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Winter driving tips

Winter Driving Tips and Checklist
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Tips And Checklist To Make Winter Driving Safer Including An Emergency Kit List

It is the season of bad weather conditions for most of the United States. Driving during winter months can be dangerous and it is best to be prepare.

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Prepare your car for winter driving

Break downs on bitterly cold winter days is more than inconvenient, get your car serviced. You or your mechanic need to check the following items.

  •  Check for any leaks and repair the cause.
  •  Check hoses and belts for cracks and deteriorating rubber. Replace if indicated.
  •  Clean battery and battery cables of any corrosion. Tighten battery cable connections. Check battery fluid level. Have your mechanic check for sufficient battery voltage and the voltage regulator. Always keep your battery fully charged. Recharge and replace as needed.
  • Check the antifreeze level with an antifreeze tester. Make sure it is a 50 percent mix of antifreeze to water. Check your car manual for recommendations that may be different. Read the label on your antifreeze container for how cold it may get and still be efficient. Check your reserve tank and fill it to the level indicated.
  • Have your mechanic check the radiator for any leaks. Flush the radiator as recommended by your owner’s manual. Old coolant breaks down and fails.
  •  Check oil level and change oil if it is time. Consider using a lighter, “winter weight” oil. Refer to your owner’s manual for information.
  • Check functioning of wipers and blades. If streaks appear, it is time to replace the blades.
  • Fill windshield washer reservoir with a special blend guaranteed not to freeze to 30 degrees below. Keep extra in car. Car talk recommends in areas with extreme weather conditions to add a concentrate to your fluid.
  • Check window defrosters both front and back as well as your heater. If they fail or producing less heat than expected, have your mechanic check thermostat and heater.
  •  Check the condition of ignition wire and the distributor cap for cracks.
  • Have a mechanic thoroughly check your exhaust system. Carbon monoxide is deadly.
  • Have your brake system as well as your four wheel drive checked by a mechanic.
  •  Check tire pressure frequently during cold weather. Air contracts during cold weather and additional air may be needed. Check tires for worn areas and insufficient thread (needs to be at least 1/16 inch).
  • Use snow tires. Car talk advises that if you can only afford two tires, install them on wheels that steer the car. Four wheel drive vehicles need four matching tires.
  • Check that there is only one floor mat. Do not place rubber mats over carpet floor mats. Mats may get jammed under brake or gas pedals.
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Be prepared

Check for local weather conditions by using state DOT site or calling 511. If conditions are poor-such as low visibility or winter storms are eminent, evaluate if the trip is necessary. Leaving earlier than normal will allow you extra driving time.

  • Warm up the car. Turn on the car’s heater and defrosters to prevent sudden fogging. Back your car out of the garage. Do not warm a car inside a garage.
  • Remove snow and ice from all windows, mirrors and off all car surfaces including roof, hood and trunk. Blowing snow from your car may block your vision.
  • Check car fuel level and never allow to drop below half a tank. Have a full tank if driving a distance. Stalls and slow traffic may use more fuel than planned. If your car is electric, charge your car overnight.
  • Don’t use alcohol window deicers. They will later cause sudden icing of the windshield when the alcohol evaporates.
  • Check to see if your emergency kit is in the car and supplied. See a suggested list below.
  • Check to see if you have your cell phone (already charged) and car charger before pulling away.
  • Have everyone going on the trip take his own hats, mittens, scarfs and boots.
  • On a bad weather day let someone know where you are going, what route you are taking and when you expect to arrive. Alert them when you get to your destination safely.
  • Super fluffy material on your young ones may keep them warm, but may interfere with proper seat belt use. Use thinner outerwear and have a blanket to wrap around them once they are secured in their safety seat.
  • Have everyone wear safety belts
  • Consider downloading this helpful app called “Winter Survival Kit”.

A Car Emergency Kit

Store these in a tub in your car.

  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Broom
  • Sand or kitty litter to use if you get stuck
  • Towing chain
  • Jumper cables
  • Bright red flag or ribbon to tie to antenna or attach to a window.
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Flares or warning markers
  • A blanket for each person traveling
  • A first aid kit
  • Large black plastic garbage bags and safety pins. This is to fashion a water proof over boot. Use safety pins to hold tightly around leg.
  • Bottles of water (when traveling in poorly populated areas)
  • Snack foods (when traveling in poorly populated areas)
  • Medicine (when traveling in poorly populated areas)
  • A ten foot cord
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Winter Driving tips

  • Turn on your headlights.
  • Read your car manual for recommended actions to take if your car goes into a skid.
  • Know your car. Go to an empty lot during daylight hours and practice steering and braking. See how your car responses and how to control skids.
  • Snow glare can be blinding. Carry a pair of sunglasses with you on bright days.
  • The speed limit posted is for dry payment. You need to adjust your speeds to road conditions. Go slow on icy roads.
  • Know what brake system you have. If you have ABS, apply firm pressure and hold when braking. If you don’t have ABS, pump your brakes.
  • Don’t make your four wheel drive an off road vehicle on icy roads. The four-wheel drive helps when attempting to pull away when stuck but does not help  with braking on icy roads.
  • Apply slow pressure to the gas pedal while accelerating. Allow more space between you and oncoming cars when pulling out in traffic.
  • Maintain a greater distance between you and the car in front of you than you usually do to allow for braking. Use two car lengths or more for every 10 mph you are traveling. Ice can increase braking times by ten.
  • Be super careful in areas known to be icy-intersections, shaded areas, bridges, underpasses, off ramps.
  • Passing snow plows are not advised. They kick up snow and may temporarily blind you.

What to do in Roadside Emergencies

The worse has happened and you find yourself stalled or stuck. Stay calm and do the following.

  • Stay with the car.
  • Mark your car. Apply a banner or flag to your vehicle. Use flares or road hazard markers.
  • You can use the shovel and kitty litter to attempt to dig the car out. Don’t overheat yourself to the point you get sweaty. Wet clothing feels cold.
  • Use your cars emergency flashers on well traveled roads. If not, only turn on when there is oncoming traffic.
  • Run your car for only short periods of time to warm it up. During the time that your car is running turn on the dome light. Remove the dome light cover so the light will be more visible.
  • Periodically check exhaust pipe and radiator for clogging by snow and remove.
  • Removing snow from car surfaces particularly windows makes the car more visible. If you have a roof-top satellite beacon, always keep it free of snow.
  • If two or more people are traveling together, one should be awake at all times. If alone, stay awake.
  • When leaving the car in order to remove snow, tie a cord to yourself and the steering wheel. It is easy to get disorientated in blowing snow.

Stay safe, it is cold out there!

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The source for the information contained in this article is from safercars.gov’s “Winter Driving Tips” pdf.
Other sources:
AAA| Winter Driving Tips
Car Talk| Winter Driving Tips

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