We all hope that our travels are safe, fun-filled, and memorable; that's not always the case - so be prepared for those times when it is not-so-much fun! Here's what you can do to ensure your safety, comfort, and convenience while traveling this winter.
• Vehicle Maintenance •
On the side of the road is not the time to be thinking about vehicle maintenance! Before the winter rush hits, make sure that you (or a shop) takes a look at:
- Tires: Tread depth, Wear, Cracking, Foreign objects (such as nails), and appropriate model for conditions (such as snow/rain, etc.). Inflate to manufacturer specifications!
- Battery: Batteries are taxed harder in cold climates; make sure your battery is healthy and properly maintained.
- Belts/Hoses: replace any worn or cracked hoses and belts!
- Brakes: Been a few years? Hear squealing or feeling poor performance? Get them checked out!
- Lighting: Make certain all of your lights are in proper working order! Headlights, running lights, emergency hazard lights, turn signals, etc.
- Wiper blades: They should be replaced yearly; right now is a good time to do it!
- Fluids: Oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, transfer case, and power steering fluid are the life-blood of your vehicle; top them off or change them if it has been a while.
- Fuel: Make sure to fill your tank prior to leaving; this includes "short" trips
• Thinking Ahead •
The best maintenance is preventative maintenance! It's pretty stupid to wait for something to happen before you act; would you drive on bald tires with nails sticking out of them? Probably not. Why not be proactive and take care of your ride to help ensure that nothing bad happens?!
- Keep a battery charger on your battery, or charge up before the trip
- Change your oil every 6 months or as manufacturer recommends
- Rotate Tires (every 6 months)
- Filters: Replace Fuel, Cabin, and Air filter at manufacturer interval
- Spark Plugs: They get old, wear out, and get damaged; replace them!
- Read Owner's Manual: The manual clearly states what needs to be done and when.
- Clean out your interior: less mess, less stress!
• Create a Winter Car Kit •
Every State agency recommends a Winter Car Kit for every vehicle. Every kit should include:
- Backpack (to carry the following)
- Flashlights + batteries →(My suggested items)
- 1-2 Gallons of Water
- Jumper Cables →(or a compact jumper pack like this one)
- Extra Clothing
- Snow Scraper
- Tire Chains/Tow Strap
- Road Flares →(The best out there)
- Hand Warmers
- Non perishable food (like granola bars)
- NOAA Weather Radio w/ batteries
- Road map of your area
- Small Tarp (shelter and "floor mat" for working on the ground)
• Other Things to Always Keep in the Car •
- Cellphone and Charger →(Simple plug-in phone charger)
- Paper Towels/Rags
- Fire Extinguisher
- Portable Air Compressor →(My favorite)
- Basic Hand Tools
- Small Shovel
- First Aid Kit
- Car Fluids
- Seat-belt Cutter
• Other Tips & Important Advice •
- Slow Down! When road conditions are wet/snow/icy: slow down! Getting there late is better than never getting there!
- Increase Distance: Allow more space/time cushion for the vehicle in front of you
- Put your phone down! You shouldn't be texting or making calls (unless it's hands-free) anyhow, put your phone down while driving. Pull over in a safe location if you need to text or place a call!
- Check The Weather. "Know before you Go" is a phrase I've heard used before. Check the weather forecast so you wont be headed into a blizzard, lightning storm, flood, or other driving hazard.
- Fuel Up Often. Don't wait until the needle is close to "E" or worse, wait until the fuel light comes on! Keep the tank at 1/2 full or better; if you break down, you'll be happy that you can still keep the heater running.
- Clean the windows & keep them clean! Seems obvious, right? If you can't see well, then you're dangerous to yourself and other motorists on the road - keep visibility at its peak. Don't drive with snow packed on your vehicle or fogged up windows!
- Let others know your plan. It is a good idea to let others know where you're heading and when you anticipate arrival/departure; that way people will know when and where to send help in case you do not arrive.
- Know your Gear! Many people place these items in their vehicle without every knowing how to use them. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the gear PRIOR to needing it! Replace old food and batteries in your gear PRIOR to leaving on a trip!
- NOAA Weather on VHF: If you have a tunable VHF radio, HAM Radio, or a short-wave radio, here are the NOAA Weather Frequencies ("channels") for reference (All weather radios will have them pre-programmed in):
- Cruise Control: Just say "NO" to using the cruise control in anything but optimal conditions. Stay in control of the vehicle at all times.
- Don't become complacent - stop often and take a break if needed. Stretch, get out, and move around to keep your blood flowing and your mind alert.
- Prepare for Others: Are you traveling with children, an infant, an elderly person, a pet, or carry more passengers than usual? Be sure to prepare necessary supplies for these people/pets too!
This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list, but it will get you started on an appropriate Winter Kit for your vehicle while giving you advice on how to prepare for the road ahead.
You never know when your preparations will help you or another person on the road!
Stay Safe, Drive Safe!