The winter brings many exciting things: beautiful snow, the holidays, and the promise of a new year to come. However, it also brings ice, slush and other potentially treacherous weather conditions that can make driving nerve-wracking and downright dangerous. While no one really enjoys driving in conditions like this, you can make the experience slightly more comfortable, less stressful and, most importantly, safer for everyone on the road! Read on for some tips on how you can stay safe this season and which professionals you should work with should the worst (an accident) happen to occur.
Having your vehicle checked out before the bad weather actually starts is one of the best ways to stay safe on the road this winter. By taking your vehicle into your trusted mechanic, you can be sure that you won’t be stranded by an issue that easily could have been identified had you just taken the time to have a professional look at it. Your mechanic can check fluid levels, perform an oil change if necessary, replace windshield wipers, check brakes and make sure your tires are in good condition. If you’ve built a good relationship with your mechanic, you’ll know that they won’t be performing any unnecessary maintenance or replacements and that they’re looking out for your safety with whatever work they do. Matt Lingen with Performance Toyota adds, “Choose a mechanic or service professional who you feel comfortable with, someone you can talk to and also someone who takes the time to learn how you like to be treated.” You might also want to keep an eye out for convenience. With everything else we have going on this season, no one wants to take a few hours (or more) out of their day to take their car into the shop. Performance Toyota has a mobile service that can come to you at your office or home and perform oil changes and other small service items so that you can go about your busy schedule without being interrupted.
Matt goes on to suggest, “The best thing you can do to prepare for winter driving is to take your vehicle into a professional who can make sure it’s in good working order and perform a winter inspection. They will check on washer fluids, coolant, tires and make sure your wiper blades are sufficient to deal with the rain, ice, slush and snow that you will be experiencing. This should be done every winter, even if you think nothing is wrong with your vehicle and you’ve been keeping up on scheduled maintenance.”
Matt continues, “You should also always make sure you have enough fuel during the cold months. This is not the time to wait until the fuel light goes on to head to the gas station! Having a full (or nearly full) tank of gas ensures that if you get stranded somewhere, you can keep the car running enough to stay warm until help can arrive.”
Having the right tires is of course extremely important as we go into the season of snow and ice, and it’s best to go to a tire professional who can help guide you to the best choice. Nick Vuko Sr. with Walker Tire has this to say about tire selection: “I have always enjoyed Consumer Reports analysis of products…until I went to Finland to see tires tested in real world conditions. The tires featured in Consumer Reports were not tested in the conditions we face in Nebraska winters. Ice traction testing was performed on a hockey rink at 10 miles per hour. Vehicles stopped and the distance was measured—there was no turning involved. Snow traction was rated on packed snow—cars accelerated from 5 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour and the distance was checked. This is not real world testing! 80% of all winter driving accidents involve turning, something that was not tested in Consumer Reports but that I was able to test when I went to Finland. When I was turning 90 degrees on black ice at 28 miles per hour, there simply was no all weather tire that could compare to the Nokian. So, when someone asks me about the best tire, I tell them this: If they want the safest tire for driving in Nebraska, the best one I have found so far is the Nokian all weather tire.”
One of the most dreaded part of winter driving is the scraping of the windows and warming of the car each morning before you leave for work. If you’re like most people, you forget to do it ahead of time and are rushing through it, barely getting a line of sight scraped before you hop into your (still cold) vehicle and drive off to your destination. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can also be damaging to your vehicle and dangerous! Vehicles run best when they are warm and it’s not good for them to be driving cold. In addition, if you have not fully cleared your windows, mirrors and windshield, your visibility is severely compromised and can lead to accidents.
So what’s the answer to this dilemma? One idea is to always park your car in the garage at night so that it’s warmer and not iced over in the morning. Another idea is to go outside about ten or fifteen minutes before you’re ready to leave, start your car and crank up the defrost so that it’s cleared off and warm by the time it’s ready to go. Remember, though, never start your car while it’s in the garage (even if you have the garage door open). Carbon monoxide is a real threat and can build up in closed in spaces and even leak into the house is your garage is attached. If you do want to start your car, make sure it’s out in the open (and in park!).
However, many people do not have a garage or don’t have enough room to park all the vehicles in it every night. And many of us are in such a hurry in the morning that we forget to go out and start the car ahead of time. In these scenarios, your best solution could be to have a remote car starter installed. You can start your car from the comfort of your home (or the office) and by the time you are ready to go, it’s warm and all the windows are clear of ice and snow. Remote car starters can be installed in nearly any kind of vehicle these days, so no matter what year or model your car is, you should be able to have one. Keep your car secure with a remote car starter from Autosounds of Lincoln. They also offer the customer the ability to start their vehicle by using their smart phone, making it simple and very accessible. This device can easily be added to your remote starter, perfect for the ‘techy’ person who wants to do as much as possible from their phone. These also make great gifts!
Having the Right Vehicle
That sporty little convertible that was so fun during the summer months all of the sudden doesn’t seem so appealing when you’re trying to drive it through three foot drifts or on sheets of black ice. We live in one of only four areas of the country that has severe weather and you need to consider this when buying a vehicle. If you’re financially lucky, you can have a sporty car to drive during the warmer months and a heavier, all-wheel or four-wheel drive to take in the winter months. However, if you only have one vehicle, you need to consider ALL of the seasons you’ll be driving it in, even if you buy it when it’s 90 degrees and sunny out.
Doing business with a reputable dealer with great customer service is the best way to ensure you will get the vehicle you and your family needs. They will ask questions to determine when you will be driving it, how far each day you will be driving it, what is most important to you (size, gas mileage, safety, appearance, price, etc.) and what your options are. Having a good relationship with an auto dealership is very beneficial as they get to know you and your family through the years and what your needs and preferences are. They can help guide you in the best direction and most dealerships, no matter what brand of new cars they sell, can get almost any type of used car you want if you’re willing to wait for a little while.
