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If you must go out: Clear your car, pack an emergency kit

Posted December 7, 2018 2:29 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2018 9:44 a.m. EST

Cold weather is coming and now is the time for drivers to ensure that their vehicles are ready for winter.

Here are steps drivers can take before snow falls or temperatures plummet to ensure safe travels in wintry weather.

  1. Gas up: Try to keep at least a half-full gas tank to avoid fuel lines freezing.
  2. Charge your phone: A cellphone can be a lifeline, for directions when weather is clear and to call for help when the worst happens. Make sure yours is charged, and pack a backup battery booster if you anticipate a long trip or heavy traffic.
  3. Check your battery: Cold weather makes your battery weaker. At a comparatively mild 32 degrees, a battery is 35 percent weaker than at warmer temperatures. At zero degrees, a car's battery loses approximately 60 percent of its strength. A battery load test performed by a qualified technician will determine a battery's strength for winter starts.
  4. Inflate tires: They should always be inflated to their specified poundage and have enough tread to handle all road conditions. To check tire tread, look for "wear bars" that periodically run across the hollow of each tread. If the tread has been worn down to the same height as the wear bar, it's time for new tires
  5. Keep vision clear: Drivers need to be able to see and not have windshields blocked by ice or snow. Make sure wipers and the defroster are in good working order. Verify that windshield washer fluid reservoirs are filled with washer fluid that won't freeze solid.
    1. Squeak-proof your wipers with rubbing alcohol or ammonia. It can make badly streaking and squeaking wipers change to near-perfect silence and clarity.
    2. Keep your headlights clear with car wax. It can last up to six weeks and contains special water repellents that will prevent messy mixture from accumulating.
    3. Ice-proof your windows with vinegar. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which raises the melting point of water, preventing it from freezing. Fill a spray bottle with three parts vinegar to one part water and spray it on your windows at night.
  6. Scrape safely: Always be prepared with a tool to brush loose snow or to scrape ice from windshields and windows. Remove snow or ice from the roof of your vehicle before hitting the highway to keep it from flying off, creating a hazard for other drivers.
    1. De-ice your door locks with hand sanitizer.
    2. Prevent car doors from freezing shut with cooking spray! Spray cooking oil on the rubber seals around car doors & rub it in with a paper towel. The cooking spray prevents water from melting into the rubber.
  7. Engine coolant system: Mix antifreeze with an equal portion of water or purchase pre-mixed solutions. Have a repair facility check the level of protection with a hydrometer.
  8. Pack an emergency car kit: Motorists should be prepared in case they are stranded. A winter emergency car kit should contain a flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, general first aid kit, tire chains, blanket, extra set of clothes, non-clumping kitty litter for traction, flares or reflective triangles, gallon jug of water, non-perishable food items, window washer solvent, ice scraper, snow brush and shovel.
  9. Be patient: Whether scraping snow off your car, driving on slick roads or waiting for help, wintry weather means a wait. Expect your trip to take longer than usual and allow extra time.

At Keenan's Auto Repair, Kenneth Dickerson said drivers can use a penny to check and see if their tires have the right amount of tread.

If Abraham Lincoln's head on the one cent coin is completely visible, new tires are a good idea. If it's partially visible, the vehicles tires are probably OK.

"You don't want to slide down the road, he said. "You don't want to be driving on the sleet or snow without enough tread."

Winter driving tips

  • Clear your vehicle's windows and mirrors.
  • Reduce your speed. Driving at the regular speed limit will reduce your ability to control the car if you begin to slide. Do not use cruise control.
  • On a four-lane highway, stay in the clearest lane and drive only in paths that are already cleared. Do not try to change lanes.
  • Leave plenty of room between you and other vehicles. Highway safety experts recommend keeping the distance of four cars between you and other vehicles for every 10 mph you're driving.
  • Bridges and overpasses accumulate ice first. Approach them with extreme caution, and do not apply your brakes while on the bridge.
  • If you do begin to slide, take your foot off the gas, and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Do not apply the brakes as that will cause further loss of control of the car.
  • Come to a complete stop or yield the right-of-way at intersections where traffic lights are out. Treat this situation as a four-way stop.
  • If you have a cellular phone, take it with you. You can call the Highway Patrol statewide by dialing *HP (*47) or call the local county emergency center by dialing 911. Call 511 for information about highway travel conditions; do not call 911 for that information.

After a crash

If you are involved in a wreck, here are some ways to prevent further injuries, reduce costs and speed up the repair process:

  • Protect yourself from the start. Use your cell phone or a camera to take photos of the scene and the vehicles involved.
  • Move the vehicles and all of the people involved well out of the way so they don't cause another wreck.
  • Before you have your vehicle towed to a repair shop, get references and check the shop's status with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Since the average crash repair costs more than $2,200, get a written estimate before any work begins.
  • Have patience. Severe weather often means it will be busy at auto repair shops.
  • If the wreck is minor, you and the other driver might decide to handle the damages without involving insurance companies. There are risks, however: You or the other driver might later change your mind; the other driver might claim injuries, and that could create more problems than just higher insurance rates.

If you become trapped in your car:

  • Pull off the highway; stay calm, and remain in your vehicle. At night, turn on the inside dome light, so work and rescue crews can see you.
  • Set your directional lights to "flashing," and hang a cloth or distress flag from the radio aerial or window. In a rural or wilderness area, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract attention of rescue crews who might be surveying the area by airplane.
  • Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
  • If you run the engine to keep warm, open a window slightly for ventilation. This will protect you from possible carbon-monoxide poisoning. Periodically, clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.
  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers, and use your coat as a blanket.
  • Never let everyone in the car sleep at once. One person should stay awake to look out for rescue crews.
  • Be careful not to use battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat and radio – with your supply.