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Your Preparation Guide for Winter Driving

November 16, 2011

Your Preparation Guide for Winter Driving

Common hazardous winter road conditions present many challenges for today's drivers. Before winter sets in, make sure vehicles are up-to-date on all maintenance to ensure the vehicle's systems are properly functioning including brakes, power steering, ventilation, headlights, tail lights and emergency flashers. Winter preparedness extends beyond vehicle maintenance, knowing what to do before encountering hazardous winter road conditions will also help you to safely get to your destination.

Driving on Black Ice

Black ice can be one of the most dangerous of all winter driving conditions simply because it fools so many drivers. In extremely cold weather, any moisture that may be in the air can accumulate onto road surfaces and freeze forming a super-thin layer of ice on the road. Black ice is most likely to form first under bridges, on overpasses, in intersections and shady spots. Due to it's shiny appearance, most drivers see this as water on the road. The reality is, black ice creates one of the most slippery and hazardous conditions on winter roads.

The safe approach to driving in black ice conditions is to slow down and drive conservatively. Don't make sudden or severe turns or steering corrections. Slow down even more and do not accelerate when driving through curves. If the vehicle starts to spin out of control, remain calm, immediately let up on the accelerator and shift the transmission into neutral. Steer the vehicle in the direction of the road and before the rear wheels stop skidding, shift the transmission back into drive and press down on the accelerator very gently. Whatever happens, do not panic or slam on the brakes.

Driving on Icy Bridges and Overpasses

Many highways have bridges or overpasses that may freeze and create a winter driving hazard. Bridges and overpasses are exposed to the open air and do not retain heat. This exposure causes them to freeze first, before road surfaces that are in contact with the warmer, heat-retaining ground. Icy winds come in contact with the top road surface and the exposed underside causing a cooling effect.

Since they typically freeze first, bridges, overpasses and elevated roadways may form slippery surfaces. Pay attention when approaching a bridge or elevated roadway and slow down on approach. Just like driving on any other icy or slick road surface, maintain control by driving conservatively. This means keeping both hands on the wheel, avoid changing lanes or any other sudden movements. Make sure there is lots of space between you and other vehicles on the road.

Driving in Heavy Snow Conditions

When possible, avoid driving if you know there is a possibility of heavy snowfall conditions. If heavy snowfall does occur while already on the road, it is best to pull off the road and find shelter in a public place, gas station, restaurant or hotel. If no shelter is available, pull off the road far enough to avoid any other vehicles that may still be on the road. In winter, always make sure to keep a warm coat, gloves and an emergency kit in the vehicle at all times. Set the vehicle lights to emergency flashing and place flares or reflective triangles around the vehicle. If these are not available, tie a piece of bright cloth to the car antenna.

Return to the vehicle and remain there, running the engine for no longer than 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. For protection against carbon monoxide poisoning, be sure to clear snow away from the exhaust pipe and leave one window slightly open, about 2 centimeters. Monitor power use and do not let the car battery get drained of power. Exercise to maintain body heat if alone or huddle together with others for warmth. While others may sleep, someone in the vehicle should always remain awake and on the look out for rescue personnel.

Winter Tires May Be Necessary

All-season tires are designed to provide adequate performance across a wide range of weather and road conditions. If road conditions such as ice, slush, sleet and snow are common during the winter months, the decision to purchase snow tires may be a good one. Winter tires are specifically designed for better braking, extra traction and superior handling in winter road conditions. When compared to all-season tires, these winter tires performed better, stopped sooner on slick surfaces and were less likely to "fishtail" or spin out an icy hills.

Consider buying separate rims for the snow tires and save the time and cost of balancing the existing rims each time the tires are changed. This makes it easy for any do-it-yourself people who may want to save the time and money spent on changing out tires each year. Buy and install all four tires-using only two winter tires may cause an imbalance and cause a vehicle to unexpectedly lose control due to more traction on just two tires. Install winter tires when the weather consistently dips below 7 degrees Celsius and leave them on until spring.

Winter Driving Emergency Kits Make Sense

It just makes good sense to put together an emergency kit and keep it in the car all winter. Consider that most people simply do not consider the possibility of getting stuck or stranded and so most are unprepared. Remember that cell phone batteries will go dead at the worst possible time and may not work in certain remote areas. Preparation for any eventuality is always best. Keep a large sized duffel bag in the vehicle at all times with flares, a lighter, flashlight and some spare batteries. Store these items in separate zip-lock bags to protect them from any moisture. Pack some high-calorie foods like candy bars in all the smaller side pockets. In the large storage area, pack several warm blankets wrapped in large, plastic garbage bags, a good quality first aid kit and a hunting knife with serrated edge in a sheath.

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