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Over the River and Through the Woods
Tips to Help you Get to Grandmother’s House Safely on Winter Roads
Just last weekend, I packed up the family in our trusty Chevrolet for a quick trip out of state to visit family that we weren’t able to see over the Christmas holidays. It was great to be able to spend the weekend with loved-ones but the weather sure didn’t cooperate as we traveled right after a winter event that cancelled just about every area school and drove right into a few inches of snow from another winter storm in the Chicago area. We even hit lake-effect snow near Kalamazoo, because it always snows when you’re driving through Kalamazoo, right? (Darn that Lake Michigan!) Our drive went fairly well, but there were definitely some simple, winter-driving, tips that we (scratch that, I), that I, should have followed that would have made for a more enjoyable trip for us all.
Make Sure Your Car is Gassed Up
I feel like if you’re going to make a multi-hour drive across state lines, it’s kind of obvious that you should gas up your car first, but I’m going to leave this one here just in case. I made the mistake of packing up the family and the gifts we were bringing with us before dropping the news that we just needed to make a quick stop at the gas station. Gas up first, then load up your family, it’ll make everything go a little more smoothly. There are also a bunch of people who recommend keeping your gas tank full in the winter. According to these experts, condensation can form on the walls of your tank if it’s not filled up. This water works its way to the bottom of your tank and into your fuel lines where it can freeze and cause all kinds of problems. So while filling up your gas tank before a trip is a really good idea, you might want to consider keeping it full during our eight months of winter every year.
Have You Checked Your Oil?
Before we left for our recent trip, I assumed that our oil level was fine, sure it had been a while since our last oil change, but we were only going away for a couple of days, what could happen? Oh, I had no idea. By the time the weekend was over, both my “Change Engine Oil” and my “Engine Oil Low” alerts had come on. A quick trip to Walmart solved my low engine oil issue but it did provide for an “I told you so,” moment and made us late to breakfast one morning. It would have been much simpler for me to have just checked and topped off the oil before we left the house, but it was cold and I was sure it was fine. Next time, I’ll be checking and topping off the oil before we leave the house. I still need to get in and have that oil changed though…
Make Sure You Can Clear Your Windshield
Ok look, I don’t want to give you guys too big of a peek behind the curtain, but things did not go well for us with keeping the old windshield clean during our travels. We had about half a gallon of washer solvent in the reservoir, and tons of gas stations along the way where we could buy more, so you’d think that everything here would be just fine, right? You don’t know how wrong you are. Do you remember all of those super-cold days we had a couple of weeks ago? Well, those really cold temperatures played havoc with my car because something froze in between the washer fluid tank and the windshield wipers. Unfortunately, this was a fact that we didn’t realize until the windshield was already covered with dried road salt grime. In the words of comedian Heywood Banks, my windshield looked like “bathroom glass”. Nothing we did could thaw out the frozen part of the system so we had to make the trip without being able to spray the windshield from within the car. This made for some very interesting memories, including me, stopped at a rest area in central Illinois one night, splashing washer fluid out of the bottle onto the windshield in a snowstorm; I only wish I had a picture of it. Do yourself a favor and make sure you have washer fluid and that your entire system works as intended before you leave.
Don’t Forget to Check Your Tires
A winter driving list wouldn’t be complete without a quick note to check your tire depth, fortunately I’ve recently gotten new tires so I couldn’t find a way to mess this one up. But, if you haven’t gotten new tires, you’ll want to make sure that there’s some traction there so your tires can grab the road instead of just getting bogged down by snow. How much depth is enough? Well, AAA recommends that you have at least 3/32 inches worth of tire tread, otherwise they recommend replacement. Need help measuring 3/32 of an inch? Take a quarter and turn it upside down so that Washington’s head faces you and place it in your tire’s tread, if the tread touches Washington’s head, then you have at least 4/32 inch of tread remaining and you’re good to go. If the tread doesn’t touch George’s head, you may want to think about a trip to Belle Tire (or your favorite tire store). You’ll have a much easier time stopping and starting on snowy roads if you have some tread on your tires.
Do You Have an Emergency Road Kit?
While no one really wants to think about it, stuff happens while you’re on the road. That’s where an emergency road kit can come in handy. Many of these kits contain things like traction mats and shovels to get you out of a snowbank, or worse, some jumper cables in case your battery decides that it’s too cold to work correctly and warning devices like flares or triangles to alert passing motorists that there’s a problem up ahead. These road kits can be found all over the place this time of year including auto parts stores and even at big grocery stores. Many people also swear by some sort of Roadside Assistance membership which will dispatch a tow truck to you if you run into problems along the road.
These might seem like really simple tips, but I promise you, they’re important. I can also assure you that if you think about these tips a little before you leave, that you’ll have a much more enjoyable winter road trip and that you’ll be able to arrive at your destination safely.
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