Before You Go
Never Warm Up a Car in an Enclosed Area
During the cold months, it’s important to open your garage when warming up your car – even for short periods of time. The high concentrations of carbon monoxide produced from a running car reduce the amount of oxygen to the brain and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, headaches, dizziness or fainting.
Experts say the levels of carbon monoxide can be dangerously high after just seven minutes in a closed space. When warming up your car, be sure that there’s no flow of air into your home. Pull your car out of the garage to warm it up and make sure that you have carbon monoxide alarms in your house and garage.
Watch the Weather
It’s good practice to check weather reports before driving so you can gauge road conditions and visibility during the winter. This will help you prepare to drive more defensively and more slowly, if necessary. This also will help you estimate your departure and arrival times.
Check Your Tires
Tires typically lose air through the process of permeation, but tire pressure drops more in the wintertime. If your tires are underinflated, your car won’t react as quickly to steering changes. Experts say that for every 10 degrees the outside temperature drops, tire pressure also goes down by 1 or 2 pounds per square inch (PSI).
Stop by a local oil change shop to get your pressure level checked, or buy a tire pressure gauge you can keep in your car during the winter. Gauges cost less than $25 at most retailers.
Keep Windows and Lights Clear
Don’t go the lazy route with a heap of snow and ice caked on your windshield. Take the extra time to defrost your windows and remove the snow and ice from your hood, roof, windows and lights. Blowing snow can be a hazard for you and other drivers on the road.
Be sure to travel with a reliable snow scraper in your trunk, and park in a covered area when possible. It’s especially important to have clear windows at night when visibility drops.
Watch Your Gas Level
In cold weather, you’re asking for trouble if your gas gauge approaches “E.” Condensation from moisture in the air can cause water accumulation in the gas tank. When water settles in your tank or gas line, it can cause fuel blockages.
Be sure to keep at least a half tank of gas during severe weather, and use antifreeze products in your tank to absorb any extra water. Keeping extra fuel in your tank and buying antifreeze are small prices to pay to avoid getting stuck on the side of the road during colder months.
Keep an Emergency Kit Handy
Have an emergency kit in your trunk in the event your car breaks down. You may want to personalize your kit to fit your needs. Here are some items you should include:
- A flashlight
- A first-aid kit
- A blanket
- Warm clothes
- A knife
- A shovel
- A spare tire
- Booster cables
You may not have thought much about these items, but having a kit will give you more security when you’re on the road. Additionally, be sure your cell phone is fully charged when driving in bad weather.
Driving with Care
Give Yourself Extra Travel Time
Driving in icy and snowy conditions can drastically alter the travel time to your destination. Be realistic about the distance you’re traveling so you don’t rush to make it there on time. Leave early and budget an extra 10 to 15 minutes of driving time.
Drop Your Speed
This seems like an obvious adjustment in the wintertime, but not all drivers remember to do this. Accelerate and decelerate more slowly to avoid skidding on icy roads. Start slowing down at least three times sooner than normal when you anticipate a stop. Get the feel of the road by starting out slowly and testing your steering control and braking ability. You must be cautious until you determine how much traction your tires have in the current weather conditions.
Don’t Use Cruise Control on Slippery Roads
It’s easy to hydroplane on wet winter roads. Hydroplaning happens when your tires lose contact with the road due to a thin film of water. This can cause your car to skid or slide, and you can lose steering ability.
Using cruise control actually makes hydroplaning worse because it keeps your car going at a constant speed. Locking in a high cruise speed while trying to stop abruptly or hitting the brakes can be dangerous. Be sure to click your cruise control off and reduce your speed when necessary.
Double Your Driving Distance Behind Cars
It’s even more important to maintain a safe interval between you and the car ahead of you in the winter. Many rear-end accidents occur on icy streets because drivers forgot to leave stopping space. Ice often causes a loss of steering and control, so it’s better to be generous with your space.
Mind Your Stops
Avoid sudden stops or stopping on hills because you’ll likely experience some sliding, which can be pretty scary if there are cars behind or in front of you. Stopping on icy bridges can also be dangerous as well, thanks to black ice. Remember to pump your brakes gently in order to come to a safe stop.
Watch the Roads
Defensive driving is extremely valuable in the wintertime because more drivers experience car problems along the roadway, and there may be more accidents occurring around you. Avoid distractions and keep your eyes peeled for trouble.
Lastly, it’s important to trust your judgment when trying to gauge the safety of driving conditions. If you have doubts about getting stuck in the snow or driving, then it’s best to stay home. For more winter safety tips, click here.
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