Blizzard Driving Tips

If you must travel, consider public transportation. If they’re not moving, forget going out.
It is best to travel during the day with a companion, not alone, and to tell someone where you are going, your anticipated travel route and the time you expect to arrive. Stay on main roads, they will be cleared more frequently than secondary ones.AAA recommends the following driving tips:

  • Avoid driving when tired
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface
  • Always look and steer where you want to go
  • Use your seatbelt every time you get into your vehicle
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly; drive slowly; anticipate an action to have time to maneuver
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. It takes more inertia to start moving from a full stop
  • Don’t stop going up a hill

Winterize Your Car

When the seasons change, check or have a mechanic check the following items on your car:

  • A good wash and wax will protect the exterior of your car from the corrosive effects of snow, dirt,  road salt and sand spread to de-ice roads. Wash underneath the car, too.
  • Antifreeze levels – Antifreeze is a liquid mixed with water to lower the freezing point in cold weather and raise the boiling point in hot weather. This range expansion keeps the coolant lines from bursting under the pressure created by temperature changes inside the car’s engine. The ratio of antifreeze to water is measured by a tool called a hydrometer. Check the function of the thermostat.
  • Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition; battery terminals should be clean. Most batteries have a warranty of 4-5 years. If the battery struggles to start your car on a cold day, this is a sign that the battery is getting weaker and needs to be replaced. Batteries can be tested by a volt meter or power probe.
  • Wiper blades and washer fluid – good visibility is important especially during winter weather. Old blades tend to crack, drag or not work at all during winter weather. Blades should be changed every 6-12 months. Fill the windshield washer reservoir with washer fluid. Check the freezing temperature of fluid before you buy it. Fluids with a defrost additive and lower freezing temperature are best.
  • Check tire wear and pressure – under-inflated tires have decreased traction and tend to skid on icy surfaces. Find the recommended tire pressure for your auto on a sticker inside the driver’s door frame. Remember that tire pressure drops 1 PSI for every 10 degrees of lower temperature. Pure nitrogen in tires rather than air (which is 78% nitrogen, under 21% oxygen and the rest is water vapor, CO2 and other noble gases) has a couple of advantages. Nitrogen molecules are larger than oxygen and are less likely to migrate through the tire over time, meaning the tires stay inflated more consistently. Nitrogen is drier – no water vapor inside tires means less corrosion on the wheels. Install good winter tires. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs. If you plan winter travel, be sure to check the regulations in the state where you will be traveling. Do you have a working spare tire? Check it’s inflation pressure.
  • Oil – check for level and oil weight. Lighter weight oils in winter flow more smoothly at lower temperatures maintaining good engine lubrication.
  • Check brakes for wear and fluid levels – Fluid can absorb moisture and lower the boiling point thus reducing the effectiveness of the fluid. Brake shoes and pads wear over time pressing against a moving surface to slow down your car. They usually last between 20,000 and 40,000 miles depending on driving conditions.
  • Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as needed. Carbon monoxide leaks are deadly and give no warning.
  • Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. Eliminating water will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Heater and Defroster – working properly may save your life if you get stranded. The defroster blows warm dry air on the inside of windshield to clear condensation and increase visibility.
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights aid in auto visibility
  • Belts and hoses need to be replaced after 30,000 miles and are particularly susceptible to breaking during winter weather. If a belt breaks or a hose ruptures, you will have to call for a tow. This will be a “no fun” wait during winter.
  • Check the 4-wheel drive system, if you have one. This helps add traction when driving in winter.
  • Update your emergency car kit

Trapped by a Blizzard

Despite your best preparations, sometime things happen and you get stuck. It’s important that you know exactly what to do in order to stay safe and warm if this situation should ever arise.

  • Pull off the highway; turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
  • You should never leave your car unless you know exactly where you are and how far you will need to walk in order to find help. If you don’t know where you are, light a flare on either side of your car to draw attention to your location.
  • Try to keep yourself as warm as possible by putting on any extra clothes and using any available blankets (wool is best for heat). If you still have gas, run the heater for ten minutes every hour to raise the temperature in the car (as long as you are certain that the gas pipe is not blocked).
  • Despite the cold, you should keep one window at least partly open at all times to prevent heavy snow or ice from sealing the car shut and to protect from carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid over-exertion. Use whatever you have inside the car for insulation. Huddle with passengers to keep warm.
  • Take turns sleeping. One person should remain awake at all times on the lookout for rescue crews.
  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water or eating ice, and suck on a hard candy to prevent your mouth drying out. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs with the supply.
  • At night turn on inside dome lights so rescue crews can spot you.


Billie Nicholson, Editor
February 2017

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