If you are planning to take any road trips in the winter, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and have everything you might need available in your vehicle. You also need to prepare your car for the possibility of snow, ice, super cold temperatures, and driving in more mountainous areas. If this all sounds like a lot of work, it can be taken care of in a weekend. With all of the right preparations you can hit the road secure in the knowledge that no matter what Mother Nature throws at you, you’ll be ready!
How to Prepare Your Car
This is not an exhaustive list of what you should do ahead of a winter road trip, but it’s a good start. Rental cars are serviced regularly, so there’s no need to worry about the auto shop related items there. If it’s your own vehicle, winter tires and snow chains are a good call as they’ll give you extra traction.
- Go to a mechanic: Having a professional give your car a good once-over before taking a road trip is never a bad idea. The battery, lights, wiper blades, tire pressure, heating system, and fluids like oil, wiper fluid, and antifreeze should all be checked and in good working order. Before the winter begins your tires should be rotated, have proper alignment, and be inspected by professionals. Verify that the coolant in your car is adequate and meant to withstand winter temperatures to ensure that your engine will not be damaged.
- Put on winter tires: If you aren’t sure about your ability to change the tires yourself, it’s easy to have a professional do it. Even if you have a vehicle with all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive like an SUV, it’s important to put on snow tires for the winter. Winter tires have deep treads that will grip the heavy, thick ice and snow to stop your vehicle from getting stuck in snow. You can also opt for all-terrain tires if you think you won’t come across much snow, but will be driving in rough or uneven terrain that might be icy.
- Keep tire chains in your car: This is an easy thing to have in your vehicle year-round. They can be a lifesaver and prevent you from getting stuck in mountainous terrain when there is snow or ice on the road. And some stretches of road will require you to put chains on your car to drive on them, so it’s best to come prepared.
What to Pack
Make a little extra space in your trunk or the back of your hatchback or SUV for a few items that can be useful in case of a breakdown or other unexpected event when you are on the road in the winter. If you are renting a car, you should be sure there is an ice scraper in the vehicle, and ask for one if there’s not. Some of the other items you can easily bring with you.
- Warm clothing and blankets: Some clothing items that could come in handy if you are stuck in the cold are an old coat, a pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt, and gloves and a hat. If you are traveling with multiple people or a family, bring some extras. Also store a blanket or two, or a sleeping bag, alongside the clothes for added warmth.
- Flashlights and headlamps: You should have at least one flashlight with fresh batteries and a headlamp if you have one. The second one can come in handy if you need to look under the hood or change a tire in the dark.
- Food and water: There should be a bit more food in the vehicle than the snacks you purchased at the gas station. A loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter is a good idea, as well as other non-perishable items like jerky, dried fruit, and nuts. If you bring a bottle of water, it’s a good idea to keep it in the vehicle where the temperature is warmer to prevent freezing.
- Ice scraper and shovel: These are both vital to keep your windows clear and also move snow away from your tires in case of heavy snowfall
- Gas can, jumper cables and tow rope: In the event of an accident, dead battery, or other unforeseen incident, all of these are useful.
- Cat litter or gravel: If you’re stuck in the snow and your wheels are spinning, a lot bit of grit can make a huge difference. It gives your wheels something to grip on to and will .
- First aid kit and road flares: It’s a good idea to keep a first aid kit in your vehicle all of the time. And road flares are a smart thing to have in case of an accident or breakdown when there is reduced visibility.
- Miscellaneous: In the age of technology, it’s a good idea to have a charged USB power pack or a car charger in order to stay in touch when you need to. It also doesn’t hurt to have a Swiss Army knife or multitool for various uses. Matches are also useful just in case you need to start a fire outside the vehicle to keep warm.
If you have ever driven on snowy or icy roads, then you know that this is a different experience than traveling on dry roads. There are a few common sense things you should do when driving in winter conditions – like slowing down, not slamming on your brakes, and keeping the gas tank about half full – but there are also some other things that are important to do…or not do.
- Keep your vehicle clean: When it snows, you should clear the snow off the entire car, not only the windows. Yes, this takes more time but it can also prevent accidents from chunks of snow from your vehicle flying into other vehicles, or even blowing onto your windshield and obstructing your view. Also be sure the clean off the lights and clear the tailpipe if necessary!
- Factor in extra driving time: Don’t put yourself in the position of having to drive fast to get somewhere on time. Leave earlier than you need to, just in case.
- Don’t use cruise control: Driving on the highway or interstate using cruise control when there is ice or snow on the road is an accident waiting to happen. You can lose control if your vehicle hits ice or water.
- Watch out when braking: Be sure to anticipate when you will need to stop so you can gradually slow down in the event of icy conditions. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) will help keep you from skidding, but if your vehicle doesn’t have ABS you will need to pump the breaks gradually to avoid sliding.
- Beware of icy bridges: Bridges and overpasses are commonly iced over in the winter, especially if they are made of metal. It’s best to just assume these surfaces will be icy and slow down before crossing them.
- Check the weather: Find out what they weather conditions are along your route. If a storm is in progress or has just ended but you feel it is safe to continue, try to get to your destination while it is still daylight.