Winter Storm Informaton

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Stalled... But Safe

Winter Driving

Winter driving puts added strain on cars and drivers alike. Well-equipped and winterized, your car can take you safely to your destination. In the event of an emergency, the well-equipped car can provide you with lifesaving shelter and provisions. The following tips may help you get your car in shape for winter driving:

  • Check the headlights and tail lights. Do they all work?
  • Does the car's defroster/heater work properly?
  • Is the exhaust system free of leaks that can cause asphyxiation?
  • Use the recommended weight and grade of oil in the engine for winter conditions. Low temperatures can cause oil to thicken, making starting more difficult and adding strain to the battery.
  • Is the battery in top condition? The power of a battery declines as the temperature drops. Most new batteries today are considered maintenance free and fluid levels cannot be checked. However, if the battery is nearing the end of its warranty life, maybe it should be replaced. Be sure the terminals are clean and tight.
  • The fan and alternator belts need checking. Broken belts are not easy to replace in rough winter conditions and the engine may not run for very long without them.
  • The engine cooling system must have antifreeze protection to the lowest temperature you expect. Hoses and clamps must not leak. Flush and replace antifreeze that is older than two years.
  • Is the engine properly tuned for winter conditions? An out-of-tune engine can be very difficult or impossible to start in below-zero temperatures. A good winter tune-up is travel insurance.
  • Are the windshield wiper blades in good shape? Good vision is essential in winter driving conditions.
  • Are the brakes in good, safe condition? Brakes that are poor in summer are much worse in winter. If the brakes are suspect, have them checked at a competent brake shop.
  • The car radio should be in good working condition; it will keep you advised of weather conditions as you travel and entertain you if you should become stranded. A cell phone or CB radio is communication that can speed up rescue efforts.
  • Keep the gas tank as full as possible. More condensation will form in a half-full tank than in a three-fourths full tank. This can lead to ice-plugged fuel lines and stalled engines. Fuel filters should be clean and free flowing.
  • Snow tires provide 51 percent more pull in snow and 28 percent more pull on ice than regular tires. Tire chains provide three times more pull in snow and six times more pull on ice. Use tire chains that fit properly. Don't mix radial tires with bias ply tires (especially side-to-side); vehicles will be dangerously difficult to control.

There is little difference between snow tires and regular tires in stopping performance. However, tire chains can cut the stopping distance in half. There are other traction products that can work with varying results. You should try them before depending on them for the winter.

Front-wheel drive cars do not need added weight for improved traction. But, extra weight can be added to the trunk of a rear-wheel drive car for winter traveling. This is often in the form of sand bags (can be handy on ice) or salt bags. Adding too much weight can adversely affect handling. A guide to use is: add 75 pounds for subcompact cars, 100 pounds for compacts and intermediates, and up to 150 pounds for full-size cars. Sand can be useful with front-wheel drive cars to improve traction on slippery surfaces for short distances.

Tests have shown that decreasing the tire pressure in the drive wheels will not improve traction of any style of car. Tires, snow or regular tread, will perform their best at normal inflation pressures. The lower tire pressure will only cause tires to wear faster, make handling difficult and very dangerous, and adversely affect the ride.

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