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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the United States places car accidents at the top of the list of causes of death in winter storms. In other statistics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts the number of car crashes resulting from tire failure at 9%. If you’ll drive at least 275 miles in your car during winter, as estimated by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it is only prudent for you to accord it the necessary check that is required for it to get you to your destination through extreme weather.
Don’t assume that the emergency kit you usually have in your car will suffice during winter. Remember, prior planning and preparation is vital. Here are items that shouldn’t miss in your kit as you head out on a winter trip. If you will end up not using the emergency kit, well and good. However, it is important to bear in mind that it will come in handy when you will be needing it.
- Flashlights together with spare batteries
- A brightly colored cloth or enough flares for visibility in an emergency
- Tools like a screwdriver, wrench, and pliers
- Jumper and booster cables
- A spare tire
- A first aid kit
- Pocket knife
- A battery operated radio
- At least two bags of sand
- Sleeping bag or blankets
- Warm spare clothes including jackets, scarves, socks, pants, mitts, and hats
- Rain gear
- Medication if necessary
- Snacks like energy bars or nuts
- Enough drinking water
- Plastic bags
With a higher amount of snowfall, come higher odds of being stuck in the snow. Therefore, before setting out on a trip out in the snow, here is how to prep your car. Remember, it prudent to prepare for the worst even if the worst may never happen.
First things first, your tires should be in a good state to be driven out in inclement weather. If the treads are worn out, 4/32 inches deep or less is remaining, you need to replace your tires as they will not have the needed traction and braking power especially in wet and snowy conditions. The ideal depth of a tire tread intended for snow is 1/16 inches.
If possible, replace them with snow tires. These are designed with deeper treads to give you good traction on wet slippery trails. If not, get all-season tires rather than ordinary ones. The mark of a tire fit for all weather comes with an M+S sign (meaning mud and snow) at the sides.
Alternatively, install snow chains on your tires to enhance their traction. These chains are only applicable to snowed or iced trails. On other roads, you may need to take the chains off your tires. This demands that you learn how to install and uninstall them.
Next, check the inflation and structure of your tires. They need to have enough pressure to allow your car to be well balanced and safe when driving. This also extends the lifespan of the tires and maximizes your car’s fuel efficiency. Ideally, your car’s pressure monitoring system should help you tell whether the tires are well inflated. You also need to check the pressure of your tires from time to time because the cold temperature is bound to compress the pressure in your tires.
2. Floor mats
Much as mats are never really considered as important, installing them correctly in your car allows you to operate the accelerator, brake pedal, and clutch without interference. Get the right size mats for your vehicle and purchase retention clips to help keep them intact at all times. Make sure you use rubber mats with raised edges. If you use the fabric (summer) ones, they will soak and remain wet for a long time and this may bring the mold, mildew, bad odor and corrosion to the car.
During winter, your car engine will consume more power when being started because cold temperatures typically make it hard for your battery to start.
Test your car’s electrical connection which should include the battery and the alternator. Your battery power should read 12.4 volts or more when measured with a voltmeter. Secondly, get a good car battery charger so you will have your car battery fully charged and maintained through winter. Consider taking your battery to an expert for a thorough check.
Next, check all connection cables and all other components like fasteners and posts and ensure that they are in good working condition. Connection cables should be tightly fitted and any rust and debris removed from the battery and all the surrounding bits.
4. Antifreeze system
If your coolant system is not in order, your car may end up overheating since it will require greater power to handle freezing temperatures. Inspect the system, have it flushed and refilled or replaced altogether if this is possible.
5. Windshield wipers and wiper blades
If your windshield wipers are hardened or worn out, it means their performance will be compromised. As a result, your windshield will not be cleaned well enough to give you the required visibility and this could be risky. Such wipers need replacement and if possible with wipers that are heavy duty for tackling heavy snow. Also, consider installing winter wiper blades to enable your wipers to work effectively through ice and snow.
The most suitable wiper fluid is one that will not freeze under extreme conditions. Have your reservoir filled and carry some extra fluid because you never know when you will need it. The spray nozzles of the windshield washer system should be intact and in good working condition. Unblock them with a sharp pointed pin if blocked.
The lights are a function of the electrical connection of your car. Inspect the entire lighting system of your car. This includes the headlights, tail lights, hazard lights, as well as the braking and turning signal lights. Aside from functioning properly, they should not be clouded with dirt or dust as this will dim their brightness.
If you notice that your brakes drag, stick, or they would not release when you apply, it is time you take them for a check and repair as necessary. Other signs of faulty car brakes is when your car pulls to the side when you apply brakes, a grinding noise or vibration of the brake pedal, and soft or hard pedal so that you either apply too much force on the brake pedal for it to move down or it easily moves to the floor with the slightest force. Bottom line never attempts to drive on ice or snow trail with faulty car brakes, this could be tragic.
