The Blizzard of 2016 has left little doubt of winter's grip on the region.
And even with Punxsutawney Phil promising an early spring, the prospect of dangerous travel conditions plans to hang around for a while longer. Enter Walt Brinker, author of Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns.
The retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel has assisted several thousand roadside incidents at no cost to those he has helped, and his encyclopedic knowledge is just the source for your dreaded winter weather commute.
When ice is on roads:
- Do not drive at all on untreated roads unless necessary, and then, only for a limited distance with chains or studded tires
- Practice putting on the chains before show time
- Use of chains is legal in most states, when necessary, provided they do not damage the highway
When snow (without ice) is on roads:
- All vehicles handle much better in snow with winter tires, instead of all-season tires. So, if you live where snow is on streets regularly, best to outfit the vehicle with winter tires – on all four wheels
Though Brinker endorsed the handling efficiency of snow tires versus all-season, he warned that they're only temporary.
"Snow tires do wear out pretty quick. They're made of softer rubber--which is more pliant when it gets cold--so it gets a better grip of the surface, even when there's snow out there."If you must drive:
- Watch speed
- Accelerate and decelerate gradually
- No sudden stops or turns
- Increase greatly (3X) your following distances
- Try to avoid stopping, by timing arrivals at stop lights
- Wet roads in shade and on bridges are more likely to be icy
- Do not use cruise control when ice is present or likely to be present. You're guaranteed to lose traction and possibly vehicle control when a patch of ice is encountered and cruise control attempts to maintain wheel speed.
- If you lose control on ice/black ice on a highway (and little or no snow is present), try using a shoulder with grass or gravel to drive on with two same-side wheels, to regain traction and control
- When driving on a snow covered road, drive in the unpacked snow rather than on the packed snow which is often icy. Unpacked snow usually affords better traction
- To start in snow, do not use first gear with a manual transmission, or low range with an automatic transmission. The goal is to limit the amount of torque delivered to the tires to make them turn but not break free and spin. If they start spinning, they will dig through snow and will frequently leave the car resting on the snowpack underneath it with zero available traction
- Some modern cars have a gear setting for snow/mud. Use it
- Consider using an AWD vehicle
"If you have to drive," he reminded, "the watch word would be just to plan. Allow extra time to get wherever you're going."Preparation for driving on snow/ in cold weather:
- Your battery may be weak, making it unable to crank a cold engine. Get battery checked at first sign of weakness
- Always have a good set of jumper cables in the car, especially in the winter; the best cables are 20 feet long in 4-gauge or 2-gauge thickness (2-gauge is best). Check car's operator manual (or my book) to ensure you're using the cables safely
- Keep at least 1/2 tank of gas in tank--in case you get stuck in a traffic jam or stranded; full tank is better
- Clear ice from all windows before start with a scraper. Windshield covers, garages also work
- If windshield is exposed to freezing rain, park overnight with wipers rotated away from glass. For removing "hard ice," warm up the engine with the defroster on--it'll help you to clear ice from the windshield
- Clear all piles of snow and ice off hood, top and trunk of vehicle to prevent flying off and causing an accident behind you
- Proper engine coolant mix: 50/50 antifreeze / water--year round
- Windshield washer fluid (get mix which doesn’t freeze)
- Ensure wiper blades do not streak and replace if they do
- Small snow shovel with folding handle
- Tow strap in case slide off road (use carefully – only with eye hooks welded to vehicle's body)
- Tarp (thin, cheap)--in case need to get on ground to place a jack, or hook up a tow strap
- Cell phone with 12-volt charger--can use power from vehicle battery, or portable jumper battery
- Add weight over drive wheels, especially with pickups--which typically have light rear ends. Be careful, too much extra weight can cause a spin-out
- Carry sand or kitty litter (type which does not absorb liquid and become lumpy)
- Warm clothing: coat, hat, scarf, gloves; a blanket in the trunk/car
- Carry snack food and bottled water in case of recovery delays after becoming stuck
- Maintain tire pressure. Cold weather reduces actual tire pressure, changing 1 PSI for every change of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. So, check and adjust with 12-volt compressorIf vehicle becomes stuck:
- Stay in vehicle once it's moved out of traffic and out of danger of being hit
- If on freeway--even on a shoulder, when traffic continues to rush by--it's better to get away from the car since it could get hit by a skidding vehicle
- Check exhaust pipe so it is free and clear of snow
- In case a recovery requires using a tow strap, have rescue vehicle pull gradually. No jerking, which could break eye hook on either vehicle.
- Slightly better traction is gained by letting some air out of tires, but you'll need to re-inflate as soon as you become unstuck--which is why it's best to keep a 12-volt compressor in car
- Run engine for heat 5 minutes/hour to save fuel and charge vehicle's battery. Leave windows cracked to prevent carbon monoxide accumulation. Turn off everything that uses your vehicle's battery.
Brinker noted the last tip does depend on the conditions.
"If it's really cold, I would (run) it every half hour, because you don't want the car to freeze up."
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