complete stop so consider this when driving during inclement weather.
Carry a winter driving kit
Winter weather could leave you stuck in the snow, but the following items in your winter driving kit might help you get back on the road and on your way:
- Small folding shovel,
- Tow and tire chains,
- Basic tool kit,
- Bag of road salt or cat litter,
- Flares, battery powered flashlights and extra batteries,
- Bright cloth to tie on your car,
- Extra windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze, and
- Jumper cables or an external battery charger to start your car if your battery dies.
Pack a winter survival kit
In case you're marooned in your car, truck or SUV, you might want to keep a small winter survival kit on hand. Some useful items include:
- A first-aid kit,
- Cell phone charger,
- Ice scraper and brush,
- Blankets, warm clothing, hats and gloves, scarves, hand and foot warmers, wool socks and other cold weather gear to protect against hypothermia, and
- Insulated bottled drinking water, and high-energy nonperishable foods.
Snow safety tips if you become stranded in the winter
Few people like driving through a snow storm, and most heed warnings to stay off the roads when a storm is bearing down. But even the best-prepared and expert drivers can get stuck. If it happens to you, here are some important reminders:
- Be prepared. While the best first step is prevention, some storms come on quickly. If you do get stranded, keeping a few essentials in your car, as noted above, can help keep you comfortable while you wait.
- Stay inside. If possible, pull off the highway and turn on your hazard lights or tie something bright to your car's antenna or door handle to signal that you need help. Then wait inside your car until help arrives to avoid exposure to frostbite and prevent hypothermia.
- Call 911. If you have a charged phone and reception, call for help and describe your location as best you can.
- Clear the tailpipe. Make sure there's no snow covering your tailpipe in order to prevent carbon monoxide buildup inside the car. Check the tailpipe periodically to ensure that fresh snow isn't blocking it, always watching for oncoming traffic before exiting your vehicle.
- Keep moving. Staying active inside your car will help you keep warm. Clap your hands and tap your toes to keep your circulation moving and prevent frostbite but avoid overexertion and sweating.
- Drink fluids. Dehydration can make you more susceptible to the effects of cold. If there's no drinking water inside your car, melt some snow inside a bag or other makeshift cup to stay hydrated.
- Conserve your vehicle's battery. Use lights, heat, and radio sparingly.
- Run your engine. Provided you have enough gas in your tank, run the engine for about 10 minutes every hour to keep the car warm. Turn on interior lights when your engine is on so you can be seen inside your car. Open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
- Don't overexert yourself. Cold weather puts your heart under added stress. If you're not used to exercise, shoveling snow or pushing a car could put you at risk of a heart attack.