We woke up earlier this past week to freezing temperatures, a subtle reminder that winter will soon be here. And with winter comes rainy, snowy and icy conditions.
Driving in those conditions can be stressful and dangerous. Because the weather can change quickly, we need to be prepared for winter driving at any time of day or night.
With that in mind, we culled some winter safe driving tips from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Business Insider, several other websites and from previously published TDN articles.
First, stock your vehicle.
Regardless of the weather, items you always should keep in your vehicle include a first-aid kit, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, a tow strap, gloves, duct tape, flares or LED flashers, a can of tire inflator or tire sealer, a tire pressure gauge, matches in a waterproof container and/or a butane lighter, a battery operated radio, some simple tools – think a socket and screwdriver set – and one of those window/seatbelt devices you can use to break a window or cut the seatbelt if you get trapped in your car. A knife is a good idea, too. It can be used to cut rope or other debris that might get wrapped around an axle. And, a good, sharp, sturdy knife can be used for cutting material to light a fire or for opening cans of food.
And speaking of food, a few energy bars and some bottled water could come in handy, along with some non-perishable, high-energy unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits, and even some hard candy.
During the winter, switch out the bottled water for a sugary energy drink with electrolytes. The combination of the sugar and the electrolytes will lower the drink’s freezing point.
Also during the winter, add a set of chains, an ice scraper, a shovel – in case you hit a snowbank or get stuck in the snow – and a spare phone charger, preferably a hand-crank charger. Some hand-crankers come with an AM/FM NOAA weather radio and an LED flashlight along with the cellphone charger. Cellphone charging cords that plug into the car are great, but if the car battery dies, not so much so.
Another handy item is a mylar blanket. When you wrap it around yourself, its reflectivity will trap your body heat and help keep you warm. If you don’t have mylar, a wool blanket also preserves warmth and can be rolled or bundled up and used as a pillow. Hand warmers – those air-activated heat packs – can keep your hands or feet warm for hours.
And don’t forget a properly inflated spare tire, a lug wrench and a jack.
Once your car is stocked, what next?
WSDOT suggests having a mechanic check the condition of the ignition; brakes; wiring; hoses and fan belts; spark plugs; air, fuel and emission filters; PCV valve; distributor; tire wear; and tire pressure before winter weather arrives.
When it is freezing out, it is a good idea to warm up your vehicle before taking off, according to WSDOT. And, to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never leave a vehicle running in a garage – or any building – with the doors closed.
Check the battery, windshield washer fluid, antifreeze, motor oil and gas. Clear windows, mirrors and lights of snow or frost.
If you are going on a trip and the weather conditions are not ideal, ask yourself if the trip really is necessary. If the trip cannot be postponed, double check the weather conditions, be sure to give a family member or friend a copy of your itinerary, start your trip with a full tank of gas and refuel often.
Leave early and give yourself extra time to arrive at your destination.
Carry boots and some spare winter clothing, including socks, mittens and hats.
Carry cat litter or a bag of salt. If needed, use it to provide traction under the tires.
Road surfaces on bridges and under overpasses, in shaded areas and in places with less traffic volume can be icier. Drive slower in these spots.
Keep sunglasses handy. Winter glare can make it nearly impossible to see where you are going.
Now that you are prepared, what can you do to avoid a crash? WSDOT has the following suggestions.
If you can’t see because of a whiteout, carefully pull off the road and stay put until conditions improve.
Never mix radial tires with other tire types. Why, you ask? Because you want to maintain the best control and stability while driving. Tires have different treads and construction. Radial tires “roll” more than bias ply tires. Mixing different tires may make it difficult to control your car.
In cold, rainy and snowy weather, don’t use the parking or emergency brake, if possible. The brake cable can become frozen and fail to release when you disengage it.
During wintry road conditions, make a conscious effort not to use cruise control. If you use cruise control and your car skids or hydroplanes, your car could continue to try to maintain the cruise speed, causing acceleration which could cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Slowly accelerate and decelerate.
If possible, don’t stop when driving uphill.
Find out what type of braking system you have, whether it is an anti-locking or anti-skid braking system and learn how it works.
Increase your following distance from 3 to 4 seconds to 8 to 10 seconds. Following distance is the space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Keeping 8 to 10 seconds of space can be challenging, especially when other drivers squeeze in between you and the car in front of you.
We hope these tips help everyone stay safe driving this winter.