8. Exhaust system
Noise is the number one sign that your exhauster isn’t in good shape. However, your exhaust pipe could also be leaking without you noticing which could be a greater underlying problem. It is always a good idea for it to be checked when you take your car for a checkup.
9. Heater system
The heater system in your car should be working to warm up your car during winter because you will need the heat. If your heater isn’t working, check the level of coolant and water in the radiator to be sure that there are no leaks, the thermostat, and the blower.
Working defrosters are important in any car most especially those being driven during the ice and snowy winter weather. This is because defrosters perform the noble function of clearing your car from built-up condensation caused by snow and ice. Without them working properly visibility is hampered.
11. Oil level
Low-viscosity oil is the most suitable for winter conditions thanks to the fact that it streams quite easily between your vehicle parts and keeps your engine in good working condition. Never forget to change your oil as required. As you do this, check your transmission filters. Finally, winter weather needs lower weight oils, typically a 5W oil.
12. Fuel level
Fill up your tank or maintain at least half the tank throughout your trip. This may require you to carry extra gas in a gallon to top up your tank when there is a need. Enough gas helps you start your car with ease even in freezing conditions.
Before you go
It is not enough to prep your car for winter. You need to bear several other factors in mind before making a final decision to travel.
- Make sure that you are updated with the latest on snow and weather condition in the area you are traveling to. Get in touch with your local area patrol team to find out about any accidents or incidents that will affect your travel or of the weather condition that may make the place unsafe for you to drive in.
- Inform one or two people about your plans to travel, your route, and your destination so that in the event of an emergency, it would be easy to trace you. Also, give them an estimation of the time it might take you to get to your destination and inform them when you arrive. It also helps to keep contact with them on your way.
- Check your cell phone and ensure that it is fully charged before embarking on your trip. Consider carrying a car charger, fully charged power bank, or spare batteries for your cell phone.
- Invest in a brightly colored car cover. A reversible one would be better since you can make use of both sides. The bright colors will make your car visible in poor light conditions. Secondly, the cover helps keep away ice and snow from your windshield and prevent salts used on the road from getting in contact with your car’s paint.
- A good alternative if you can’t find a brightly colored cover, is to make a big ‘X’ mark at the top side of the cover and your number plate at the sides.
As you drive
- Having established the route you will use, you should, by now, be having an idea of the location of bridges and such other structure. Since these structures tend to freeze faster than the roads, drive slowly and cautiously as you approach them to be on the safe side.
- Avoid making sudden changes in speed, brakes, and turns. You will be exposing yourself to danger especially because you are driving on slippery ground. Initiate your brake, acceleration, and turns well ahead of time. Overly slow speed isn’t good for the car either. This is because acceleration gives it the power to move snow and ice and maneuver through.
- If you have never driven in winter weather, your body may not easily adapt to extreme temperatures. This explains why some people suffer hypothermia more than others. To address this, try doing simple exercises like clapping and rubbing hands and changing your position from time to time. Secondly, ensure you layer your clothes so that the heat released by your body is trapped within. Finally, huddle up with the others or tuck your fingers between your thighs or under your armpits to keep them warm since fingers are the most susceptible to cold.
Some handy tips and tricks
- If a road is closed up due to bad weather or an area has been determined to have inclement weather, it is safer for you not to travel no matter how prepared you feel you were. If you really have to go, consider a safer alternative route.
- Give yourself a safe distance from trucks. They need a greater distance to brake or stop. You will also save your windscreen from being sprayed with snow.
- Your headlights should always be on to make you visible.
- If you have never considered roadside insurance as part of your insurance policy, it will come in handy now. Road assistance plans include services like car towing, tire repair, and lock-out help among other services.
- As indicated in your emergency checklist, have two bags of sand standby. These will help give your car tires some traction in case you are stuck. This is important, particularly for rear-wheel drive cars.
- It is good to rinse off road salt from regularly, however, once in a while give your car a thorough wash and coat it with a protective layer of fresh wax to keep it from rusting.
- In the event of an emergency, it is advisable to remain inside your vehicle. Never go out to look for help unless it is visibly near you.
Prepping your car for winter is necessary if you have to remain safe. While doing this, your preparation should be based on the worst weather you can expect in the destination you will be in. Let your car be checked by a qualified technician to be sure that every problem imaginable has been addressed. Apart from the necessary preparation, driving carefully should also be a part of taking care of your car. A defensive driving course is a good investment as it helps you know how to tackle the road in inclement weather. Finally, if the worst doesn’t happen, be happy that your car is in its best working condition.