Hitting The Winter Road

On snowy roads, the slightest false move can send a car skidding. Snow, sleet, ice, and freezing temperatures can be a hazard, especially for unprepared drivers. Transportation safety experts say, however, there are many ways to safeguard against road accidents or getting stuck in the snow.

The key is to change the way you drive. The biggest problem is that people don't adjust their speed in winter. It's very important to drive more slowly to adapt to winter conditions.

When driving in winter, also remember to:

  • Steer into a skid.
  • Leave a six-second gap between your car and the car in front of you.
  • Improve visibility - scrape ice and snow from your windows, headlights and taillights.
  • Avoid sudden stops and turns.
  • If you have an antilock braking system, stomp on the pedal and steer. If you don't have this system, pump the brakes to avoid locking up the wheels.
  • Buckle up, and use child safety seats for child passengers.
  • Make sure children under 12 are in the back seat, where they are safest.
  • Sit back 10 inches from an air bag.
  • Put together a cold-weather survival kit. Transportation experts suggest stocking your car with a flashlight, jumper cables, blankets and warm clothing, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, abrasive material such as sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, an ice scraper, water and food, and a first aid kit.

When it comes to how the car behaves, a checkup will go a long way toward preventing cold-weather automotive ailments.

A a technique called "Threshold Braking" is recommended for keeping your car under control on slippery roads. Get the brake to the point just before the wheels lock up, then let off a little and maintain your braking power right there. If you try and brake any harder, more than likely you will lock up the wheels and send the car into a slide.

On slippery turns, drivers should ease off the gas. But don't hit the brakes. That's likely to send you into a skid.

To stay in control in a curve, keep your hands at the 4 and 8 o'clock positions on the wheel, and to remember three simple steps: push, pull and slide.

Another tip: look around the turn, not at it. Look where you want to go.

What about the all too common problem of getting stuck? The key to getting out: Don't burn up your transmission. Try rocking the car back and forth to build up momentum until you get rolling.

Experts say that one of the biggest problems is that people have trouble starting their cars. The battery is not always the reason. Taking a peek under the hood before winter arrives is ideal to prevent problems. Otherwise, make sure a certified technician gives your car a tuneup before the next seasonal storm hits.

  • Check battery strength. Also, make sure battery terminals ar clean and connected well.
  • Make sure your tires can handle snow and ice. Kling says that all-seasonal radials work fine in most cases, unless you must drive through heavily snowed-in areas. In that case, snow tires are best. Check tire pressure, too.
  • Winterize your radiator, making sure it's filled up with pure antifreeze. The antifreeze should provide protection to 36 degrees below zero.
  • Make sure hoses and belts are not cracked.
  • Front and tail lights should be in good working order.
  • Splurge on the more expensive, higher octane gas if you can, to avoid residue buildup in your tank.
  • Don't let gas levels go below a quarter of a tank.
  • Check the engine oil, brakes and wipers.
  • Get a spare tire, a jack and crowbar - you want to be able to change a flat tire if you are stranded without a mechanic

If you do get stopped or stalled in bad weather, take the following precautions:

  • Stay with your car. Rescuers will have an easier time locating you, and you are provided with a safe, temporary shelter. You can easily lose sight of your car - and get lost yourself - trudging through a blizzard.
  • Don't overexert yourself in cold weather by trying to push or shovel your car out of the snow.
  • Attach a bright marker, such as a piece of cloth or reflective triangle to your car so that rescuers and other drivers can see the vehicle. At night, turn on the dome light. It uses only a small amount of power from the battery.
  • If you run your car, clear the exhaust pipe of snow. If blocked, deadly carbon monoxide gas can leak inside the passenger area of the car when the engine is running.
  • Conserve gasoline if possible, running the engine and heater just long enough to warm up.

Check winter weather and road reports before heading out on the road. In severe weather, avoid going out unless necessary.

Another good idea: Carry a cell phone so that if you do find yourself stuck, you can call for help.