Preparing Your Car for Winter Driving

Unfortunately, more than 116,000 Americans are injured, and another 1,300 killed on snowy, icy roadways each winter, which is why the sight of a salt truck can seem very reassuring to those who must get out on the slushy roads.

Multiple tracks of car tires with a few footprints in snow on pavement

In fact, roads which are salted quickly after inclement weather, can reduce winter crashes by 88 percent, and even though salt and the manpower to spread it on roads comes with a price tag, a cost-benefit analysis shows that deicing essentially pays for itself within 25 minutes of when the salt is spread.

The Federal Highway Administration offers the following statistics regarding the dangers of wintry roads:

  • More than 70 percent of American roadways are located in regions which receive at least some level of snow and ice in the winter months.
  • More than 70 percent of the U.S. population resides in these regions.
  • Nearly a quarter of all annual crashes occur during the winter on snowy, slushy or icy pavement.
  • Maintaining roadways in the winter months accounts for about one-fifth of maintenance budgets for DOT’s across the U.S.

As the cold weather continues, and spring is nothing more than a dream, you may wonder how to best prepare your car for winter driving. Snow, sleet, ice, freezing rain—all challenges for those who do not live in the balmy tropics. Keeping your car operating safely is always important, but never more so than in the winter. Some of the strategies you can employ to ensure your winter driving is done safely include the following:

  • Do not wait until the last moment to ensure your vehicle is ready for winter driving. It simply makes no sense to head out in bad weather in a poorly-maintained vehicle—not only can regular, routine maintenance help catch minor problems before they become very big problems, it can also keep your gas mileage at optimal levels.
  • Make sure you are current on your oil changes, and while you are having the oil changed have the service department check all your filters, and replace any which are dirty. A bad air filter or fuel filter can contribute to an engine which does not run properly, and burns more gas to boot.
  • While most people never look at their car owner’s manual until something goes wrong, it can be a good idea to at least skim through it, marking the areas which detail the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules as well as the areas which can help when routine problems occur (such as a flat tire).
  • If your car is experiencing any type of engine problem, such as a rough idle, a hard start, or stalls when you least expect them, do not wait until the problem has reached an extremely serious—and expensive—level. Make an appointment with a trusted mechanic or the dealership to have your car looked at before winter arrives, since cold weather typically makes any type of engine problem worse.
  • Switch over to winter-grade oil before winter arrives. The colder the weather, the thinner you will want the oil in your engine to be. The thickness of your oil is indicated by the first number in the oil specification—in other words, a lower number indicates better viscosity in cold weather. As an example, for the winter months, you would want a 5W-30 oil, rather than a 10W-30.
  • Consider adding fuel de-icer to your tank about once every thirty days to prevent moisture from freezing in your fuel line. It is also a good idea to keep your fuel tank full, rather than running on fumes as long as you can get by with, as this will also prevent moisture from forming in your fuel tank.
  • If you do a lot of stop-and-go city driving, consider changing your oil more often.
  • Have your car’s coolant checked, flushed and refilled on a schedule recommended by your owner’s manual. Generally, a half and half mixture of water and antifreeze is recommended.
  • Obviously, you want your heater to work when it is freezing outside, but it is also important that it works well enough to keep your windshields clear for good visibility.
  • Have your battery checked before you head out on snowy roads. The last thing you want is to end up with a dead battery, trying to get a kind motorist to stop in bad weather and help you jump your car.
  • Always carry an ice scraper in your vehicle, make sure your reservoir is topped up with windshield washer solvent, and purchase the type of windshield wiper blades which are designed to fight the build-up of ice. Also remember that not all windshield wiper fluid is the same. The ordinary fluid you use in the warmer months can become worse than useless in the winter, as it will freeze when it makes contact with your freezing windshield—use winter windshield wiper fluid.
  • One of the most important things you can do before winter arrives—and really, throughout the year—is to keep a close watch on your tires. Examine your tires regularly for uneven wear and remaining tread life, and check your tire pressure at least once a month. Worn tires are particularly dangerous during the winter months—not only do you want your tires to be in good condition, you also want to ensure your spare tire is in good condition, and that you have a jack and lug wrench to change a tire if necessary.
  • Have your mechanic check your car’s exhaust system for leaks prior to winter, as exhaust fumes which leak into your vehicle can be deadly.
  • Make sure your headlights and brake lights are all in good working order. If you find a cloudy lens, you can take your car to an auto parts store to order the part, and, in some cases, an employee will give you some help in putting the new lens on your car.
  • Most people totally neglect their transmission until there is a major failure, which can then end up costing several thousand dollars in repairs. Have your mechanic routinely check the transmission system, and change transmission fluid as necessary.
  • While your brakes are always a critical component of driving, they are especially important in the winter months. Have your brakes checked regularly, and before winter arrives at a minimum.
  • Always carry an emergency kit in your car, especially during the winter months. In fact, you might want to have a special, “winter” emergency kit which contains a blanket, tire chains, snow boots, gloves, and extra jacket, a small shovel, a bag of sand or kitty litter, an extra car charger for your cell phone, a flashlight with extra batteries, water and an assortment of high-energy snacks.

