Most people cannot avoid car travel during winter. If you venture out at all during the cold, stormy months, it’s wise to take precautions to ensure your safety in case you’re stranded by a sudden white-out, a traffic pile-up, a mechanical failure, a slide into a ditch, or even a plunge off a slippery embankment.
Carrying a fully-charged cell phone is not sufficient protection. There are areas that are not yet covered by services. Even if you reach AAA or CAA, they may not work in extremely poor weather conditions and if they do, they will be extremely busy. It could be a long time until they reach everyone who needs help.
Winter car essential emergency kit
An emergency kit is an essential item to carry with you while driving during the winter months. If possible, it should be in the passenger compartment. If you have backed into a snow bank, been caught in a white-out, or been rear-ended, you may not be able to easily access the trunk.
In The Emergency Kit
- Enough water for yourself and everyone likely to be travelling with you, for at least 24 hours
- Necessary prescription medicine
- High-energy foods, peanuts, raisins, trail mix bars, etc. Chocolate is not advised because it can act as a diuretic, and you don’t want to become dehydrated
- If travelling with a baby, formula, and diapers
- Blankets, and plastic garbage bags to retain body heat
- A cell phone and charger
- Candles and matches in a waterproof container
- Flashlight, with extra batteries
- A whistle, for attracting attention
- A first aid kit
- Gloves, glove liners, hat, boots, extra warm clothing
- Ice scraper and brush
- A distress sign for the window
- Pencil and paper
- A knife or scissors
- Three bright pieces of cloth, 2″ wide and 36″ long to tie to the antenna and door handles to attract attention.
- A large empty can with a plastic lid and tissues for sanitary purposes.
In The Trunk
- An extra flashlight and flares
- Sleeping bags
- Jumper cables
- Emergency tyre sealant
- A bag of sand or cat litter
- Basic tool kit
- A small shovel
- Tyre chains
- A rope
- A compass and maps
What to prepare before the snow starts
During hectic blizzards in the winter months, motorists may sometimes get stranded due to their vehicles not being in proper condition for winter driving. I have ten pointers to see before the snow hits the ground.
- First, take pains to see your car is ready for winter. Be sure the motor is tuned up, but the brakes function properly, the battery is good, and the headlights and tail lights are working. In your trunk, keep a shovel, a bag of sand, and chains in case you encounter deep snow.
Motorists sometimes neglect minor items such as perfect windshield wipers. They’re excellent life insurance. Clean windshields, front and back are absolutely essential for bad-weather driving. It is recommended that a small brush to wipe off snow, plus a scraper to remove ice from the entire window, be placed in the vehicle. Also, you may want to consider snow blades.
- On packed snow and ice, your tyres are, of course, the most important part of your car. Slick yires are like sledges — you just can’t stop them. Most motorists find snow tyres a wise investment. Tyres with steel studs (even illegal in some states) also do an excellent job on the ice. But in blizzard conditions, nothing can match chains.
To prove that point, the National Safety Council and the American Automobile Association ran an experiment. They let a car across a patch of ice at 20 mph. On regular tyres, the car needed 149 feet to stop. The same car, equipped with rear-wheel chains, stopped at 75 feet.
- Next to your tyres; brakes are the most important element in combating icy roads. To test braking power on a wintry road, see how your brakes act at about 20 mph. When you have to stop on snow, pump your brakes, using them lightly and intermittently, thus reducing the chance of a skid. With disc brakes, the pumping action should be slower.
Skidding, the main winter-driving problem produces a bone-chilling sensation. What should you do? Keep calm; stay off the brakes; ease off the accelerator; don’t release the wheel. Steer in the direction that you want the front end of the car to go. Don’t oversteer, and you will be all right. A good rule of thumb is this: if you expect icy conditions, drive slowly, turn slowly, brake before you hit ice patches, and use restraint and steadiness in your steering. It’s easier to recover at a slower pace.
- When visibility nears zero, park a while, but be sure that the exhaust pipe does not get clogged with snow. Try to wait until the weather improves. Keep your heater going and the window open (fresh air is much better than carbon monoxide). Stay a sensible distance from your next parked car. If you get too close, and the other car’s motors running, your heater can draw in the fumes.
- Keep your tank filled with gas. The fuller the tank, the less condensation of water, and less chance of fuel-line freeze-up.
- When driving down a hill or around curves, use lower gears.
- If you must drive in bad weather, always use the lower headlight beams (but never parking lights). The upper beams will reflect off fog and snow, and blind you.
- Not all rental cars that come with chains are snow tyres. Insist on these items or go to another agency.
- Stuck in a snow drift? Clear away as much snow from around the tyres as possible. Spread a little sand or ashes under the rear tyres, or use a traction mat. Then gently rock the car back and forth, shifting from forward to reverse. A little rocking will free you.
- Finally, remember that poor winter-driving conditions don’t cause accidents — poor drivers do!
A vehicle well-prepared to confront the dangers of winter travel is something like an expensive insurance policy: you hope you never need it, but if you do, you’re very glad you took the trouble to obtain it.
driving during the winter Extra Safety Tips
- Fully winterise your vehicle in the Autumn.
- Always check the weather report before leaving. If it’s at all doubtful, postpone your travel.
- Keep the gas tank nearly full to help avoid ice in the tank or fuel lines.
- Let someone know your timetable and your primary and alternate routes.
- Stay in your car if stranded. It’s easy to become disoriented in a blizzard.
- If the exhaust pipe is clear of snow, run the engine ten minutes per hour.
- Open the windows slightly, at intervals, to guard against a possible build-up of carbon monoxide gas.
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