Winter presents many unique hazards for drivers. Wind, sleet, ice and snow can make driving treacherous, with bridges and underpasses especially dangerous. The following winter safety tips will help keep you and yours safe as you traverse the frosty highways and byways:
1. Beware of Exhaust Fumes
Never start your car and leave it running while parked in the garage, there is a risk that poisonous exhaust fumes can enter your home and prove deadly. If your car is parked outside and covered in snow, always ensure the exhaust pipe is uncovered before starting the car. A blocked exhaust pipe will cause noxious fumes to back up into the interior, posing another potentially deadly threat.
Ice is not black, rather it’s transparent. The term “black ice” describes ice covering black road surfaces, typically invisible to the naked eye and presenting an extreme hazard to drivers. If you find yourself sliding on ice, don’t panic. Instead, remove your foot from the gas pedal and avoid braking. Steer your car in the direction you want to go. If you must use the brakes, the action you take next depends on whether your car is equipped with anti-lock brake systems (ABS). In ABS-equipped cars, firmly press the brake pedal without pumping. In all other vehicles, pump the brakes to avoid locking up. Check your owner’s manual to determine if your car has ABS brakes or not.
3. Winterize Your Vehicle
Vehicle owners should always follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule as outlined in the owner’s manual. For people who take mostly short trips, following the “severe duty” schedule is recommended. Regardless of the schedule, verify fluids are topped off. The radiator coolant must be clean and filled, with hoses and belts secured. Check that all exterior lights are working — headlights, parking lights, LED daytime running lights, tail lamps, fog lamps and turn signals. Tires should have sufficient tread; use winter tires as needed. And always make sure that the brakes are in top working order.
4. Include Seasonal Supplies With Your Emergency Kit
All vehicles should have an emergency kit, composed of a flashlight and spare batteries, reflective triangles and flares, duct tape, tools, a first-aid kit and water. For winter, add a small shovel along with sand or kitty litter. A set of warm clothing, including hats, gloves and boots, can also be useful in a pinch. A blanket, an adult poncho and lock deicer are welcome extras, as well. In addition, keep non-perishable food items such as crackers, cereal and high-energy snacks on hand.
5. Stranded in Snow
If you get stuck in the snow, attempt to free yourself by first turning off the traction control and gently spinning the wheels to grip pavement. Use sand or kitty litter to provide traction or remove your front floor car mats and place them behind the rear tires to enhance grip. If you’re still stuck, remain with your car until help arrives. Tie a bright colored cloth to the antenna, signaling your distress. Keep the exhaust pipe clear and run your car for no more than 10 minutes each hour, leaving a downwind window open slightly for ventilation.
No matter the conditions, you should build-in extra time to reach your destination and take to the road with a full tank of fuel. If possible, avoid driving until after the roads have been cleared and treated.
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Photo courtesy of MorgueFile
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.