Adapting to winter weather with your car
December 1, 2023 | View PDF
As cold winter months intensify, it’s important that drivers take prepare their vehicles in case of snowstorms and the like. It’s especially important to have the proper supplies and safety items on hand in case you get stuck or stranded while driving in wintry conditions. Being prepared can help ensure your safety and peace of mind.
One of the most important things to pack is a basic emergency kit. This should include items like blankets, warm clothing layers, gloves, hats, food that won’t spoil like energy bars, a flashlight with extra batteries, a shovel, a tow strap, jumper cables, and traction mats or cat litter for ice. Consider keeping this kit in your trunk year-round so it’s ready when needed.
You’re less likely to get stuck if you can see where you are going. Check your windshield wipers and replace them if they are worn out. Make sure to top off your windshield washer fluid with one that won’t freeze in cold temperatures. You never dilute this fluid with water, unlike coolant.
Give your tires a safety check as well—replace them if the treads are worn down and maintain the proper air pressure. Uneven tire pressures can create decreased friction on the road which means less traction.
Some cars come equipped with winter tires, but all-weather or snow tires are an affordable investment that can really improve traction, braking and handling in wintry driving situations. Studs are great for keeping traction on slippery hard surfaces, but it’s the tread of the tires that keep you moving best in the snow.
A snow-covered vehicle is just as dangerous as a snow-covered road. Have a snow brush and ice scraper on hand to clear off all the snow from your windows, hood, roof and trunk before driving. Leaving snow on top of your car is dangerous as it can blow off onto the road while driving, obstructing visibility for other motorists. Snow can also slide off your roof over your windshield and block your view.
Always match your driving to the current road and weather conditions; taking a little extra time and care behind the wheel ensures a safer journey. When you are out, drive slowly and leave extra space between you and other vehicles. Your stopping distance is longer in winter than summer, make sure to adjust for that. Step on the gas or brake pedals gradually. It’s also wise to let someone know your intended travel route and expected arrival time when traveling in severe storms.
Keep your cell phone plugged in to maximize the battery life in case you need to use it to call for help. Keep it within reach, but not loose. Placing it into a glove box or center console or cubby in the vehicle is important, or a purse that is tucked into the center console. If you are in a serious accident, finding a phone that has been thrown to the back of your car or outside can be near impossible, especially if you are stuck. But having it within reach can make a difference of life or death.
If you do get stuck and can’t get your vehicle moving again, stay with your car for warmth and visibility to rescuers. Run the motor sparingly and open a window slightly for ventilation if needed. Make sure that your exhaust pipe is free of snow, debris or water so that the exhaust does not come back into the vehicle. Remain as calm as possible until help arrives.
Have roadside assistance. Whether through your vehicle insurance or a third-party organization, make sure that all of your vehicles have coverage so that if you get stuck, wrecked or disabled, the vehicle can get home without a huge out-of-pocket payment.
Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaska resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and also serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 19 years and their three teenage sons.