by Bob Blake

The combination of less daylight, frequent heavy rain – even snow or ice – as well as winter’s low sun angle creates unique driving hazards from October thru March. While most accidents occur during the summer months, winter driving statistics reveal this is also a dangerous period. The Federal Highway Administration reports 1,300 deaths and 76,000 injuries directly related to winter driving. 

Preparation for a cold weather trip begins before the motor starts. Cars are highly battery dependent and lower temperatures require at least 40% more reserve. They often give scant warning of an impending failure. (Mine last about three years). 

Do not run out of gas! The tank should always be at least half full because a higher volume lessens moisture accumulation and more gallons mean added traction weight. 

Engines hate frigid weather! Yes, newer oils tolerate the cold better, but lower temperatures shock any engine. Hey…I have difficulty starting on cold, dark mornings, too!

Do a quick “walk around” before your trip to check road conditions, tires and all the lights. Be sure the tag light illuminates, as it is required by N.C. law. Don’t give the police an easy reason to stop you! 

Proper antifreeze is essential. Most brands are suited for winter and summer. The green tinted antifreeze is easily seen in the plastic reservoir tank without removing the radiator cap. Change and flush the fluid per the owner’s manual. 

Proper tire pressure is basic, but especially important in winter. Tires lose about one-pound inflation for every ten-degree temperature drop. Remember the spare tire may need a breath of air too. 

Winter driving demands good treads! The area of tire/road contact is called the “contact patch” and measures about the size of the hand. It is a bit scary to think – while driving 60 mph on a wet road in a two-ton vehicle – the only contact with the earth is the size of 4 hands!

Wiper blades need replacement about twice a year. Cold weather promotes cracking and hardening of the rubber. Don’t melt the ice with a splash of boiling water – it may crack the windshield. Use a scraper or a snow brush. Yes…a credit card works in a pinch but is highly inefficient and a lame excuse for the bank when the electronic strip fails.

Cushion the arrival time by a few minutes to allow for bad weather. Try to maintain even slow movement over snow. A loss of momentum can get you stuck.

 If you skid, take your feet off the pedals and steer. Use brakes sparingly as locked wheels only slip and slide.

Snow driving requires three times the stopping distance. Maintain sufficient space in traffic. Slamming the brakes may create a skid. Main roads get the salt treatment first – use them! 

Pack a “survival kit” in the event you are stranded. A working mobile phone is a necessity. Also include a blanket, gloves, flashlight, bottled water, and some means to alert motorists of your stalled car. Packets of hand warmers are great additions and store easily. 

If the motor is running for heat, crack the window for ventilation. Try to remember the last lighted house you past along the way. 

Winter driving presents unique challenges but preparation for any problem is the first step in solving it!