It’s hard to believe we’re here already: Snow season.
While some can hardly wait to snap on the skis, winter-like weather (even in fall) merits serious preparations. Icy roads may not be preventable, but we can minimize winter driving risks.
Ignore the phone. It should go without saying (and I admit summer guilt), but if you don’t care about yourself, for the sake of others at least, please pull over and park before reading that text or answering a call. Such a moment easily leads to a pile-up, especially in the slippery season. And, our weather guys tell us, it’s going to be especially slippery.
Portable charger/power bank. Keep one in the car fully charged; they cost as little as $15. If you get stuck somewhere remote with a low battery, you’ll need to call for help and may have to wait. If you do break down, turn on emergency flashers to prevent accidents and help searchers.
Ice melt. A bag in the trunk, in addition to being handy in driveways and parking lots, adds weight for rear traction and stability.
Cat litter. While it provides the same weight benefit, and sprinkling it next to the tire can aid traction, it doesn’t have the salt content of ice melt pellets. Salt dissolves ice, unlike litter.
De-icer for windshields: Or diluted vinegar, if you’re more DIY or environmentally friendly.
Turning to tires, studs are nice, but not everyone can afford them. Basic tire choices include:
Siping. Sipes are small slots cut or molded onto a tire’s tread surface. A tire’s tread shapes, groove configurations, and sipes affect its noise and traction. Wide, straight grooves generally have a low noise level and good water removal. More lateral grooves increase traction.
Stud-alternative. A studless tire with 3,200 sipes. These help in wet weather, but are too soft for warmer conditions.
Studded. Staggered metal studs inserted into the tire, which wear with time. Great for traction on snow and ice, but tough on roads, so they’re only permitted seasonally (except in Wyoming). Studded snow tires are legal in Idaho and Nevada Oct. 1 to April 30; in Montana through May 31; in Utah until April 15; Oregon until April 1; and in Washington only until March 31.
All season. Like it sounds, but quality and effectiveness in icy conditions vary by tire and vehicle characteristics, so siping those would increase traction.
Give your car a checkup: Also smart before a road trip, winter checkups include antifreeze, washer fluid, oil levels (and grade), battery, ignition, thermostat, wipers, lights, brakes, exhaust, heater, and defroster.
Stock an emergency kit: Finally, keep this winter emergency kit in your car, recommended by the Idaho Transportation Department: Flashlights with extra batteries; first aid kit; pocket knife; blanket; mittens, thick socks, and a wool cap; ice melt, sand, or cat litter for wheel traction; small shovel; bottled water; jumper cables; and canned fruit, nuts, and a non-electric can opener.
“There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.” — from “Different Seasons” by Stephen King.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.