It looks like Narnia outside, which is great if you don’t have to go anywhere and get to just relax with a hot cocoa, but it may not be so great if you have to drive in it. Think you’re ready for the winter roads? Check out this scenario and see if you’re ready for any of the potential pitfalls ahead.
Trouble Starting the Car
Stumbling out the door, rubbing the sleep from your eyes, you’re glad you got ready a bit early because the car needs to warm up. You turn the key and hear that the car wants to start, but just can’t. The starter is trying to turn over, so you know it isn’t the starter or the battery. You can see that, although you’re low on gas, you aren’t on empty. No strange sounds are coming from the car, so what’s the problem?
The most likely culprit here is the gas line. Although you have some gas in your car, you probably also have condensation in the lines. When you run low on gas, you may have more condensation in the lines than gas… which can freeze when the temps drop. The solution? Keep a bottle of gas-line antifreeze in the car and add some to your tank before the temps even drop, but keep an extra bottle around for mornings such as these. Another tip is to be sure to keep your gas tank on the full side of half in the colder months.
Clearing the Way
Now that the car’s running, it’s time to clear some of that white stuff off so you can see where you’re going. Once you clear the snow (don’t forget the hood, roof, trunk, and lights), you see a layer of ice underneath, but don’t have time to scrape it or wait for it to melt because you had to take a few extra steps to get the car started. What’s the fastest way to get the ice off your windshield?
If you just went running to grab some hot water, put the brakes on. Never, ever pour hot water on your windshield. Glass doesn’t respond well to sudden temperature changes from cold to hot and you’re likely to crack it, making your iced windshield a dream of glitter and rainbows by comparison.
With the heater set on defrost for your windshield in your car, activate your washer fluid. The heater is important because the temperature of the windshield is what keeps the washer fluid itself from freezing. This method can give you a bit of a boost in clearing your windshield, but you may still have to scrape it and you definitely still have to keep the heat on.
On the Road
Finally! The car is running, warm, and cleaned off. Time to get on the road. The streets are still a bit slick and there are drifts on the side of the road, but you’re feeling like you’ve already tackled the worst of the morning. Then you hit a patch of ice that you didn’t even see. It’s probably black ice, which is almost impossible to see but calls for the same sort of driving as any other ice patch.
As soon as you start to slide, your first instinct is to hit the brakes and try to turn back in your lane — the very things you shouldn’t do. There’s a safer way to skid on ice. Let off the gas and turn with the skid. You’ll feel it when you’re the one back in control of the car, and you can then get back on track. Your car is already sliding, so hitting the brakes will only make things worse. Turning away from the slide will actually make you swerve more. Following the flow of the slide keeps you from adding to the catastrophe.
Stuck in a Rut
Maybe that skid didn’t quite turn out as you’d hoped and now you’re sitting in a small drift with a layer of ice at the bottom, tires spinning like mad to get out.
For those with 4WD or AWD, this might be a confusing situation. Either of these drivetrains will help you get out of the snow, but it doesn’t matter how many tires you have doing the work if you’re on ice. They’ll all spin. The solution? Play sand or kitty litter.
Bags of sand or kitty litter add weight to the vehicle, so most people put them in the trunk or the bed of a truck, where the weight of the vehicle is the lightest. The weight tends to add a bit of force in the energy/force equation that leads to motion. But those bags can do double duty to give you a bit of grip on the ice as well. Scatter sand or litter under your tires in the direction you want to go. When you try to move now, your tires have something to grip on other than ice.
The Bottom Line
In short, there are a few things that can make your winter driving experience much safer and easier. They’re listed below for your convenience.
- Gas-line antifreeze
- Windshield washer fluid
- Sand or kitty litter
As a reminder, be sure to keep flares, a first aid kit, and a blanket or sleeping bag in your vehicle over the winter.
~To Your Survival!
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