Happy Thanksgiving. How’s your washer fluid?
Whether you live in an area where cold temperatures, snow and ice are routine or occasional, the beginning of the holiday driving season is a good time to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for winter. Climate change has made regions well beyond the traditional frost belt susceptible to tricky, even dangerous, conditions.
In fact, cities that didn’t traditionally get freezing rain or snow are now susceptible to dangerous conditions. Accumulations that would barely inconvenience drivers in Detroit, Chicago or Boise, Idaho, can bring travel to a screeching halt in cities from Atlanta to El Paso.
With winter coming, experts say you should consider these things when preparing for driving:
Formerly called snow tires, winter tires are perhaps the most significant thing you can do for greater winter safety and mobility, but correspondingly the most expensive.
The thinnest layer of ice or snow can impair your ability to steer, drive and, perhaps most important, stop. Winter tires give you more control.
If you live somewhere the temperature is regularly below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re a candidate.
Winter tires have tread patterns that help on ice and snow, but the more important difference is the materials used that maintain grip in cold temperatures.
“Winter tires help keep you safe by providing better control for emergency maneuvers or even day-to-day incidents, shorter stopping distances,” said T.J. Campbell, tire information manager at online retailer Tire Rack. “More traction to get up an icy incline or power through snow and slush, and even additional grip on cold, wet roads. All your vehicle’s safety systems — all-wheel drive, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, lane departure and braking assist — they all work better when the tires have improved traction.”
Most new vehicles come with tires labeled “all-season.” That’s optimistic. You can use them year-round, but their chemistry means they get stiffer and offer less grip below 40 degrees, when you’re also most likely to encounter snow and ice.
Winter tires do the opposite. They wear out faster at temperatures above 40 degrees, though. That means drivers in much of the country can plan on using them from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day or April Fool’s Day. Plan according to your local climate.
An extra set of winter tires — and cheap steel wheels that’ll endure dings and road salt — cost money, as does having them mounted and removed when the seasons change.
However, using winter tires three to four months a year extends the life of your other tires.
“During a typical vehicle ownership cycle, the driver will purchase at least one set of replacement tires. That could mean a set of all-season tires used year-round and then a replacement set of all-season tires run year-round, or it could mean a set of all-season tires used for seven-eight months out of the year and a set of winter tires used for four-five months out of the year,” Campbell said.
That offsets the tires’ cost, not to mention saving repair money by preventing dings and accidents.
Regardless of which tires you use, check their tread before winter sets in. You can check tire tread easily with a coin, and many tires have a built-in tread indicator.
Here are some things to have taken care of before the weather gets bad.
Ice scraper: If you don’t know where yours is, buy one today. A sturdy one that won’t shatter on a cold day, long enough to reach at least halfway across your windshield. You may use this dozens of times in a season. It’s not a place to scrimp.
Washer fluid: Keep yours full. You go through it faster dealing with ice, snow and slush, and your wipers struggle to clear them.
Wipers: Get new ones regularly. Consumer Reports says even the best become noticeably less effective in as little as six months. And protect your wipers. Tip them up off the windshield when parked and you expect precipitation, and never use them to remove accumulated ice or snow. That’s why you got that good scraper.
Tire pressure: Check it. Cold temperatures reduce air pressure as much as 1 psi for every 10 degrees, and it’s easy to forget to check on cold, slushy days. Choose one or two dates each month to check the pressure in all four tires.
Removing snow and ice: Clean ALL snow and ice off your vehicle, driver-ed prep Zutobi reminds us, not just the windows, but the roof, trunk, bumpers and especially lights. This improves your view of the road, makes it easier for other drivers to spot you, and helps you avoid being the schmuck whose car erupts in snow, covering the windshield of the vehicle behind you.
Winter to-go bag: Keep one onboard. At a minimum, jumper cables, flashlight, gloves, a hat and warm clothes. You only have to be stranded without them once to regret not preparing.
Lights: Check them. It gets dark earlier in winter, and winter weather conditions reduce visibility. Are all the bulbs working? Headlight lenses can get foggy over time, reducing what you can see and making it harder for other drivers to see you. Autotrader recommends replacement, but says restoration kits also work well. If you don’t have daytime running lights, consider keeping your low beams on all the time.
It’s not just bridges and overpasses that get slippery in winter. The heat of tires can melt snow and ice on them, leaving water to drip onto the apparently clear surface of the road beneath the underpass. Watch for reflections that warn of black ice that can lurk on highways and roads that run below overpasses.
Four-wheel drive may help you get started and pull you through mounds of snow, but it won’t help you slow down. That 4×4 SUV rocketing past you on a slippery surface is a good candidate to be in the ditch around the next curve.
If you lose traction, keep your eyes and the steering wheel pointed in the direction you want to go, AAA recommends. If the drive wheels start to spin or slide going up a hill, ease off on the accelerator and gently resume speed.
Even if you and your vehicle are perfectly prepared, not everybody else will be. Give other drivers a bit more space and time. Not everybody can afford the winter tires and gonzo ice scraper you just bought, but we all share the same roads.
Drive safely this season.
Winter driving safety tips: Preparedness checklist for your vehicle – Detroit Free Press
Happy Thanksgiving. How’s your washer fluid?