Driving in the Winter
Winter driving can be hazardous. Be safe, be smart, by following these tips.
WHN Tip: If at all possible, avoid driving until conditions improve.
Listen to your radio for weather and traffic information.
Use public transportation, if possible.
WHN Tip: If you plan to drive, try not to travel alone. And always let someone know your departure time, expected arrival time and route.
Prepare for Winter
Add extra items for winter to your car emergency kit. Items for winter conditions may include:
- Additional warm winter clothing for each passenger (hats, boots, gloves, jackets)
- Brightly colored cloth to tie around antenna
- Extra blankets
- Jumper cables
- Small sack of sand
- Snow scraper; snow shovel
- Tire chains or traction mats for generating traction
Keep survival items (food, water, blankets, flares, matches, etc.) inside your car, in case you do get stranded.
Flat tires and dead batteries can happen often in winter. Learn how to change a tire and jumpstart a car (ask your mechanic or a car-savvy family member or friend). If you already know how, consider reviewing each procedure.
According to Mother Earth News, most cars do not need to "warm up" before driving, even in below-freezing temperatures. If your car uses electronic fuel injection, the car's computer will tell the injectors to stay open longer, allowing more fuel into the engine to help it run cold. Instead, Mother Earth News recommends running the car for 30 to 60 seconds to get fluids moving then drive of gently. Below zero? Give it four to five minutes.
Just letting your car sit and idle wastes gas and can possible cause your caralytic converter to plug up. More questions? Check with your car's manufacturer or your auto tech for more information.
Check the following:
- Check antifreeze and oil levels, battery status, and tire tread and pressure. Fill wiper fluid reservoir with de-icing solution.
- Make sure your spare tire is in good condition and properly inflated; carry a jack and other tire-changing tools with you.
- Fill your gas tank. If you do get stranded, you will have enough gas to run the motor and heat the vehicle.
See and be seen: clear all snow from the hood, roof, windows and lights.
Drive carefully and defensively. Don't try to save time by traveling faster. (Review these driving tips from the Randolph County Health Department on how to maneuver black ice and rear, front and four-wheel skids.)
SmartMotorist.com recommends following the "three-second rule." (NOTE: The distance changes at different speeds. In bad weather, double or triple the three-second rule for added safety.)
- First select a fixed object on the road ahead such as a sign, tree or overpass.
- When the vehicle ahead of you passes the object, slowly count "one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand."
- If you reach the object before completing the count, you're following too closely. Making sure there are three seconds between you and the car ahead gives you time and distance to respond to problems in the lane ahead of you.
Monitor weather conditions and seek shelter immediately if the storm seems severe.
Pay attention to gauges, unusual noises and other sights and sounds coming from your car. If something seems unusual, be sure to have a professional check it out.
Refuel when your gas tank is at the half-full mark. A full gas tank will be helpful if you are stranded and also helps prevent the fuel line from freezing when parked.
If You Are Stranded
Attract attention by using hazard lights and flares.
Do not attempt to walk out of your car in a blizzard. You are much more likely to be found by staying in your vehicle.
Keep watch for traffic or searchers. Do not permit all occupants to sleep at once.
Turn your dome light on at night, but only when running the engine. (Don't wear down your battery!)
Tie the red cloth from your car emergency kit to the antenna for rescuers to see.
Raise the hood (after snow stops falling) to indicate trouble.
Exercise frequently to keep blood circulating and to keep warm, but avoid over-exertion and exposure.
Prevent carbon monoxide build-up. Keep fresh air in your vehicle, especially if you are using a candle, solid fuel or other type of heating device.
Run the motor and heater sparingly and only with the down-wind window open for ventilation. Make sure snow has not blocked the exhaust pipe.
Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won't back up in the car.
Wear a hat! You can lose up to 60% of your body heat through your head.
Huddle with other passengers and use your coat as a blanket. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering - anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.
Consider joining a carpool or vanpool to ease the stress.
Have bus, train and subway schedules for your routes at home and at work, in case you can't drive.
When a significant amount of snow falls, your city or county officials may declare a snow emergency: a set of parking regulations and routes that allows for easier plowing of streets and roadways.
Contact your city hall administration for information about snow emergency regulations, routes and procedures in your area.
Locate areas out of snow emergency designated areas to park your vehicle or plan to move your vehicle to avoid being ticketed or towed.
Get a complete systems check-up in the fall:
Cold weather starts require a fully charged battery. Recharge or replace weak batteries.
If your battery is 4-5 years old, you may want to replace it.
Have your whole charging system checked out by a professional.
Have your brakes checked by your mechanic.
Have the exhaust system fully checked for leaks.
Fluids and Filters
Check fluid levels, battery posts, voltage regulator and alternator or generator.
Change your oil to a winter grade oil to help the engine deal with the cold.
Change your oil filter as well.
Replace the fuel filter, which separates the fuel from dirt and water. Water in the fuel line can freeze and stop fuel from reaching the engine.
Change your air filter. Don't know how to do this? If you purchase an air filter from your mechanic, ask if free replacement is an option.
Heating and Cooling System
Check your radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks.
Make sure the radiator cap, water pump and thermostat work properly.
Test the strength of the antifreeze. It should be changed at least every two years. Have it changed now if you didn't do it last year.
Test the functioning of the heater and defroster.
Look for and replace damaged or worn out wires, caps or plugs.
Make sure all lights and fuses are functioning properly.
Put in extra fuses for your headlights, brake and turn signals in your car to have just in case.
Traction is the key to good movement, turning and stopping on wet surfaces.
Also check the tires and tire pressures at least once a month when the tires are cold and remember that tire air pressure decreases in colder weather.
Check your owner's manual or door frame for the maximum pressure amount for your tires. Do not go above that pressure point.
Make sure to have the same tires on all four wheels. This will keep your car stable.
Check your spare tire regularly.
If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, you may want to consider purchasing snow tires. Tires marked with the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake meet specific snow traction performance requirements, and have been designed specifically for use in severe snow conditions.
Consider using snow tires from October 15 to April 15. Some cities and states might have laws designating when snow tires are allowed. Check with your local administration.
Windshield Wipers and Washer
Make sure there is enough windshield washer fluid in the reservoir and that it is rated in the -40°C temperature range. Carry an extra jug in the vehicle.
Make sure wipers are in good condition and replace them if they leave streaks.
Snow blades or blades with a rubber cover are better at pushing snow and preventing water damage.
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