Winter Driving - Tips for Dealing with Snow and the Cold
If you're like me, and you live in a temperate clime, winter driving can be daunting the first time you head into the snow.
Having encountered a particularly nasty patch of black ice on a bridge outside of Laramie (in April, no less!) that added more than a few gray hairs to my scalp, I learned to never take the weather for granted.
Preparing your vehicle for winter driving takes only a few moments and can keep you from becoming a statistic (This is beginning to sound like the script from Red Asphalt, isn't it?). But don't worry, I'm not going to show any gory photos to scare you straight. Just some good information to keep you safe and stress-free as you embark on your road trip.
1. Take fifteen minutes to do a pre-trip inspection. Check your anti-freeze levels, heater, defroster and wipers. Put weather appropriate wiper fluid in your car and stow away an ice scraper. Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
If you're renting a car, learn where all the controls are so you aren't fumbling around turning the directional signal lever instead of the windshield wipers as you drive into snow or rain. Yes, I have done this. Most car rental agencies keep their vehicles in tip-top shape, but it never hurts to see if they missed anything.
2. Carry chains even if the forecast is clear. Many parts of the country experience snow that seems unseasonal to us soft Californians. Keep your speed down to 25-30 mph depending on the local limits.
3. Leave your AM band on the radio tuned to the local Highway Advisory radio station you see posted along the road. It will keep you abreast to changes in winter driving conditions. In case anything gets hairy, you can toggle back and forth between your road trip music and any information updates. Or consider investing in a NOAA weather radio that your friend in the shotgun seat can monitor while you white-knuckle the mountain roads.
4. Pack some extra energy bars, clothes, water and blankets in case of a breakdown or if you get snowed-in by poor visibility and are too low on fuel to keep the motor running.
5. Have alternate routes or a GPS handy in case of road closures. This happens all the time. Know your way out and keep the gas tank full.
6. Slow down there, Hoss! You might want to get through the storm as soon as possible. The locals might even be running laps on you. But resist the temptation to beat the storm and play the tortoise to their hare. They are either reckless or are just more experienced at winter driving than you. Don't measure yourself against others.
7. Depart early on your road trip. Get as much daylight as possible. Winter driving can be rugged enough in daylight. At night, it can be treacherous.
8. Watch out for "black ice", especially on bridges and shady areas of the road, even if it doesn't appear icy.
9. Keep a safe distance from other motorists as your stopping time is greater.
10. Even if it messes with your plans, don't push past your limits or skill level. Pull over to a rest area to wait out the storm or spend the night relaxing at the nearest lodging. Half the fun of a road trip is the unexpected. You might meet some awesome people or have a great night bonding with your buddies. Trust me, your plans can wait a night if necessary.
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