Family Car Guide Survival Tips for a Winter Breakdown

December 16, 2010

Every winter without fail there are news accounts of drivers and their passengers, including whole families, stranded for days without food, water, with no cell phone coverage, no blankets – and no plan.

Some manage to hang on until help arrives. Others aren’t so lucky.

If there’s one thing you can count on in winter, it’s that you can’t mess around with Mother Nature. The elements are that unforgiving – and when you attempt to brave them by sending someone to walk out for help, you’re just inviting tragedy.

Don’t be among the statistics of those found frozen to death just a short ways from their stranded vehicle. When it comes to driving in winter, take heed of these Family Car Guide survival tips for how to survive a winter breakdown:

Watch the weather--and be ready to turn back

Just because you’ve driven the same route a hundred times--even if it's a rugged off-roader like a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee--doesn’t mean that you can take the chance on road conditions when temperatures dip precipitously below freezing. Even if you’re taking the freeway route, you risk becoming stranded – along with hundreds of other drivers – should a sudden blizzard occur. It’s not out of the question. All it takes is the right combination of factors for light flurries to escalate into a hazardous snow dump.

There’s one precaution you absolutely can take: watch the weather. There’s simply no excuse not to know what’s expected during the time of your travel plans. Beside the TV and radio, you’ve got access to weather reports on the computer. If you have satellite radio with extra services, such as NavTraffic and NavWeather, these are real-time updates that can prove to be a lifesaver – in more ways than one.

What about when the weather forecast is wrong? You might, as once happened to this reporter, be driving on a cold and windy but otherwise partly sunny mid-October day on Tioga Road off Highway 395, the Eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. With family in tow, we set off for a day trip of photography and hiking in Tuolumne Meadows. We didn’t get far up Tioga Road before it unexpectedly started snowing – totally not in the weather forecast. Up ahead, it was pure whiteout. We turned the car around and headed back to our rental lodging.

Although we had food, water and winter jackets and head covering, we knew that this storm would soon close Tioga Road. As it turned out, that year (2004) was one of the earlier closings of the road – and it stayed closed until the following spring.

The moral of the story? Be prepared to turn back when weather conditions worsen. Don’t think it will blow over or you’ll be able to get to your destination before it gets too bad. You’ll be jeopardizing your life and that of your passengers if you fail to heed Mother Nature.

Be sure to see tomorrow’s installment for more Family Car Guide Survival Tips for a Winter Breakdown.

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