No matter where we live we all need to be aware of the extra precautions necessary to safe winter driving. Those of us living in climates where winter is non-existent or an infrequent visitor may need to take special heed. We don't get much practice driving on ice or in snow but business trips or vacations may require us to drive in foreign conditions. It's better to prepare ahead rather than rely on a crash course (sorry for the pun).
Winter weather can be unpredictable and varied. Rain, sleet, ice, snow and just plain cold temperatures affect not only the driving experience but also the way your vehicle runs. Often times, in the face of inclement weather, the best decision is simply not to venture out at all. Weather and driving conditions that deteriorate so rapidly in just a few hours can also improve as quickly. But when you must drive in less than ideal conditions there are a number of things you can do before you get behind the wheel as well as when you are driving.
Before You Drive
- Cold temperatures affect the way your vehicle starts and runs. Make sure fluid levels, particularly anti-freeze, are topped off.
- Keep your gas tank as full as possible (at least half full). Empty tanks allow condensation and moisture in the gas lines which can freeze making a car or truck hard to start.
- Make sure your tires have adequate tread and are properly inflated.
- Have you vehicle checked to make sure that the anti-lock brake system (ABS) and any traction control system (e.g., AWD) is working properly. These systems won't do you any good if they are not functioning.
- Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your vehicle. Include jumper cables, a snow/ice scraper, sand or salt, a shovel, deicer, a blanket, gloves and even boots. If your vehicle gets stranded you'll appreciate the warmer clothing.
- Make sure your windshield and windows are clear before leaving your driveway or parking spot. You may be in a hurry but dangerously reduced peripheral, especially when driving snow may already reduce visibility, is an accident waiting to happen.
On the Road
- Leave the engine running if you are running the heater or any electrical options, even if you are stuck in traffic or parked. Listening to the radio, using interior lights, watching a DVD or using the windshield wipers will run the battery down and cold weather places a strain on car batteries; when you try to start the engine again you may not have enough battery power.
- Give your car a chance to warm up. Cars are like people we need to warm up our bodies, and get the blood flowing before doing anything strenuous. Likewise, oil, needs to be lubricating your engines pistons and coolant needs to flow freely before you reach highway speeds. Why is this tip in the on the road section? Because you can conserve gas and warm your car up effectively by driving at 25 ' 30 miles per hour for the first mile or two instead of letting it idle in the driveway for five minutes. Moreover, idling in the driveway or parking spot does not warm up drive train components.
- All wheel drive (AWD) and anti-lock brakes (ABS) are no substitute for driving sensibly. AWD and ABS can help you maintain control but they won't make you invincible. Maintain safe distances and drive at speeds appropriate for conditions.
- Should you become stranded remember it is usually best to stay with your vehicle until help arrives.