these northern parts, winter is the most dangerous time of year
to be on the road. Invest a little bit of time now in learning
how to become a better bad weather driver. It might save your
for the worst. Is your car in good working order? Check the
brakes, battery, belts, filters, lights, tires, windshield wipers
and fluid, anti-freeze, and gas ... use gas line de-icer and try
to keep the tank at least half filled. Get your winter maintenance
done before you have to spend an all-nighter waiting for
your car to be resurrected.
start your journey ... until the snow and ice are cleared
from your hood, lights, windows, roof, trunk, and license plates.
If you can't see, you shouldn't be driving. And sheets of snow
blowing off the hood will blind you ... or the driver behind you.
you jump? Get yourself a good set of jumper cables and learn
how to use them. The cheap cables in supermarkets and even auto
supply houses are too lightweight to handle the heavy load of
today's cars ... especially when winter cold slices the battery's
energy in half and increases the load on your engine.
a cold weather tool kit. In addition to the personal life
savers listed below, and good jumper cables, every car should
have an ice scraper, a shovel, sand, salt, or cat litter for traction,
a colorful flag to announce surrender to the elements, flares
to warn other drivers, a motor club card, and a CB radio or cellular
phone. True, there won't be much room in your trunk, or for passengers,
but trust me, it'll be worth it.
5. A lamp
to light the night. Don't forget to have a flashlight in the
glove compartment, and remember to test the batteries regularly.
On the subject
of lights, if you should get stuck, you can leave your dome light
on, as well as your hazard lights, while you wait for help to
arrive. Both use very little power and won't drain a battery in
good working order. In fact, even a weak battery will keep those
lights going for quite a while.
First chance you get every year, find a large, deserted icy parking
lot to practice ice driving skills.
it slow. Whether you're facing rain, fog, snow, or ice, you're
far less likely to have an accident if you're traveling slowly.
On wet roads, drive 5-10 mph slower than usual. In snow, cut your
speed in half. On ice, crawl.
over bridges and through shady spots, be especially alert for
ice. These areas freeze earlier and stay frozen longer than the
rest of the roadbed.
before you hit curves or go down hills -- ideally by letting up
on the gas and/or driving in low. You don't want to make any sudden
moves on slippery roads. Gradual is the watchword -- whether you're
accelerating, slowing down, or braking.
yourself visible. Truckers do it. School bus drivers do it.
Some new cars give you no choice but to do it. It's time for you
to do it, too. Day or night, but especially in bad weather, turning
on your headlights will make your car easier to see.
THEM visible too. When they're dirty, your headlights could
be giving off only 10% of their brightness. So keep yours clean.
Even normal driving causes a dirt build-up that can cut your lights'
output in half. Every time you squeegee the windshield, do the
front and back lights, too.
light warnings: 1) Use low beams in fog, heavy rain, or snow.
Brights will reflect back into your eyes ... reducing visibility.
2) Don't forget to turn your lights off when you arrive at your
destination, or a dead battery may greet you upon your return.
a "space cushion." In bad weather, you need a lot of extra
space between you and the car ahead. On snow or ice, you could
travel three to twelve times further than usual before your car
stops. For example, under the best conditions, you'll need about
75 feet -- 5 car lengths -- to come to a complete stop if you're
doing 30 mph. On a snowy road at that speed, figure on at least
15 car lengths to stop (225 feet).
and the skidding is easy. You don't need winter weather to
get into a skid. After a dry spell, a light drizzle brings oil
to the surface, making roads slick ... and cars skid on slick
panic. On icy roads, try switching to the lowest gear you
have ... before you enter a curve or head down a hill. It should
keep your speed in check, sans brakes. If you find yourself going
into a skid, try not to panic. It won't help. Neither will slamming
on the brakes, which will just increase the danger. What to do?
you were taught about going in the direction of the skid. That
was too confusing. All you have to do is gently steer the car
in the direction you want to go. It's as simple as that. Honest.
If you have
to slow down or stop on an icy patch, tap the brakes lightly --
unless you have antilock brakes, in which case, you should maintain
a firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal -- and see tip #19.
day, you'll be stuck in snow, mud, or sand
yourself. Try moving forward very slowly (in drive, not low
... your wheels are less likely to spin). Point your front wheels
straight ahead. With snow, shoveling in front and behind each
wheel, as well as under the car, may help.
yourself, Part 2. I've recently read about putting my emergency
brake on slightly to reduce wheel spinning. It seems that on some
cars, this will return power to both drive wheels ... as if you
had a vehicle with traction control. Might be worth a try if all
else fails but don't forget to release the emergency brake once
you're back on the road.
yourself, Part 3. Next, you can try "rocking." Here's my method:
I gently press on the accelerator as I shift from low to reverse.
Do it slowly, and not for long. If you get some forward or backward
momentum ... great! Just keep on truckin'.
dangerous to rock a car with people trying to push. And on the
subject of digging and pushing, it's counter-productive to exert
yourself so much that a heart attack stops your engine!
more on freeing yourself. Try to get some traction by putting
something like cat litter or sand under your drive wheels. Again,
if you get going, don't stop until you're out of the muck and
mire, or you may get stuck again.
No dice? There
are times when your best bet is to be towed out. Although I've
been known to jack up my car and put boards underneath the wheels,
a tow is far easier, especially if you belong to a motor club.
it pays to get heavy. If you have rear wheel drive it's a
good idea to load up some weight in the back end for the winter.
you're stranded during a snowstorm, stay in your car. The
conventional wisdom says you should run the engine and heater
for very short periods and always "crack" the downwind window
A great source
of heat is body movement. Move those arms and legs, take deep
breaths, clap those hands ... keep active and if you're alone,
awake. If you're not alone, post sentinels ... make sure someone
is awake at all times.
Carbon monoxide (CO) can build up if the exhaust system has leaks,
the tailpipe is clogged, or the vehicle is boxed in by snow drifts.
CO is odorless, invisible, and deadly. You'd never know.
snow blocked windows can cut off your oxygen supply -- and a car
buried in snow won't be seen by rescue crews. So keep your car
as free of snow as possible.
devices can kill. While it's true that antilock brake systems
(ABS) save lives, improper use of them may cause as many accidents
as they prevent. Because some drivers don't know how to use ABS
correctly, they "pump their brakes," just as they were taught
to do in cars with the old-fashioned kind of brakes. Despite the
fact that ABS may set up a nerve racking vibration when held down,
that's normal. They should be held down ... not pumped.
20. A few
tricks. To avoid a frozen emergency brake, park on a level
surface and leave the car in gear (standard) or park (automatic).
If the emergency brake is frozen, try releasing it by driving
a short distance in reverse.
Got a frozen
door lock? Heat the key with a match or lighter. If you use that
lock de-icer stuff, don't keep it in the glove compartment. Try
to pick a spot you'll remember in the house or garage. (Guess
best tip of all. Stay home (or wherever you are). Wait for
the weather and roads to clear before you hit the highway. You're
unlikely to get into a car accident if you're nowhere near a car.
I were reminded of this yet again the other day. We set out when
we should have stayed put. Will we ever learn? We're trying --
this time, at least we had the sense to turn around.
911. If you must get somewhere important, like the hospital,
call for emergency assistance. The police are trained and equipped
to brave the storm as safely as possible.
23. 4 X
4's. I love 'em but look out! They won't prevent a skid on
ice any better than a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Drive just as carefully
in your in your 4 x 4 as you would with any other vehicle.
sober ... or don't drive at all. You really need your wits
about you when driving ... winter, spring, summer, fall ... day