While this week might look a lot like summer, winter is undoubtedly coming. And that means my checklist is forming with all the things that need to be done to prepare for the snow and drop in temperature.
What are the priorities? Well, since I commute a fair distance daily to work, the car heads the list. AAA has a very complete list of items for winter driving, but the following items should do the trick -- unless you are heading out to the “wilds” of Colorado's back roads.
Five key items in my winter car checklist include:
- Check the coolant, radiator, and hoses. You want to be sure that you have heat to defrost the windshield on those frosty mornings. Watch for drips on the garage floor or street under the radiator. Stones kicked up on the highway can put small holes in the radiator that will drain coolant pretty quickly. And, you don’t want to be brought to a screeching halt in the dark with a blown hose.
- Check the wipers – front and back. This is a cheap fix to ensure clean, streak-free glass even in nasty weather. Some folks like the winter wiper blades; some shops advise against them because they can accumulate ice buildup. Replacing the wiper insert should be done every four to six months for clear vision.
- Check the tires. Tread depth is important on snowy, slushy, and wet pavement. It’s all about stopping distance. The better the tread; the better your ability to get that ton or so of sheet metal and plastic stopped.
- Have a good “roadside assistance” coverage. They will be able to get you back on the pavement or tow you to the repair shop. The State Patrol, County Deputy Sheriffs, and EMS are all going to be taking care of the worst of the accidents, so be sure to understand how and when you need to make an accident report or wait for law enforcement to arrive at the scene.
- Have an Emergency “Kit.” Winter driving can be dangerous. Some precautions can make a big difference – maybe even in terms of your survival. Grab some things and put them in the trunk or storage area of your vehicle. I always have a good down-filled coat, knit cap, and gloves in the car at all times from August through April. Weather can change on a dime. There are great avalanche shovels available at outdoor stores that can help you or a good Samaritan dig you out. A bag of sandbox sand or cat litter can give you the needed traction on an icy incline. A wool blanket can protect you from the cold, if you have to wait for help after making that emergency cell phone call. Lastly, toss a few granola bars in a leftover container in the glove box. You’d be surprised how many calories you burn when exposed to extreme temperatures, even for a short time.
A cautionary note to any SUV/pickup drivers with 4-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive will help with traction on loose surfaces (freshly fallen, unpacked snow, dirt, mud, etc.), however, packed snow and ice take any advantage away that four-wheel drive offers. The adage that “oh, I have four-wheel drive; no problem” is a seriously misplaced thought. Ice and hard packed snow surfaces will defeat you – read: get you into an accident – every time. Just look at the number of SUV and pickups in the ditch upside down on a bad driving day.
Your best bet for driving in winter conditions is always:
- Reduced speeds
- Deep breathing
- Staying alert
Winter doesn’t just affect my driving and the need for preparation. I need a safe and secure home that will protect me from the winter cold too. Next we'lll tackle preparations at home that will keep you warm, dry, and happy all winter long.
In the meanwhile, send me your key items for roadside survival in case you get stuck in the snow.