Driving Safely All Winter Long
When winter hits, so do a variety of weather challenges — from heavy snow and ice to below-zero temperatures. What do these conditions mean for your daily drive? According to the National Weather Service, icy roads can lead to an increase in traffic accidents. To help stay safe on the roads, brush up on your winter car driving know-how with these safety tips.
1. Build a Winter Car Emergency Kit
It’s always better to be prepared for a roadside situation, just in case. Keep a winter emergency kit in your car that contains necessities such as a snow shovel and brush, warning flares and reflective triangles, a bag of kitty litter or sand for traction, extra clothes, gloves, hand warmers, hats and thermal blankets, says the Colorado Department of Transportation. According to U.S. News and World Report, you’ll also want to be sure it’s well stocked with first-aid essentials and nonperishable high-energy food items, like jerky, nuts, energy bars and water. Put it all in a plastic container and stash it in your trunk.
2. Check Your Tires
As temperatures drop, so does the pressure in your tires, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Your tires are your main connection to the road, so you want to be sure they are inflated properly and often (check your pressure at least once a month), adds the NHSTA. Look for your vehicle’s correct tire pressure on the tag within the driver’s-side doorjamb or in your owner’s manual. Depending on the conditions in your area, you may want to swap into winter tires. If not, ensure you have a safe tread depth for road conditions.
To see if it’s about time for new tires, take the “penny test.” Simply, hold it between your thumb and forefinger so that Lincoln’s head is showing. Place the top of Lincoln’s head pointing down into one of the grooves of the tire’s tread. If any part of Lincoln’s head is obscured by the tread, you have a safe amount of tread, according to Bridgestone Tire. If you can see his entire head, it may be time to replace your tire because the tread is no longer deep enough.
3. Avoid Spinning Out on Ice
Slick surfaces typically require a longer stopping distance, so keep a greater-than-usual distance between your car and other vehicles when roads are snowy and icy, according to the NHTSA. Having this distance may give you ample time to respond to road and weather hazards. Practice gentle acceleration and braking to maintain consistent traction. If your wheels begin to spin, release the accelerator until traction returns. If you find yourself in a skid, Edmunds advises letting up on the gas and steering in the direction you want the front of your car to go. Experts warn that you should not hit the gas or the brake until you have control of your car again. And, remember to breathe and stay as calm as possible.
4. Maintain Your Car’s Battery
Your engine’s oil thickens as temperatures drop. The thicker the oil, the more power your car battery requires, according to NHTSA. This can be particularly challenging for batteries three years old or older, says Angie’s List. If you know your battery is older than three years, you may want to replace it. If you don’t remember the year it was purchased, you can check your battery’s age by looking at its case. Some brands use a numeric date, while others use a code with a letter for the month and a number for the year. So “A6” would mean “January 2016” while “H5” would mean “August 2015.” Peek under the hood to be sure your battery is ready for the challenge of winter.
5. Step Up to New Safety Technology
Looking to get a new car before winter? You may want to consider some with the latest safety features. Most automakers offer electronic traction and stability control systems that work along with the car’s anti-lock braking system to help assist drivers in icy road conditions. These safety systems help a driver maintain control in curves and turns — especially in snowy or slippery conditions — by detecting when the vehicle begins to slip and reducing the throttle and applying the brakes to individual wheels to help correct the vehicle’s orientation, according to Edmunds.
When Jack Frost blows into town, snow and ice are inevitable, but being prepared for treacherous roads can help you to know what to anticipate. Keep these tips in your mental glove box to help make the most of a snowy, slippery situation.
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Originally published November 3, 2016.