Let’s face it, Idaho winters can be challenging. The cold weather tests the limits of your car’s mechanical abilities and dangerous driving conditions can test the abilities of even the best drivers. It’s important to understand the hazards we face with winter driving, and be prepared to safely deal with them. In the winter, your car’s dependability is more crucial than ever. The consequences of breaking down increase greatly as the temperature drops, so it’s important to take the right precautions to keep you and your family safe.
Before the freeze:
- Have your brakes checked: Icy roads greatly increase the time it takes your car to come to a complete stop, so good brakes are especially critical in the winter.
- Check your tire tread: Place a penny head first into the tread grooves on each tire. If you can still see Abe’s ENTIRE head, your treads are worn and should be replaced before you drive on snow or ice.
- Check your wiper blades and windshield washer fluid: Make sure your wiper blades work properly and be sure your washer fluid is undiluted, so it will not freeze.
- Check your antifreeze: It’s easy to check the status of the mixture with an inexpensive antifreeze tester, which you can pick up at any auto parts store. The mixture should be at least 50% antifreeze to 50% water. For even greater protection, 70% antifreeze is recommended.
- Have your mechanic check your battery, charging system, and belts. Even if the battery seems strong, do this once before the freeze comes and once in the middle of the Winter season.
OK, so you’re ready for winter and the snow starts to fly. Driving on a snowy or icy road is much different than dry pavement, and it’s a good idea to follow some guidelines for safe winter driving. Regardless of your driving skill or vehicle preparation, there are some winter conditions that can’t be conquered. But these tips may help prevent snowy and icy roads from ruining your day:
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
- The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes. Whether you have anti-lock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold braking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
- Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
- Watch for black ice! If the road looks slick, it probably is. This is especially true with one of winter’s worst hazards: “black ice.” Also called “glare ice,” this is nearly transparent ice that often looks like a harmless puddle or is overlooked entirely. Test the traction with a smooth brake application or slight turn of the wheel.
- Understand limitations of AWD and 4-wheel drive; it can only help a vehicle accelerate or keep it moving. Electronic Stability Control may prevent a spinout, but it can’t help you go around a snow-covered turn, much less stop at an icy intersection.
- Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. While the list of items to include in the kit can be extensive, it’s good to have at least these basics:
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries (NOAA weather radio coverage)
- Flashlight & batteries
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Jumper cables for starting automobile
- First aid kit
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable high-energy foods, such as granola bars, raisins or peanut butter
- Compass or GPS
- Flares and/or reflective emergency triangles
- Sand or kitty litter (for tire traction)
- Tow rope
- Candles & Matches