Holiday road trip: Don’t let winter weather catch you by surprise

Steve Winters
Published on December 14, 2017

Holiday road trip: Don’t let winter weather catch you by surprise

When Mom Nature throws wicked winter weather our way, the difference between being safe and stranded can often come down to how prepared you are.

The following tips will ensure that you’re ready for whatever happens on the wild and woolly roads, and alleviate some of the anxiety of taking to the road in winter.

Prepare your vehicle

Ensure that you’ll actually get to Gramma’s house by preparing the car for the trip.

Check the car’s antifreeze and top it off, if needed. The manual that came with your vehicle will instruct you on how to check the levels

It’s not just the level, however, that you should inspect, but the mixture as well. Inexpensive commercial testing kits are available at auto supply stores. Thoughtco.com offers a handy walk-through of the testing process.

How are the tires looking? Check the pressure and add air if necessary. Then, check the tread, using the “penny,” as suggested by justtires.com. Insert a penny into the tread “with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you,” they suggest. “If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tread depth is less than 2/32 inch and it’s time to replace your tires.”

In particularly wicked winter weather you may want to consider buying winter tires before hitting the road. “In places where snow and ice prevail for several months a year, the average driver will exceed all-weather tires’ grip limits multiple times a day,” according to Mack Demere, at Edmunds.com.

The experts at dmv.org claim that mechanics recommend a thinner motor oil for cars driven in areas with sub-freezing temperatures so talk to your mechanic before you have an oil change to find out what she or he recommends.

Then, fill the windshield wiper fluid reservoir with a freeze-resistant fluid.

Finally, check the breaks, battery and heating/defrosting system.

Create an emergency kit for the car

Your vehicle emergency kit should include:

  • Blankets for each occupant
  • Ice scraper and/or liquid deice
  • Shovel
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food
  • LED flashlights
  • Flares
  • Extra clothes (especially shoes or boots and socks)
  • First-aid kit
  • Basic tools
  • Jumper cables (at least 16 feet in length, according to itstactical.com)
  • Matches or lighters
  • Sand (to pour under the tires, if needed)
  • Extra phone charger
  • Battery-powered radio and extra, fresh batteries
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Fluorescent distress flag

If you get stuck

Disasters happen when folks make the wrong decisions about whether to stay put or go for help when they’re stuck on the road during a snow storm.

If you can’t see a safe location nearby, if you broke down on a road where rescue is unlikely, if you’re not dressed for the weather or you don’t have a way to call for help, pull off the highway, turn on the car’s hazard lights and stay inside the vehicle.

Run the engine and heater once an hour for about 10 minutes to keep warm. During these sessions, “open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning,” suggests the Department of Homeland Security.

If you don’t have a blanket, use whatever you can find in the car for insulation, such as seat covers, road maps and floor mats. Light exercise will also help you maintain body heat.

If, on the other hand, you are dressed for the weather (several layers of warm clothing with moisture repellant outerwear, mittens, hat and a scarf to cover your mouth), the conditions outside are relatively safe and there is a nearby source of help, leave the vehicle to seek assistance.

Additional considerations

  • Drive only if it is absolutely necessary during heavy snowstorms.
  • Always let someone know where you are going, which route you’ll be taking and your estimated time of arrival. Then, stick to the route without taking shortcuts.
  • Monitor local weather conditions.

Taking simple steps before your road trip keeps you from being at the mercy of severe winter weather.

Holiday road trip: Don’t let winter weather catch you by surprise
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