This is the second in a series of articles containing useful tips for coping with frost, ice, and snow while you travel by vehicle. Even Californians must occasionally deal with freezing temperatures. Be like the proverbial Boy Scout - advance preparation can save you time, aggravation, and cash.
1. Windshield treatments help to prevent ice build-up.
There are various liquid preparations on the market that provide a protective film for your windshield. The film inhibits rain and ice from adhering to the glass. You can also purchase packs of pre-moistened towelettes - great to carry in your glove compartment for use on the road if you run out of windshield washer fluid.
2. Winter wiper blades work better in freezing temperatures.
Windshield wipers have moving parts that work less effectively when they are seized by ice. Some manufacturers offer winter blades with a protective sleeve over the moving parts. There have been patents issued, as well, for forced-air wiper defrosting systems - although they do not appear to be in production yet.
3. Car wax can impair visibility.
Commercial car washes wax your entire vehicle, leaving a film on the windshield glass. At night or in low-visibility conditions, this film causes a glare from oncoming headlights that impedes visibility. If you use a car wash before you travel, be sure to clean your windshield afterwards with something that will cut through the film - like a cola soft drink followed by window cleaner.
4. Dress for the weather - and carry extra clothing.
A coat that you wear while driving may not be warm enough if you must sit without heat while waiting for a tow truck. Pack extra protective wear in the back seat (best option), or the trunk. Be sure to include an extra-warm coat or jacket, something that will cover your head and ears, gloves/mitts, and waterproof insulated boots. If you own anything else that will increase your comfort level (like a scarf or ski mask), include it as well.
5. Water may freeze in door locks.
High speeds force rain and sleet into every crevice of your vehicle. In freezing temperatures, the crevices become clogged with ice. If you must leave your vehicle locked for any reason, you may find it difficult or impossible to unlock. A combination flashlight and lock de-icer keychain may save a call to your auto association or to a locksmith.
6. Carry emergency salt, gravel, or kitty litter.
Being stuck in a snowbank is not the end of the world if you have some traction materials in your trunk. Coarse salt, gravel, sand, and kitty litter are all effective. If you have a fireplace, save the ashes and use them instead. Another trick used by many drivers is to apply bleach to the tire treads. Use bleach sparingly, however. It softens the treads and will hasten tire wear.
While You Travel
7. Do not engage the cruise control.
Cruise control maintains a constant speed for your vehicle. There are two ways to disengage cruise: tapping on the brakes, or pressing 'Off'. What must you ALWAYS avoid in a skid? Right - using the brakes. Your only option while your car spins out of control is to hit the 'Off' button. This is easier said than done! By the time you find it, you could be in the ditch or crushed by oncoming traffic. Avoid using cruise whenever you suspect black ice or unfavorable weather conditions.
8. Steep icy hills may require a lower gear.
You should avoid using your brakes on any icy surface. So what do you do on an ice-covered downhill grade? Shift into a lower gear. The engine will rev faster, while physically slowing down the vehicle. However, driving for too long in a low gear can overheat your engine. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge and stop once in awhile if necessary.
9. Be extra vigilant in suspect areas.
Some areas of a road or highway are inherently ice-prone: overpasses and underpasses, stretches that do not receive much sunlight, and intersections. Slow down and be especially careful as you drive through any of these suspect areas.
10. Rumble strips can function like airport beacons.
If you are fortunate enough to drive over a roadway with rumble strips, you can use them to your advantage. These strips produce a loud rumbling noise and vibration whenever you drive over them. In poor visibility, steer closer to the center of the road. If you meander onto the center rumble strip, correct your steering just slightly until the rumble dies down. Avoid the outer edge of the road. Sharp or soft shoulders, snowbanks, ruts, or hidden obstacles may grab your wheels and pull you into the ditch without warning.
Reviewing the pointers in this and the previous article will help prepare you for adverse road conditions. Now enjoy your next winter trip into a snowy area or up to the ski hill!