Winter driving requires prep, patience

By David J. Coehrs -

Snow, slush, and sleet make for treacherous winter driving conditions, so careful travel preparations can lessen the potential hazards.

Getting your vehicle in condition for winter driving is foremost, said John Patynko, service manager for McNeill Chevrolet in Swanton. The most common mistake drivers make is not completing recommended maintenance.

That means minimizing the risk of accidents by servicing the tires, he said. Make certain they have the proper tread depth, which can prevent added sliding in slick weather.

“If you have some that don’t have traction it’s going to allow you slide more, because you don’t have channels for the snow,” Patynko said. “And make sure they’re properly inflated.”

Coolant should be another priority. Without the proper level for winter protection the vehicle’s engine block can freeze and leave motorists stranded.

Also keep the vehicle’s battery properly charged, Patynko advised. Otherwise, cold weather can kill a battery overnight.

Other winter tips include a new or reliable pair of windshield wipers and keeping tires rotated regularly.

“Around here, people are actually very very good with (maintenance),” Patynko said.

As for getting a vehicle moving on an especially cold morning, “the best thing you can do is let it warm up. There’s really not much more you can do,” he said.

And if your vehicle becomes stranded in the ice or snow, don’t go looking for help, said Rachel Kinsman, Fulton County Health Department’s health education coordinator.

“People get into trouble sometimes when they go for help or are outside for a longer period of time,” she said. “Every situation is different, but the safest thing is staying close to your vehicle.”

That means stocking the vehicle in case you’re stuck. Kinsman recommends the following items: a flashlight and extra batteries; a blanket; snacks and bottles of water; an extra coat, hat, and pair of gloves; a first aid kit; a cell phone charger; a small shovel, preferably collapsible; snacks and bottles of water; jumper cables; and a bag of sand or kitty litter for tire traction.

Kinsman said stocking protein snacks is preferable, “but it can be anything that is non-perishable.”

If stranded, put on the vehicle’s flashers and stay put for as long as possible, she said. Run the engine occasionally to maintain warmth, but don’t use all the gas; some may be necessary later. If no cell phone is available, try to flag down another motorist.

Most importantly, don’t panic, she said. Panic can lead to poor decisions.

Always check the weather forecast before heading for any destination, Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller said. And when on the road, use the “five miles less” rule: drive file miles slower for each road hazard encountered.

Miller advised not to use a vehicle’s cruise control on slick, icy roads, since it will cause the vehicle to slide. “With cruise control off, you have control of the acceleration and braking,” he said.

If the vehicle slides or goes into a skid, the driver should try to steer into it. And don’t slam on the brakes, but rather slowly apply pressure. Avoid sliding when rounding corners by allowing more time to brake.

Miller also suggested keeping the gas tank at least half full, so that moisture at the bottom of the tank doesn’t cause fuel line freeze-up.

The main cause of winter driving hazards, however, is simply going too fast for the road conditions, he said. And that includes four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles, whose drivers mistakenly believe they can move at a regular pace.

“People just drive too fast. I see it all the time,” Miller said. photo

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.