Winter conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Five Winter Driving Tips

Frozen Lake at Dawn in winter at Grand Lake, Colorado
Frozen Lake at Dawn (credit: Randy Yagi)

Are you planning a winter road trip during the holidays? If so, is your car in good enough shape to make it through inclement weather? By winterizing your car and bringing along certain items, you’ll lessen your risk of something going wrong. Here are a few helpful winter road tips to help get you going in the right direction.

Winter conditions with a thermometer reading below 35 degrees
Thermometer Reading Below 35 Degrees (credit: Randy Yagi)

Service Your Car

Whether you bring it in to a mechanic or do it your service, it’s important to have your car serviced for winter driving. This may include replacing your spark plugs and windshield wipers, changing your oil, inspecting your signal lights, hoses and fan belts, checking the battery and electrical system. You should also check the fluids in your radiator, transmission, power steering, washer and brakes. During winter driving, you may not need to check the coolant for your air conditioner but it’s also something to consider.

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Snow covered road with four wheel drive vehicles
Snow Covered Road (credit: Randy Yagi)

Check Your Tires

Worn tires are the source of numerous auto accidents, particularly when the road is wet. Take a few minutes to inspect the tread wear on your tires by using the “penny test”. The penny test measures tires in 32nds of an inch, with new tires typically having 10/32 or 11/32 inches. Place a penny with Lincoln’s head pointed towards the tires and if his head isn’t visible, the tread is still above 2/32 inches, which is the minimum amount of tread before tires need to be replaced. The penny test should also be performed at different sections of each tire. While getting new tires is an added expense, it makes your car that much safer to drive. Also don’t forget to ensure that your tires are properly inflated.

Emergency Roadside Kit with First Aid
Emergency Roadside Kit with First Aid (credit: Randy Yagi)

Bring A Car Safety Kit

All drivers should carry a car safety kit but during the winter months, it’s far more important. Items to carry may vary but a basic kit will typically have a first aid kit, jumper cables, flashlight with spare batteries, poncho, reflective triangle and/or flares. But you’ll need to add a few more items for winter driving, such as a warm blanket, mitten and hats, candle powered heater, ice scraper and if necessary tire chains. Other items to consider include a tool kit, portable air compressor, snow shovel, hand warmers, sleeping bags and a bag of sand or kitty litter for added traction. Some items should already be in your car but you should also check to see if you have a tire gauge, jack and lug wrench, paper maps, a compass and foam tire sealant. Lastly, don’t forget to bring a car phone charger that plugs into your auxiliary power outlet (cigarette socket) – while being mindful that your phone battery will wear out more quickly in cold weather.

Non-Perishable Foods - nuts and granola
Non-Perishable Foods (credit: Randy Yagi)

Bring Extra Food & Water

Nothing could be worse than getting stuck on the road due to engine trouble. Despite having cars serviced, new tires installed and making every necessary precaution, a small percentage of winter drivers will experience some sort of car trouble. This makes bringing extra food and water that much more important. You may already have some ideas of what you’d like to bring, such as sandwiches, crackers, fresh fruit, peanut butter and yogurt. But also consider bringing along non-perishable snacks, like unsalted trail mix, dried fruit, beef jerky, granola bars and energy bars for winter driving. You should also bring plenty of water and other drinks for everything in your party. Additionally, if you or anyone else in your party takes medications, it’s advisable to bring along some extra.

Do Not Enter/Wrong Way Sign in Snowy Conditions
Do Not Enter/Wrong Way Sign in Snowy Conditions (credit: Randy Yagi)

Drive Responsibly

Driving responsibly makes sense in any type of road condition but it’s especially important in wintry conditions. Driving responsibly can mean many things but some are quite obvious – slowing down, allowing more space between cars, accelerate and decelerate more slowly and by all means staying alert. This also means to not text or drive distracted, whether it’s changing the radio station or talking on the phone. One last word of advice: never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, anytime of the year especially when winter driving!

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About the Author & Founder of TrendingTravel.org

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University and a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

Randy is also a veteran of the United States Army, having served stateside and in Germany. He is a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.

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