HOW TO PREPARE YOUR CAR FOR A WINTER STORM
Winter driving conditions are dangerous and your chances of being injured in a snow related auto incident are greatly increased. Snow and ice reduce pavement friction and vehicle maneuverability causing increased risk of crashes. Every year nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured during snowfall or sleet according to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
However, there are several things you can do to help keep your family safe while driving in winter weather conditions.
1. CHECK YOUR CAR BATTERY. Car batteries do not last indefinitely, and cold weather will reduce a car battery's capacity. It is always a good idea to have yours checked by a professional before winter driving conditions hit. Low temperatures can cause a weak battery to fail. If you do end up stranded due to an accident or road closures, you may have a long wait while emergency or tow crews are able to get to you, and your car battery may be providing your only source of heat. Having your battery checked is a simple and quick process that may save you and your loved ones in an emergency.
2. CHECK YOUR TIRES. Worn tires with reduced tread, or low air pressure, can be particularly dangerous in winter driving conditions. This is because they provide reduced traction on wet, icy or snowy roads and can decreasing your stopping distance and stability. It is imperative that you have proper tires for winter roadways, if possible a good set of winter/snow tires is always your best option. Winter/snow tires can reduce your stopping distance by almost 30 ft. compared to all weather tires. They even perform better on ice, stopping you 48% faster and reducing side skid in turns. Winter tires could save your life. In Washington state, studded winter/snow tires are legal between November 1st through March 31st. Be aware however, in locations where chains are required, studded winter/snow tires do NOT satisfy state chain requirements. According to the Washington Department of Transportation, if chains are required, they will have to be placed over studded winter/snow tires.
3. CARRY A SET OF TIRE CHAINS. A quality set of tire chains is also a good option when traveling in winter weather conditions. Tire chains allow for better traction in icy or snowy conditions by using the weight of your vehicle to dig into the snow or ice while driving. Chains can be difficult to put on your vehicle at first, it is always a good idea to practice before you head out into winter driving conditions. In Washington State, 4WD/AWD vehicles (under 10,000 pounds) do not need chains installed during "chains required" notices, but drivers still must cary chains with them in case conditions worsen and they are required to install chains during a "chains required on all vehicles" notice according to WSDOT.
4. INSTALL WINTER WIPERS. Winter wipers are made of rubber that prevents ice from building up on the blades. This can greatly increase your visibility in hazardous snow conditions. However, be aware that winter wipers are heavier than regular wipers so you don't want to leave them on year round as they may wear on your wiper motor.
5. PERFORM REGULAR MAINTENANCE. Regular maintenance to your vehicle, including changing your oil, filling all other fluids, and having your heating and brake systems checked, can help your vehicle perform better and reduce the risk of a breakdown while driving in winter weather conditions.
6. FILL UP YOUR GAS TANK. Anything can happen in when driving in winter weather. You need to be prepared for long delays, road closures, or even being stuck waiting for an emergency or tow crew to pull you out. If you are stranded, your engine might be the only thing to keep you warm. Also, a full tank can reduce condensation that can cause gas line freeze ups.
7. CARRY A WINTER EMERGENCY KIT. In an emergency, your winter emergency kit can mean the difference between easily weathering the storm, or being seriously injured. Items to keep in your emergency kit include:
- Flashlight: Visibility can be reduced by snow or blizzard conditions when traveling in the winter. In the event you need to stop and install chains, or your vehicle gets stuck and needs to be dug out, during these conditions, a flashlight can provide the visibility you need. It can also be used to flag down other drivers for help. Carrying an extra set of batteries for your flashlight is also a good idea.
- Snow Shovel: A small folding snow shovel and help you dig out in the even your vehicle gets stuck. If you are unable to dig out, a snow shovel will also help you keep snow from piling up around your car and taillights/headlights so that you remain visible to other cars traveling on the roadway.
- Jumper Cables: As mentioned above, cold temperatures can reduce your battery's capacity. If you are unable to start your engine in cold temperatures, you will likely need another vehicle to give you a jump start. Without jumper cables, you may be waiting a long time for someone to come along who is equipped to help you.
- First Aid Kit: Accidents happen often in winter driving conditions. A basic first aid kit can help if any injuries are caused by a collision with another vehicle, or even a tree or ditch. If you take any regular medications, it is also a good idea to keep extras in your first aid kit in the event you are stranded or delayed due to winter weather.
- Tool Kit: From minor repairs after a small collision to get your going again, to changing a damaged tire, a small tool kit can be invaluable year round in your vehicle to prevent leaving you stranded.
- Reflective Triangles or Flares: If you are stuck, you want to make sure that other drivers can see you to avoid an even worse collision. Reflective triangles or flares can signal to other drivers in the reduced visibility of winter driving conditions that your vehicle is there.
- Emergency Blankets or Coats: It can get cold fast if you are stranded in winter weather. Extra blankets (or an emergency blanket) can keep you warm and reduce the need to risk running your vehicle low on fuel.
- Water and Extra Food: Dehydration is serious. If you are stranded for an extended period having water and extra food in your vehicle can be the difference between life and death.
- Waterproof Gloves: If you have to change a tire, put chains on your car, or dig out of the snow, cold hands can make the task difficult to nearly impossible. A good pair of waterproof gloves will make these tasks easier and get you back on the road quicker.
The most important thing to remember when traveling in winter weather conditions is take it slow! If you don't feel safe driving, stay home. Nothing is more important than your safety. However, if you must venture out into hazardous conditions, being prepared can be the difference between coming home safe and not coming home at all. Please be safe!