Winter in many regions of the United States brings more than just colder air temperatures – it can mean sleet, freezing rain, snow, and ice rapidly accumulate on the roads that so many of us travel on daily, and others may be inexperienced with and only likely to encounter during holiday travel. This makes winter weather driving conditions especially dangerous for everyone on the road alike.
All drivers should take precautions to protect themselves and be prepared to the best of their ability to handle those harsh winter driving conditions. Here are some things you can do to prepare:
1) Check Your Tires – Having properly inflated tires is critical to keeping your car on the road. Avoid under inflating or over inflating your tires – in both cases the tire tread’s ability to grip the road ia reduced. Check tire pressure at least once a month as falling temperatures will cause the tires to lose pressure more quickly than normal. If you live in an area where you’ll experience winter conditions regularly, have winter tires installed before winter hits.
2) Have Your Battery Checked – As temperatures fall, the oil in your vehicle thickens and causes your vehicle to use more power than it will in more comfortable temperatures. If your battery is more than 4 years old, or showing signs of imminent failure, consider replacing it to avoid an unexpected failure. Even if you think your battery is fine, make sure jumper cables are included in your emergency car kit just in case you need a jump.
3) Inspect Your Wipers – Wipers need to work much harder to keep your windshield clear in wintry weather. Be sure yours are in good repair – or even invest in snow blades to be on the safe side. Don’t forget to check to be sure your windshield fluid is full, too.
4) Prepare For Your Journey – The more prepared you are for an emergency, the less difficult it will be to handle if something goes wrong. Be aware of the expected weather conditions along your route, make sure to have a properly stocked car emergency kit, fill your gas tank before you travel, and tell a friend or family member where you will be going, the route you will be taking, and an estimated time of arrival. Leave when you are fully rested and plan frequent breaks if the conditions are harsh, so you can get a recharge when needed.
5) Understand How Your Car Handles – Wet or icy roads mean your vehicle will respond differently than you may be used to. You’ll need to accelerate and decelerate more slowly, leave more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, and give yourself more room to stop. Don’t try to speed up for a hill, and don’t stop on one if you can avoid it. Adding some weight to the rear of your vehicle can help (try a few bags of sand or kitty litter – they double as added traction if you get stuck and need to spread some on the ground).
If something does go wrong the most important thing to do is remain calm. Call for help if you are able, or hang a white tee in the driver’s window and wait for help. Don’t get out of your vehicle until a tow truck or police arrive.