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  • Trapped in Traffic: Prepare Your Car for Winter Driving

    For Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law, his wife, and a few cousins drove from Utah to California to visit family for the holiday. As they were driving back to Utah the following Sunday, the weather turned sour. It wasn’t snowing heavily – just light rain and sleet, according to my brother-in-law – but that didn’t stop a wreck from happening 80 miles away from their home.

    winter-traffic winter drivingFortunately they weren't involved, but traffic was at a standstill. They would later discover that a semi-truck had jackknifed on the freeway, blocking all lanes. My brother-in-law took a side road – along with everyone else on the freeway – in order to get around the accident. As it turned out, traffic slowed to a crawl – and then full on stop – on that road as well. They moved six miles in an hour and a half. It was 8:00 at night, and they had work and school the next day.

    Later, they learned what had caused the stoppage on the access road – another semi-truck had jackknifed.

    Such experiences can be very frustrating. Fortunately, they all made it back safe and sound. The only casualty was a bit of sanity and some much needed sleep. But they’re alright, and that’s what matters.

    Winter has arrived here in Utah, and if it hasn’t arrived for you yet, it could very soon.

    We talk a lot about preparing your home and food storage for emergencies and disasters (which also includes winter), but today we’d like to help you get your car ready for winter driving conditions.

    First off, how’s your car’s emergency kit? Just like in your home, your car should be prepared with the essentials, just in case you slide off the road or are otherwise stranded in the cold. Ready.gov has a list of necessary items for your car’s kit. Some of those include the following:

     

    • Shovel
    • Windshield scraper
    • Flashlight
    • Water
    • Snack food
    • Blankets and warm clothing
    • Road salt/sand
    • Booster cables

     

    These are some of the basic necessities that need to go with you wherever you travel throughout the winter. Of course, you may have special circumstances and needs which you should prepare for as well, such as medications, pet supplies, or other such items.

    Thinking back on the experience of my brother-in-law, what might have happened if they had things not worked out for them? My first thought is gas.

    What would their trip home have been like if their gas tank had been low going into that traffic jam? During a chilly winter night, they could have been stuck without heat. Blankets, hats, mittens, and other warm clothing would have been a very welcomed resource in that situation. Fortunately, their gas tank was full enough until they could reach the next town (the towns are spread out quite far in the area in which they were stuck, so things could have been a lot worse).

    winter driving

    If they had been stuck on the road, snacks and water would not only do wonders for their morale, but help keep them hydrated, alert, and functioning properly in the event they needed more than just corn ships. Flashlights would have been useful in checking under the hood in case of car trouble (or having light by which passengers could read while they wait). A traffic jam is one thing. Sliding off the road in the middle of nowhere and having to wait for help to arrive would certainly require an emergency stash of gear.

    And the list goes on.

    You see, we never can plan for disasters (including two jackknifed trucks blocking two roads on one trip). That’s why it’s so important to have emergency gear and supplies in your car. The example scenarios above are only meant to give a hint of what could have been – the possibilities of what could have happened are many.

     

    Winter_Storm_Blog_Image2 winter driving

  • Preparing Your Car for Winter Weather

    via Denver Post via Denver Post

    In many parts of the United States, the first snow has already fallen. In some places the storms were doozies: Parts of Reno, Nevada received 10 inches of snow on November 11 and Denver saw its first blizzard in five years on November 16.

    So, isn’t it time prepare your car for winter?

    First, make sure the car is running well, said Rolayne Fairclough, a spokesperson for AAA Utah.

    “Take it in and have a mechanic prepare it for the winter,” she said.

    Make sure the battery is fully charged, because it’s weaker in cold weather. Mechanics can test it or some car parts stores will test it for free, according to an article in Kiplinger.com, a financial planning site. If you know your battery’s powering down, you can replace it at your convenience and at a better price, the site said.

    Make sure hoses and belts aren’t cracked, Fairclough said. Winter can increase cracks and cause breaking. Also make sure the exhaust system is leak-free so carbon monoxide doesn’t fill your car.

    Whether you choose all-season or winter tires, make sure they’ve got enough tread, Kiplinger.com said. The web site for The Tire Rack, a tire vendor, demonstrates a coin-based way to check the tread.

    Its site points out that at 1/16 of an inch, the minimum tread required by law in most places, “resistance to hydroplaning in the rain at highway speeds has been significantly reduced, and traction in snow has been virtually eliminated.”

    Winter TireYou may have been told to under-inflate tires to give them more surface area. That only helps if the snow is deep and soft, said the Kiplinger.com story. On a normal drive, under-inflated tires act more like hydroplaning tires because they don’t grab the pavement as well as fully inflated tires. Also, remember tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit temperature drop.

    Make sure your brakes are in good condition.

    Check windshield wipers and wiper fluid too. Windshield wiper blades have a lifespan of about a year, according to the Kiplinger.com story. In places that get especially cold, put an antifreeze solvent in windshield washer reservoirs, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

    Putting windshield wiper fluid in a car. Don't forget the antifreeze!

    Make sure all the fluids are full and clean, especially antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. If you live in a really cold area, make sure the antifreeze solution is good for temperatures 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation site. Car parts stores carry an antifreeze tester that’s less than $10, according to Kiplinger.com.

