04 Dec Start Prepping Your Car for Winter Now
Preparation is the name of the game when it comes to winter driving. As road conditions become more dangerous, it’s important to know the ins and outs of tackling winter roads.
Winter is here, which means the roads are getting more dangerous. According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 70% of roads in the United States are located in regions that see at least five inches of snowfall annually — almost 70% of the country’s population live in these regions.
There are 900 deaths and 76,000 injuries each year as a result of vehicle crashes during snow and sleet conditions. That accounts for about 24% of all weather-related vehicle crashes in the United States every year. Winter brings driving conditions that threaten the safety of everyone on the road, so it’s vital for all drivers to know how the rules of the road change with the seasons.
Winter Equipment Checks
Implementing regular checks on your vehicle should already be a part of your normal routine, but this is especially the case as we head into the winter months. Caltrans, the organization that manages California’s state highway system, has a list that you can use as a handy winter prep checklist. Before heading out onto icy roads check your vehicle’s:
- Windshield wipers
- Wiper fluid levels
- Anti-freeze levels
- Exhaust system
Any parts that are worn or not functioning at optimal capacity should be replaced or repaired as soon as possible. Issues that may seem minor under normal driving conditions will worsen in cold and wet weather.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that drivers have their vehicles serviced by a mechanic at the start of the season, especially in the case of leaks or worn hoses.
Drivers should also check all fluid levels in their cars. In snowy conditions, windshield wiper fluid should be filled completely. In heavy snowfall, wiper fluid will be needed often to help de-ice the windshield and maintain visibility. Coolant should also be checked to ensure that pH levels are adequate for the temperature. A car’s coolant tank also needs to be drained and refilled occasionally to get rid of rust and dirt buildup.
Vehicle tires should be properly inflated and treads should be in good shape. To test whether a tread is too worn to drive on, insert a quarter into it, and if a part of George Washington’s head is covered by the tire, then the tread is still road worthy – for our Canadian friends, you’ll have to use the Queen’s head for a guide.
Inclement winter weather requires more intensive battery use, from running heaters, windshield wipers, and lights. Have your vehicle’s battery checked to make sure it can handle the increased workload, and have it replaced if necessary.
It should go without saying, but if you’re driving a company vehicle, any winter maintenance or preparation work should be done in the context of fleet policy and with the full approval of your company’s fleet manager or your manager.
Winterizing Your Emergency Kit
As important as it is to make sure your vehicle is road worthy for winter weather, it’s just as vital to make sure your vehicle’s emergency kit is also winter-ready. Among the items it should include are:
- A flashlight
- An ice scraper or de-icer
- A broom
- A shovel
- A towel
- Warm blankets
- Extra clothing (Things like an old winter coat, knit hat, and gloves, along with proper boots and wool socks can make a world of difference in a snowy emergency.)
- An updated paper map
If you find yourself in an accident, lost, or stuck in a snowstorm or heavy rain, having these items on hand can help keep you and your passengers safe until help arrives or you can safely proceed to your destination.
Vehicles making trips through the snow should also have sand, burlap, or cat litter stowed away. These materials can provide traction if a car is stuck in snow.
Tire chains are also essential for any trek in the snow. Make sure the chains are the proper size for your vehicle’s wheels, and know whether your vehicle is front-wheel, back-wheel, or all-wheel drive for proper installation. Keep chain repair links in your vehicle as well, in case chains break. However, check local laws and fleet policy regarding chain use. In some urban and suburban areas, chains are prohibited, while in some mountainous areas, they are legally required.
Staying Safe on Snowy Roads
A good rule of thumb for winter driving is to constantly adapt to the poor driving conditions. For example, in poor driving conditions, drive below the speed limit (when safe to do so), double your following distances, and accelerate and brake slowly.
Commuters should start their drives earlier, if possible, since winter conditions often cause traffic to move more slowly. Furthermore, drivers should make sure their gasoline tank is always at least halfway full to prevent the gas line from freezing and provide extra weight in the rear of the vehicle to avoid so-called “fishtailing.”
The key to winter driving is preparation — making sure your vehicle is ready for winter weather, you have the right equipment on hand, and you modify your driving for the conditions. Taken together, these will help you get to your destination safely.