TodayApril 17, 2022

Winter driving tips

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

For most of us looking outside with our heat on and the fireplace blazing is good enough. But if you need to get somewhere and there is a blizzard, there are some warnings you should heed.

Winter car tips:

A winter car kit includes such emergency needs as a windshield scraper, flashlight, tow chain, shovel, blankets, and salt.

We keep an all-in-one roadside emergency kits in our car. It came pre-packaged with battery cables, tow cables, tire inflater, some tools, gloves, ponchos, etc. Add duct tape and hand and feet chemical warmers packs that can be bought at a hiking store.

My husband always has a leatherman utility knife on his belt. We keep a flashlight, spare batteries, oil, and brake fluid in the car. My car has a shovel, blanket, fire extinguisher, and old clothes that I was going to give away are left as winter clothing.

Mobile phone and car charger: Batteries die faster in the cold, so make sure you have a car charger with that cellphone. Many new cars have power outlets in the center console storage box so you can charge your phone while you heat your car.

OnStar: An option on many new cars, the OnStar system can get a live operator on the phone with the press of a button, and will automatically summon help if your car’s airbags deploy. OnStar relies on the vehicle’s electrical system, so carry a cell phone as a backup.

Take a case of bottled water with you. When we were in Vail, CO it was cold and hard to breathe. At higher temperatures, your body uses more water. Don’t expect stores to be open in blizzards.

Take gas cans full of gas wrapped in heavy-duty green garbage bags. If you have a roof rack, pack them up there instead of in the trunk, so that you don’t smell the fumes.

Tips for traveling:

Travel by daylight, and keep others informed of your schedule. Drive with extreme caution; never try to save time by driving fast or using back-road shortcuts.

Tell people where you are going – set a designated time to check with them along the way, calling every hour or so. If you don’t check-in and they can’t reach you have them call the authorities.

Drive slow – when the snow is thick, animals will be on the road because they can’t tell the difference between the road and their natural habitat.

If a blizzard traps you in your car:

Pull off the highway; stay calm and remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you.

Set your directional lights to “flashing” and hang a cloth or distress flag from the radio aerial or window.

If you run the engine to keep warm, create ventilation by cracking open a window. This will protect passengers from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.

Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion.

Never let everyone in the car sleep at one time. One person should look out for rescue crews.

Be careful not to use up battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights and heat and charging your cell – with supply.

At night, turn on the inside dome light, so work crews can spot you.
If you are in a remote rural or wilderness area, spread a large cloth over the snow, to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane. Once the blizzard passes, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot.

I have taken snow driving lessons in Finland and in Vail CO. Some of the easier tips to remember:

The simplest thing one can do to keep your bearings is done before you even start your car. Make sure your tires are straight. Tape a piece of white electrical tape on the top of the steering wheel. If you’re on a straightaway your white piece of tape should be at the top of your steering wheel. This is especially important if you have just gone around a corner and you are trying to straighten your wheels.

The instructors talked about “flat-light”. This is when there is snow and it is overcast. Everything looks the same, there are no shadows to show depth or angles. They counter this by wearing amber lens sunglasses. Kurt had a pair made by Carreras, called Iridium multi-interchangeable lens. It’s the amber lens that will make the difference in flat-light.

If you have a front-wheel-drive and you start to slide, turn the wheels in the direction you want to go. If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, do just the opposite and take your foot off the gas.

As most of you already know, the more people drive on the snow, the more it turns to ice. Obviously, the best time to drive is when the snow first falls. We did a track and a circle. Both were done in second gear (on a 4-speed automatic), not in drive. The track was where I used my Anti-lock braking system (ABS) the most. The best time to brake is when you are on a straightaway before you turn. The grinding sound when I was braking gave me a scare at first, but I was assured that was normal. My biggest problem was giving the car too much gas. I also realized that I was worried about the guys in the back of me. Not that they were necessarily going to run into me, but that they would be upset with me for going so slow. The instructors told me the people that go slower are more likely to stay out of accidents. I soon realized that is the reason people get into accidents. Brake on the straightaway, slowly apply gas on the turn and let your wheel go back up to the white tape. It worked every time.

And don’t forget your snow chains.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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