When the snow starts falling and temperatures plunge into the single digits, some people hole up inside their cozy homes and dream of the places they'll go when summer comes around. But if you enjoy winter activities like skiing or snowmobiling – or you just enjoy getting out in nature and seeing the beauty of pine trees blanketed in white – then you know that winter road trips are an under-appreciated treat.
There are some differences in getting your car ready for a road trip in the winter, however. So beyond the standard advice of checking your fluid levels and taking care of routine maintenance, make sure you're prepared for the conditions unique to cold weather. And as always, it's a good idea to have a mechanic give your car a checkup before you leave – getting stuck on the side of the road in the winter can be very unpleasant.
If most of your driving is in a town or city where the roads are cleared well in the winter, you may be able to get by with all-season tires. But a road trip may take you over different roads in a variety of conditions, so take this opportunity to put on your snow tires. Their added traction makes a huge difference in vehicle control.
And if you're putting on tires you already own, make sure to check the tread on them – for snow tires, a good rule of thumb is to test with the Lincoln Memorial side of a penny. If you stick the penny into the groove in your tires and the tread doesn't come out far enough to cover the top of the building, your tires are too worn down and you're losing traction.
Know Your Brakes
When you brake on a slippery surface, it's possible for your wheels to lock up, making it impossible to steer. For older non-anti-lock brakes, you may have been taught to avoid this by pumping the brake pedal with your foot. However, if you've got anti-lock brakes, remember not to pump them – the brakes automatically "pump" much faster than you could with your foot.
Remember, also, that anti-lock brakes will still have a long stopping distance on snow or ice; their main advantage is keeping you from skidding out of control, but you still need to leave more room for braking than you would on clear roads. Because braking in poor conditions can be difficult, consider having your brakes and pads checked before you leave and even practicing braking in an empty area like a snowy parking lot.
Winter Emergency Kit
For all road trips, you should be sure to have some emergency equipment in your car. But getting stuck in the winter has its own hazards, so make sure you add the following to your emergency kit in the winter:
- Tire chains in case you run into extreme road conditions
- A winter-weight sleeping bag to keep you warm if you get stuck for a long period of time
- An ice scraper to clear windows, doors, or even your gas cap
- Bottled water – kept in your car, not the trunk (where it will freeze)
- A flashlight to help you signal in the dark as well as help you see
- A tow chain or rope in case you skid off the road
- A fluorescent distress flag or LED emergency beacon to help you be found if visibility is poor
While it sounds like a lot, remember that you're preparing for the worst. In fact, if your car is checked out and in good condition and your tires are good, chances are your road trip will go off without a hitch – but it's better to be safe than sorry.
For more information, contact Professional Automotive or a similar company.