Winter driving is tricky, even for seasoned drivers. If you’re traveling to a snowy area this winter, you need to prepare yourself and your vehicle ahead of time. Use this checklist to get ready for your road trip so you’ll arrive at your destination safe and sound.
1. Keep an Emergency Kit in Your Car
In addition to the items you should always have stashed in your car (jumper cables, first-aid kit, tire repair kit and pump, flashlight, flares), you should also have a snowbrush and ice scraper, blanket, gloves, a change of warm clothes, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction, extra windshield fluid, non-perishable food, bottled water and a battery charger for your cellphone.
2. Check Your Fluids
Before you start driving, be sure that all of your fluids are at the proper levels. In particular, pay attention to the engine coolant and antifreeze levels because they’ll keep your car from freezing if you are stranded in the snow. Each time you drive, top off your windshield wiper fluid, which can be crucial for maintaining visibility on slushy and snowy roads.
3. Buy Winter Tires
There is a significant difference between all-season and winter tires. All season-tires are not optimized for heavy snow, icy roads and temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’ll be driving in these conditions, you should buy a set of winter tires. You can order a set online and have them shipped to a tire store that will properly install them on your vehicle. Once installed be sure to regularly inspect your tires for correct inflation, as cold temperatures lower tire pressure.
4. Plan Your Road Trip Route
Know your route and give yourself plenty of extra time in case you hit bad weather. Inform others of the route you intend to take as well as your departure and estimated arrival times. Keep a map on hand in case your phone dies or GPS malfunctions.
5. Check the Forecast Before Departing
Stay up-to-date with the weather conditions on your planned route. No matter how prepared you are, there is some weather you do not want to drive in, like white out snow or black ice. Sign up for weather alerts on your phone to keep informed about what lies ahead on your trip.
6. Clean out Your Car Before Driving
If your car is covered in snow, completely clear it off before driving. Do not stop at the windows. Make sure your lights are clear so other cars can see your headlights and brake lights. Clean the hood and roof of any snow to avoid blocking your and other motorists’ visibility while driving. Finally, check the tailpipe to guard against carbon monoxide poisoning when idling.
7. Practice Driving in Inclement Weather
If you don’t have experience driving in snow and ice, you should practice in an empty parking lot to get a feel for how your car handles in these conditions. Know where your hazard lights are and review your vehicle’s manual for features like antilock brakes.
Author Information: Sally Chaffin Brooks is a writer and nationally touring stand-up comedian who lives in New York City with her patient husband and chunky baby. Also a recovering attorney, Brooks’ work has been featured in “Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review” and “Jurist.” A lifelong wanderer, Brooks is currently working on a memoir about her Appalachian Trail thru-hike.