Winter is almost upon us and that means driving in less than ideal conditions, including ice, snow, and darkness. Managing the roads and highways in winter weather, even in the best of circumstances, can be difficult.
The good news is that motorists can take steps to prepare for winter driving and to help themselves in the event that a tire blows out or they end up stuck in a snow bank. While the best solution is always to drive carefully and remain alert behind the wheel, we offer the following ten ways in which people can get ready for winter driving. Be careful out there!
(If you live in a place without snow or ice, then count your blessings and get out of here!)
10. An Ice Scraper and/or Shovel
Winter is the time of year when most accidents occur. It’s also when drivers tend to get stuck. It doesn’t take long in a blizzard or heavy snow fall for a car on the side of a road to get buried or coated in ice and snow. For these reasons, it is always advisable to have an ice scraper or brush on hand that you can use to clear your car of snow and ice.
Many ice scrapers now double as a two-in-one shovel and can also be used to dig your car out of snow bank when, for example, a street plow goes by. This kind of tool can be invaluable to motorists during the dark days of winter. It is even helpful to have an ice scraper on hand when you leave your house in the morning. Proper visibility is an important aspect of driving in any weather.
9. Keep the Gas Tank Full and the Fluids Topped Up
Running out of gas is a pain in the butt under the best of conditions. During the winter, it could be a life or death situation. So always keep the gas tank full. A full tank can also help to reduce moisture in the vehicle’s fuel system and adds extra weight that can help a car gain extra traction in slippery conditions. Any way you look at it, driving with a full tank of gas is a good idea.
Highway patrol departments say that running out of gas is one of the biggest problems they encounter during winter. It is also advisable to keep the other fluids in a vehicle topped up – from motor oil and antifreeze to windshield washer fluid. These fluids also keep a car running at full steam. Even something like windshield washer fluid can be a lifesaver during periods where there is heavy snow or freezing rain.
Winter is dark. Really dark in some areas. There is nothing worse than being stranded in a broken down car in the middle of winter in the dark. For this reason, keeping a flashlight on hand is a must. You should also keep in mind that, in the event of a breakdown, you may be forced to walk for miles in the dark when you don’t know where you are and can’t see where you’re going.
It can also be extremely difficult to change a tire or repair a vehicle on a dark winter night. A simple and compact flashlight can literally do wonders for stranded motorists. Flashlights are an inexpensive tool that can be found at the local dollar store for a buck or two. However, the light they provide can be invaluable in the dead of winter. Don’t count on your smartphone either. Get a real flashlight and change the batteries every 12 months.
7. Keep An Old Cell Phone Handy
Another smart thing to carry when traveling in winter is a fully charged cell phone, along with a list of emergency phone numbers either in the cell phone itself or on a piece of paper in the glove compartment. These emergency numbers could include the number of state police, highway patrol, your vehicle insurer, friends and family, and so forth. The most important thing to do when stranded or in trouble is to call for help. And there would be nothing worse than to reach for your cell phone in an emergency only to find that the battery is dead.
So be sure to keep this phone charged at all times. Newer cars might have an outlet in the glove box — a perfect place to keep it out of the way. Also note that you may want to keep an older model cell phone in the car as it will enable you to call 9-1-1 in an emergency even if it’s not currently in service. Some newer model cell phones do not have this capability.
Summer nights can be cool. But winter nights can be deadly. Many people have suffered (or worse) on the side of the road during a frigid January night. So be smart and always carry some blankets in your car. These can literally be a lifesaver if you find yourself broken down in the middle of a blizzard.
They can also help if you’ve been in an accident and someone else is in shock. And, if nothing else, blankets can be great for kids and passengers in your car to snuggle up with on long, cold road trips. In a real pinch, you can even stick them under your tires for traction if you become stuck. Any way you look at it, you can’t go wrong keeping some blankets in your car. The warmer the better.
5. Jumper Cables
One of the first things to freeze in a car during winter is the battery. Dead batteries are one of the main reasons for vehicle breakdowns during the winter months. The best solution to this problem is to use a reliable set of jumper cables to boost the battery and bring it back to life. Jumper cables are very important and should be in every vehicle at all times.
Of course, you’ll need another vehicle present that can give you a boost. But you won’t get anywhere if you don’t have booster cables within reach. If you find that boosting the battery is not working, keep in mind that the cables connecting the battery to the car could be loose and in need of tightening. For more money, you can buy a small battery pack with built-in booster cables, eliminating the need for another car. However, it’s one more thing you’ll need to remember to keep charged.
4. A Tool Set
There’s no need to have a massive collection of tools in a large red tool chest in your vehicle. However, it is advisable to keep a small tool set in the car. It should have the essential items such as conventional wrenches, socket wrenches, screw drivers, a hammer, etc. This can help with everything from changing a flat tire to securing battery cables and fixing an exhaust pipe that has come loose and is dragging on the ground.
If stranded on the side of the road in winter, a tool set can literally be a lifesaver. A small, reliable set of tools can work wonders in a winter emergency and get people out of a bad situation. Just be sure to keep the tool inventory current and contained in a secure tool box. You don’t want to have loose wrenches and screw drivers under the seats in your car.
3. Gas Can
We’re not advocating keeping extra gas inside your car, as that is potentially dangerous (and will go bad or evaporate over time). However, it is good advice to keep a small EMPTY can to hold gas, in case you have to walk to a gas station and then carry gas back to your vehicle on a cold, dark winter’s night.
Believe it or not, running out of gas is one of the top reasons motorists get stranded on the side of the road – especially in winter. It sure does help to have a gas can on hand for these situations. You don’t need a huge can either. A five or ten liter (one-to-three gallons) can will do the trick. Just be sure that it’s clean and doesn’t have holes in it, as that could lead to a whole new set of problems for you.
2. First Aid Kit
The most important item to keep in a car at all times is a first aid kit. To say that this could be a lifesaver for people is an understatement. An accident can occur at any time, especially during winter when the roads are slippery. You may not be in a populated area or near a hospital when disaster strikes. This means that you could be required to administer first aid on your own — either to yourself or others.
Having a well-stocked first aid kit could mean the difference between life and death. What should be in the kit? At a minimum, it should contain bandages, Iodine, Aspirin or Tylenol, adhesive tape, instant ice packs, disposable non-latex gloves, antiseptic wipes or soap, a thermometer, and eye patches. Most of these items come standard in first aid kits, along with other useful goodies. It is also a good idea for a first aid kit to contain emergency contact numbers and a manual directing people on how to properly administer first aid.
1. Winter Tires
Is it too obvious to say that drivers who live anywhere that gets snow should drive on winter tires? We ask because many people are still holding out and refusing to buy winter tires. For this reason, some jurisdiction (such as the Canadian province of Quebec) have made it the law for all motorists to use winter tires.
Studies have shown that winter tires are effective and save lives. They dramatically improve grip and braking ability when compared to regular tires or even all-season tires. The price to buy the tires and have them installed is dropping all the time, making them increasingly cost effective. One set of winter tires should easily last five years or longer. Just don’t drive on winter tires in the summer months or risk wearing the treads out quickly. A
Winter tires are a great and practical investment no matter how you look at it. They are the number one thing people should use to get ready for treacherous winter driving conditions.