    Check to make sure leaves and debris haven’t filled the opening below the hood and windshield: they can block water flow, according to Kiplinger.com. Also make sure nothing under the car is loose or hanging down so it doesn’t get torn out if you drive over deep snow. Finally, clean and wax headlights.

    The second step is to make sure you’ve got an emergency kit, Fairclough said.

    Keep cold weather gear like blankets or a sleeping bag, boots, a coat, and gloves in the car, she said. Aluminum “space blankets” can fit in a glove compartment.

    Bring a power source for cell phones, a radio, and a flashlight with extra batteries.

    Believe it or not, a candle can heat a whole car’s cabin, Fairclough said. Carry matches too, because extreme cold can freeze some lighters.

    Add water and a metal container for melting snow or drinking. Also bring high-energy food like candy, raisins, nuts, dehydrated fruit and jerky. Don’t forget toilet paper.

    Auto Kit Keep an auto emergency kit in your vehicle, just in case.

    Finally, take tools and equipment for the car: signaling equipment like bright cloth or flares, chains, booster cables, a nylon rope, and a shovel, and sand or kitty litter for traction.

    In a pinch, you can use the car’s floor mats for traction, Fairclough said.

    “A lot of people just don’t put a shovel in their cars,” she admitted.

    Third, take a few minutes to prepare before you go anywhere. Dress for the weather. Carry a cell phone and charger and make sure to tell someone your departure time, route and expected arrival time, suggests the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Check road conditions before you leave.

    Keep the gas tank more than half full, Fairclough said.

    “If you’re detoured, you have some flexibility and don’t have to worry about running out of gas,” she said.

    Finally, drive for the conditions. Although winter months see fewer fatal crashes, they see more small ones, Fairclough said. Typically they’re from people driving too fast and too close together.

    You can find detailed hints for what to do if you get stranded in winter at the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s web site.

    Have a safe winter!

     

    How is your car prepared for winter weather?

     

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  • How to be Safe During an Earthquake While Driving

    California Highway CollapseOn October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake jolted the north-central coast of California. It caused $1.8 billion in damage to the transportation system. A landslide closed State Highway 17, a 26-mile parkway between San Jose and Santa Cruz. In the San Francisco Bay area, a 1.25-mile section of the double-decker Cypress Street Viaduct, part of Interstate 880, collapsed, killing 42. An upper deck section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed. Every airport in the area closed overnight. All cable cars, electric trains and buses – half of the Bay area’s mass transit – halted when they lost power.

    Whether traveling or just commuting to work, you can take steps before, during and after an earthquake to be safe while on the road.

    Before an earthquake, keep your car in good condition, make a car emergency kit and make a family communication plan.

    Gas GagueTo keep your car in good condition, keep your gas tank more than half full and perform seasonal checkups, according to ready.gov. A full gas tank will keep the fuel line from freezing. Check all fluid levels, filters, tires, brakes, and lights. Watch for leaks in the exhaust system. Make sure the defroster and windshield wipers work.

    We have both a car emergency kit as well as an earthquake emergency kit, so you can check those out as somewhere to start. We’re even giving an earthquake emergency kit away (see the bottom of this post to enter)!

    If you want to make your own, use this list from ready.gov:

    • Car maintenance supplies: basic tools, jumper cables and flares or a reflective triangle.
    • Winter equipment: cat litter or sand for traction, a shovel, and an ice scraper.
    • Food: canned goods – don’t forget a can opener – and protein-rich food like nuts. Also remember baby formula and pet food, if applicable.
    • Water: one gallon per person per day.
    • Powered devices: flashlight with extra batteries, radio and cell phone car charger.
    • Warm clothes and blankets or sleeping bags.

    A communication plan includes information for family members and friends, work and school, and emergency organizations. FEMA and Red Cross have blank contact cards. Everyone should have an out-of-town emergency contact because it’s often easier to make long distance calls after a disaster, according to ready.gov.

    During an earthquake, a car will be harder to control, according to the Red Cross. As quickly as possible, pull over to a clear location, stop and set the parking brake. Avoid bridges, overpasses, trees, and power lines. If you’re in the mountains, watch for falling rocks and debris.

    Most importantly, stay in your vehicle with your seat belt buckled. If you leave your vehicle, it will block the road so emergency crews will have a harder time getting where they need to be. If a power line falls on your vehicle, staying inside it will prevent electrocution.

    Cracked road after earthquake at Chiang Rai Province, Thailand

    After an earthquake, the Red Cross suggests you be cautious when you start driving and have alternate routes. A pedestrian overpass, for example, can rapidly become a crosswalk that will block the whole road. Stay out of damaged areas as much as possible. Avoid bridges and ramps that the earthquake may have damaged, according to ready.gov. Watch for fallen power lines. Broken water mains can create sinkholes. Look for those and other signs like large cracks and squirts of sand that suggest the surface beneath the road might be unstable. Assume traffic lights won’t work.

    The nice thing about preparing your vehicle for an earthquake is that same effort helps if your vehicle breaks down. Seasonal checkups will also keep your car running longer. So aren’t a few minutes for preparation worth the time and money?

    - Melissa

     

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