There are also technologies in cars which can be particularly useful during wintry weather. One of these is traction control, which works in the background to help accelerate and stop your wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces, such as ice, snow and slush. Traction control is perhaps most effective when you are accelerating from a stopped or slowed position, or when you are attempting to navigate up an icy hill. While traction control does not work as well as snow tires and/or chains, it is useful in helping your car gain traction on wet, icy or snowy surfaces.

Checking Weather Conditions Before You Leave the House

When the weather is particularly bad, and you do not absolutely have to get out—then don’t! Stay home where it is warm and avoid all the other drivers who are slipping and sliding all over the road. If you are going to take a trip, keep watch on the weather, so you will have a good idea of what type of weather you are likely to encounter. Watch the local weather, and look on the Internet to find out what the weather is expected to do in the area you are heading to. The last thing you want to do is end up in an unexpected snowstorm, with a car which has not been properly winterized, and without a winter emergency kit. So, if you have to be out on the road in bad winter, be prepared for the unexpected, and if you do not have to be out, stay home where you are warm and safe.

Warm Up Your Car Before Driving in the Winter

s a general rule of thumb, always warm up your car before you get in to drive. Never leave your car running in an enclosed area, such as a garage—even when the garage door is open. Rather than attempting to drive when your windshield is frozen, give your car plenty of time to warm up with the defroster on, so that when you are ready to drive, your car is warm inside, the engine is properly warmed up, and your windows are clear, allowing you see any potential hazards.

How to Avoid a Winter Crash

If you have done everything in your power to prepare your car for the winter, yet suddenly find yourself in the middle of an unexpected winter storm, consider the following:

  • If visibility is really bad, pull off the road safely, and do not attempt to drive until conditions improve. Wrap yourself up in your jacket and blanket, call someone to let them know where you are, and wait out the storm.
  • If the weather is bad, but you are able to drive, remember:
    • Do not use your cruise control when the roads are snowy, icy or slushy.
    • Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
    • Decrease your speed.
    • Avoid using your parking brake during winter weather driving.
    • Never mix radial tires with other types of tires in the winter.
    • Always keep your gas tank at least half full.
    • Make sure you know your vehicle, particularly whether you have ABS brakes which will pump your brakes for you when you go into a skid.
    • Never stop when you are going up a hill.
    • Always look and steer in the direction you want to go—if you skid, steer into the skid, and do your best not to panic or jerk the wheel.
    • If you end up stuck in the snow, tie a brightly colored cloth to your antenna, or in your rolled-up window to (hopefully) signal distress to others.

What To Do If You Get Stuck

If you are stuck in the snow—and it is safe to do so—you can do the following:

  • Make sure you know whether your car is front or rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive. If you have a front-wheel drive, use your small shovel and dig the snow out from under and around the front tires. If your car is rear-wheel drive, it is more important to get as much snow as possible away from the rear tires, making sure the tires have as much clearance as possible.
  • If your car is stuck on ice, try wedging your floor mats under the front half of all four tires to give your car some traction. If you have kitty litter or sand as a part of your emergency kit, you can sprinkle either substances around all four tires.
  • Try to drive out very slowly—if your car has a manual transmission, try using 2nd gear for more traction and control, and if your car has an automatic transmission, just use “drive,” and try to drive out in a slow, controlled manner.

If you live in an area which gets lots of winter weather, it is a good idea to have some type of roadside assistance such as Triple A. If you purchased your car new, you may have a roadside assistance package which came with your new car. Just one time of using your roadside assistance can pay for your annual fees, and can make a huge difference when you find yourself stuck in winter weather, unable to get your car unstuck and get home.

Contact Our Jackson Car Accident Lawyers

If you are involved in a car accident in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced Mississippi car accident attorney who will protect your rights and assist you in receiving a fair settlement for your injuries.

At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe in fighting aggressively for injured Mississippi car accident victims – to ensure that they receive the money they need to fully recover. We can help you obtain the money you need to fully recover. Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766 or click on the button below.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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