17Mar 2016

While it may be March, winter is not over in many areas of the United States. Even if there is no more frozen precipitation, the weather can still make driving tricky and even dangerous. Here are some tips that just might help.

Cold temperatures

Don’t run low on fuel. In cold weather, it’s always best to keep your tank at least half full. Obviously, if you get stranded, you will have more fuel to help you stay warm and get to the next gas station. If your vehicle’s fuel tank is over the drive wheels, the weight of the fuel can even help with traction. If you wind up sitting still because of an accident, turn off the vehicle periodically to save fuel. It’s a good idea to crack a window, too, to make sure you are getting enough fresh air.

Other ways to make sure you are prepared for a cold trip are easy and inexpensive, but require some forethought. Make sure your wiper fluid reservoir is filled with winter-friendly fluid. Have your battery tested to make sure it is strong enough to withstand the cold. Check the air pressure in your tires; for every ten-degree drop in temperature, tires lose approximately a pound of pressure. Make certain you have a hat, warm gloves, and a good ice scraper. If you are going on a long trip, or it is extremely cold and there is danger of icy precipitation or snow, it’s good to be even more prepared by taking a blanket, flashlight, backup phone charger, tow rope, and some cat litter, which can provide extra traction. Another smart precaution is to let someone know your travel plans so they can check on you or get help if you do not arrive when expected.

When starting your car, don’t let it idle for a long time to “warm up”. Idling is one of the hardest things for an engine, and the oil will never reach operating temperatures. Instead, start your car and drive off slowly. Never rev the engine when it is cold. If your vehicle has an indicator light that lets you know when the engine is warm enough to operate at optimal levels, don’t drive fast or accelerate rapidly until the light shows you the engine is warmed up. If the vehicle has a traditional temperature gauge, wait until the needle has moved a little before you work the engine hard.

Driving in snow

The number one mistake drivers make in snowy conditions is driving too fast. A rule of thumb is to reduce your speed by half in snow. Slowing down too much in heavy snow can result in a loss of momentum causing your vehicle to get stuck, but driving too fast is definitely dangerous. Slowing down gives you more time to react if you start to slide, and more time to stop if you need to do so. Snow can become even more hazardous when it starts to melt. Avoid quick turns and stops. It also helps to shift into a lower gear before going down a steep hill.

Even when you are being cautious about your speed, it is still possible to skid. If that happens, don’t panic. Immediately take your foot off the gas, which will help slow down the vehicle, making it easier to control. Do not slam on the brakes; instead, tap the brake pedal quickly and gently. This will help to regain some traction as it slows the car. Finally, gently turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. This can help prevent the car from going into an uncontrolled spin. Another tip is to look in the direction you want to go; don’t get distracted by whatever you are trying to avoid. Focusing in this way really can help you to regain control of the vehicle.

If you park your vehicle in a snowy place, be especially cautious if you back into the parking spot and let the car run any length of time. It is easy for snow to clog the tailpipe, which forces carbon monoxide into the car and can be deadly.

It’s a good idea to have a long-handled brush to remove snow from the top of your vehicle if it’s been parked outside for any length of time. It is dangerous to drive with snow on the roof because it can blind a driver behind you or fly off in chunks and damage another car. In some states, it is illegal to drive with snow on top of a vehicle.

Foggy weather

Quick changes in temperature can lead to thick fog. Make sure your wipers and defroster are working correctly, and use them. Low beam headlights reflect off the fog less, and may actually let you see farther. Check the rearview mirrors frequently for vehicles approaching too quickly from behind. Keep more space than usual between your vehicle and one ahead of you. Most importantly, slow down.

Heavy rain

When it is really pouring, a layer of water can cover the road and lead to danger of hydroplaning. This happens when the tires lose traction with the surface of the road, and can happen even when the water is in a very thin layer. If you feel a loss of traction, immediately take your foot off the accelerator and let the car slow down. Don’t try to turn the wheel or use the brakes until you have regained traction, as this can cause the vehicle to go into a skid. Check your tires frequently to make sure you have enough tread to channel the water and help maintain traction.

Don’t travel in bad weather if it’s not necessary

Local officials will often caution residents to stay off the roads when the weather is particularly bad. Some people tend to make light of this warning and take unnecessary trips. The more vehicles on the road, the more likely it is that some will have trouble. Emergency vehicles are better able to respond to calls quickly when the roads are not clogged with traffic. Take a moment to consider your purpose before heading out. Getting to a doctor’s appointment could be necessary if you are having a serious health concern; going out to see a movie or have dinner should be postponed.