Snow Job: Prepping Yourself And Your Car For This Week's Winterpocalypse

2008 Volvo XC70 - winter driving

Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of six more weeks of winter didn’t offer much relief for drivers hoping for an early spring. With much of the country about to get walloped once more, drivers need all the help they can get to safely navigate snow, slush and ice. Paying attention to winter car maintenance and being better prepared for wintry driving conditions can be a lifesaver.

The Car Connection talked with Stacey Hamilton, manager of service, sales and operation for Pep Boys who offered the following tips.

Car care - checking tires - AAA

Main tips for winter driving

There are three main tips for driving in winter weather:

1)    Make sure tires are in good condition. Make sure that you have good tread on the tires and that they’re set to the correct pressure.

2)    Make sure all your lights are working so that other drivers can see you and that you can see the road in snow or rain.

3)    Make sure the windshield wipers are working as visibility is vital when driving in winter weather conditions. “Ice tends to deteriorate wipers,” Hamilton said, “so making sure they’re in good working order is very important. You can usually tell by wipers’ performance before you can visibly see it.” Streaking and chattering, when it seems like they’re skipping across the windshield instead of moving smoothly, or squealing, which might mean the blade is too soft and giving away, and is applying a little bit too much pressure are signs of a problem. On inspection, you might see that the rubber part is torn, or cracks as the rubber dries out and begins to dry rot.

How to prepare for being stranded

While getting stranded isn’t the most pleasant experience, drivers can prepare for it in advance. Here, Hamilton encourages drivers to:

  • Make sure that you’re driving with at least a half a tank of gas or more. “If you do get in a situation where you’re stranded and it’s very cold out, you’re going to want to keep the car running and keep the heat going.”
  • Keep a blanket in the car. This is helpful if you’re low on gas and need to shut car off or if the car breaks down, “you’ll want to have a blanket, because it can get very cold while you’re waiting for someone to come and assist you.”
  • Keep a cell phone charger to make a call for either a tow truck or to have somebody come get you.
  • Have an emergency kit in the car: jumper cables, safety flares so that other vehicles can see you, small first aid kit, snow scraper or brush

Winter driving - stuck car - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Avoid getting stranded

Not getting stranded in the first place has a lot to do with properly maintaining your car, Hamilton advised. But there are other things drivers can do, such as:

  • Recognize hazardous conditions. Before you go out in bad weather, check the traffic to see if there’s any major accidents or road closures in area you’re traveling to.
  • Reduce speed, ice isn’t always visible. “If you’re driving too fast, you can get into a spin-out situation. Potholes are all over the roads this time of year because of the deterioration from salt and brine and all plowing. Sometimes you don’t see potholes in advance and if you hit large one, you can really damage your suspension or blow out a tire.” The takeaway here is that driving at a safe speed is really important.
  • Maintain a safe distance from other drivers. Hamilton says this is important for two reasons: for extra stopping distance in slippery conditions, and also to provide reaction time in case something goes wrong ahead. “If another driver becomes distressed, you have enough reaction time to drive around or to stop before you encounter that.”

Blizzard. Image by Flickr user HAM guy

Other tips for winter driving:

Hamilton also provided some little-known tips for safer winter driving.

Test the battery. “If your vehicle battery is more than three years old or you’re not sure how old it is, it’s a good idea to get it tested,” Hamilton cautioned, adding that most automotive places will do a free battery test. You don’t want to get in a situation where the battery is dead when the temperature drops.

Monitor gauges when driving. “Your car will absolutely tell you when something is going wrong, whether it’s an indicator light or it’s your temperature gauge going up on the rise. Make sure to check gauges intermittently when driving to make sure everything is in order.”

Stash more windshield washer fluid in the trunk of your car in the winter. “We use a lot of it. We get salt on the windshield and we’re constantly spraying it. The worst that could happen is to run out when you’re on the highway and trucks and other vehicles are flinging debris on your windshield and there’s no way to clear it.”

Keep spray de-icer in vehicle, in the trunk, at home or office. If it rains or freezes in the meantime or overnight, your doors or locks might get stuck. De-icer products will help melt the ice to help you get into your car. An alternative is hot water or water with vinegar.

Keep the car clean and dry. Salt and brine are very corrosive to the suspension and frame of the vehicle. “Today’s paint technology is very good, non-deteriorating, but if there are any scratches or nicks in the paint, salt and brine can get through the clear coat protectant and begin to cause some rust.”

Check air conditioner. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the defroster runs off the A/C, so it’s a good idea to flip on the A/C to make sure that everything’s coming out of the vents where it should.

Check floor mat placement. Make sure the mat rests smoothly where it should be, and not bunched up.

Clear the vehicle of snow and ice from washer solvent nozzle sprayers, mirrors and lenses, hood and roof. “Make sure roof and hood clear, because if you only clear the windshield but not the hood or roof, when you brake or accelerate, snow could cover windshield again, creating hazard condition when you’re moving.”

MORE: See Winter Driving Safety Tips For Teens


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