When I moved to Colorado 15 years ago, I had NO idea how to drive in winter weather; even the short 10-minute road trip into the office was a nightmare. My little rear-wheel drive, Ford Escort taught me a lot, like I needed a four-wheel drive with some weight. That first winter living in the Rockies included monthly trips to the store to stock my trunk with Kitty Litter. Not to mention more white knuckle drives into the office, spin-outs and being stuck than I’d like to remember. It was during this time that I also learned how to take the light rail…
I have since learned a lot about driving in winter weather and what it means to be prepared for road trips, even one that is a short two-hour drive up to the ski slopes from Denver. It’s a drive that can turn treacherous in an instant during the winter – snow, ice, poor visibility, and extreme cold can disable your vehicle or make roads impassable. Even on these “short road trips”, we’ve found ourselves stranded for several hours. Having the necessary tools and resources can get you back on the road safely and perhaps even save your life.
Prepare Your Vehicle for Winter
The best time to get ready for winter is before the first storm of the season. Some items to check include:
- Hoses and fan belts
- Spark plugs
- Antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid levels
- Battery strength
- Tire pressure and tread life
- Air, fuel, and emission filters
- Spare tire and jack
Follow Winter Driving Recommendations
Winter driving has its own set of challenges, from the moment you start up your vehicle. Here are some useful winter driving suggestions:
- Never warm up your vehicle in a closed garage.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent gas line freeze-up.
- Make sure your exhaust pipe is not clogged with mud or snow.
- Don’t use cruise control on icy roads.
- Allow more time for braking when visibility is poor.
- Stay calm if you start to skid.
Carry Emergency Supplies
In addition to the just-in-case items you should always have in your vehicle, such as jumper cables (and learn how to jump-start your car safely,) tire-changing tools, flashlight, and first aid kit, be sure to include these winter essentials:
- Small folding shovel
- Tow and tire chains
- Basic tool kit
- Bag of road salt or cat litter
- Windshield wiper fluid
- Warning flares
Pack a Survival Kit
In case you’re ever marooned in your vehicle, you might want to keep a small survival kit on hand, in case of emergencies. Some useful items include:
- Ice scraper and brush
- Wooden matches
- High-energy, non-perishable food
- Cell phone charger
- Blankets and warm clothing
If you’re heading out on a road trip – even a relatively short road trip – you could find yourself stranded for several hours. Be sure you have the proper emergency items in your trunk to stay safe until help arrives. (Scroll over the image State Farm put together to see the junk you need to have in your trunk.)
Stay Calm if Stranded
If a winter storm strands you with your vehicle, follow these tips:
- Pull off the highway, if possible, turn on your hazard lights or light flares, and hang a distress flag from an antenna or window.
- Call 911 if you have a phone and describe your location as precisely as possible.
- Remain in your vehicle so help can find you.
- Run your vehicle’s engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. Open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and clear snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Exercise a little to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion and sweating.
- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Conserve your vehicle’s battery. Use lights, heat, and radio sparingly.
- At night, turn on an inside light when you run the engine so help can see you.
Have you ever been stranded on a road trip? Any other travel safety tips for winter road trips you’d like to add?
Note to the Reader: State Farm provided the list of tips noted above, as well as payment for this post. However, I would not post this if I did not think the tips were useful. We’re all good neighbors who want to make sure you’re prepared and safe on your next road trip!