Winter driving tips: Take precautions and stay aware

Nov. 15, 2010

Brock Kilgore, Amanda Putz
bkilgore@uccs.edu, aputz@uccs.edu

The woes of winter driving are well on their way back. The black ice, frozen windshields and terrible drivers, oh how we haven’t missed you. According to Colorado statistics nearly 70 percent of winter deaths attributed to snow and ice involve motor vehicles.

The chilly combination of Colorado’s unpredictable weather and steep roads mean that students who commute must expect the unexpected, and must never underestimate how bad the roads can be. The following tips will help keep you safe, and will keep you car from sliding.

Pack an emergency kit

The state suggests that an automobile emergency kit should contain: jumper cables, reflective triangles, a blanket, a nonperishable high calorie food item, flashlights and extra batteries, a first aid kit and a car charger for your cell phone. It doesn’t hurt to keep an extra jacket, clothes and a candle with matches as well.

Make sure that your car is fully serviced and in good working condition

Unless your dad, friend or you really know about auto maintenance, or are willing to spend significant time learning; this should be done by a professional. Most of what needs checking is done during a full service oil change, but go ahead and get that oil change done by a real mechanic and ask them to do a winter safety check as well, usually for the same price.

Tires make all the difference in the world, but they are also expensive. Normally, it is recommended that you at least rotate your tires every winter, that way they are uniformly worn down and have more traction.

Things to check consistently all winter long

Even though a beginning of winter service is absolutely necessary, fluid levels change, so there are a few things that need constant attention. Checking your oil is very important. Low oil can overload the starter motors at the very least, and can eventually ruin the engine itself. They do sell winter grade oil, which is useful, but as long as you make sure the level is correct, the regular stuff should be fine. Add a little if it is low.

For the cooling and heating systems, make sure you have a sufficient amount of antifreeze in your vehicle. Antifreeze is a chemical added to a liquid (water) to lower its freezing point. It’s inserted in the radiator to prevent cracking, an expensive mistake. You should have about half antifreeze and half water and it should be changed every 2-3 years.

Also make sure your tire pressure is where it needs to be. This information can be found on the side wall of the tire or in your owner’s manual.

Brakes and windows: Your best friends and worst enemies

Braking on ice is the hardest thing to learn about winter driving. The problem is that the natural impulse is to slam on the brakes, which causes the car to slide out of control. Gently pump the brakes to find traction and learn to feel the anti-lock braking system do the same. Also try to keep the tank at about half full and resist the urge to use your cruise control, for it can be harder to stop.

If your windows are fogged, and you cannot see, please do not drive. Make sure you clear all the previous snowfall off your car and wipe your windshield clean of frost. If you know you’re in a hurry, try to be patient and start your car a couple minutes early so it can warm up, and the ice can melt.