Keep Your Vehicle Looking It’s Best
Many people forget to do the very basic maintenance on their car—washing it—during the winter months. However, not washing your vehicle during the cold months not only affects how it looks, but it can also be damaging to it. Kendra Brunkow with Jet Splash states, “Your car has many enemies. Some are visible, like salt, sand and dirt, and some are not, like emissions from industrial plants that are released into the atmosphere where they’re transformed into nitric or sulfuric acid. These contaminants can corrode your car’s finish and the problem is accelerated by temperature. Acid from tree sap, bird droppings, bugs and even leaves become more active when heated. These irritants can cause permanent stains to your car’s finish in direct sunlight. Your car is constantly being bombarded by these contaminants. If they aren’t removed quickly, they can bond to your paint and eventually etch it. The main objective of a good car wash is to remove dirt and contaminants. Washing your car a minimum of once a week is a good rule of thumb to keep your finish looking its best.
Winter is another threat to your car as salt and sand on the road can cause a chemical reaction in your car’s finish, accelerating pitting and rusting. Washing your car consistently removes the offensive substances that accumulate and reduces the chance of damage. If you aren’t currently keeping your car clean on a regular basis, don’t worry, it isn’t too late! The quickest and easiest way to get your car in great condition is to start washing your car once a week and take it to a professional detail shop for a wax before winter hits.”
Many car wash facilities offer memberships or discount cards, which make great gifts or are good to buy for yourself to ‘remind’ you to wash your car regularly this season! While you’re washing the exterior of your car, don’t forget the interior as well. A cluttered and messy car is not only unpleasant to ride (or drive) in, but it can also be dangerous if a stray piece of trash or other item somehow gets stuck under your brake or gas pedal. Keeping your car as free of debris as possible is a good hint for any time of year!
Snow and cold weather make driving conditions more difficult for motorists, especially during storms when icy conditions prevail. AAA Nebraska advises motorists to prepare themselves and their vehicles for dangerous road conditions.
“Motorists should allow extra time to get to their destination,” advises Marilyn Muir, Field Manager of AAA operations in Lincoln. “Since speed is a factor in many crashes, never be in a hurry when road conditions are slick. Monitor weather conditions and follow the advice from authorities. If it is not safe to travel and you don’t need to venture out, don’t drive. Wait until the road conditions improve.”
If you must travel, motorists are encouraged to log on to www.511.Nebraska.gov. The 511 Traveler Information System provides information on highway surface conditions, closures and restrictions, AMBER Alerts, and site-specific weather forecasts. More than 225 Nebraska Department of Roads staff members and Nebraska State Patrol officers serve as field reporters to update the information around the clock. In addition, more than 100 highway cameras are used to provide travelers with live views of road conditions.
AAA recommends that motorists keep emergency supplies in their vehicle, including a cell phone, boots, gloves, blanket, a “coffee can heater,” flashlight and reflective triangle. “If you become stranded, it is best to stay with the vehicle,” says Marilyn Muir. “If you can start your engine, run it only long enough to keep warm. Make sure the exhaust pipe is snow-free. If you see a stranded motorist and you are unable to render aid, dial *55 on your cell phone and provide the dispatcher with a description of the vehicle, number of passengers, if known, and details about the vehicle’s location, such as the nearest mile marker number or landmark.”
If an Accident Happens
No matter how careful you are, accident still happen when driving in adverse weather conditions. If you do get into an accident, Nikki Watts of Watts Insurance Groups says, “Document everything that happened and take pictures before vehicles are moved. Exchange information from auto ID cards and drivers’ licenses. If you have a camera or a smart phone, take a picture of the driver’s license and auto ID card of the other person involved in the accident as this will be quick, easy and accurate. Having a good relationship with your insurance agent is key because if you are hurt or panicked after an accident, you know you will have someone to call who can trust to help you.”
No matter how little damage you think has been caused (or how sorry you feel for the other driver), you should always collect the other person’s information. You never know what the actual damage will be once you get your vehicle to the shop (it can be much higher than you initially think) or what physical problems you may develop in the hours or days after the accident.
If the accident caused damage, you will then need to think about taking it to a body shop or mechanic. Although your insurance agent can recommend the ones they normally work with, you are legally able to take it to any body shop you choose. This is another case where it’s beneficial to have a good relationship with a body shop or mechanic you trust. After an accident, you may be facing physical, emotional or financial challenges and the last thing you need is to worry that your body shop or mechanic is taking advantage of you. Throughout our driving years, each of us will probably have a number of times when we will need to utilize the services of a mechanic or body shop. Why not develop the relationship now so that you can continue to strengthen it through the years each time you need these services done?
Other Safety Tips*
–To increase your visibility during the daylight hours, drive with your low-beam headlights illuminated.
–All passengers should be safely secured with their safety belts fastened. Any items that may become dangerous flying projectiles during a crash should be stored in the trunk.
–The driver’s hands should be properly positioned on the steering wheel, keeping in mind that during a crash, the steering column airbag may deploy. (Check your vehicle’s owner manual for proper hand positioning.)
–If you have teen drivers in your family, restrict their driving privileges until you have the opportunity to test their driving skills in an empty, snow packed or icy parking lot. They need to understand that vehicle’s operate differently when roads are slick or snow packed.
–Watch for icy surfaces on bridges and intersections, even when the rest of the road seems to be in good condition.
–Always reduce your speed and increase your following distance when poor road or weather conditions prevail.
–Look farther ahead in traffic. Actions by other drivers will alert you to problems and give you extra seconds to react.
–When changing lanes, avoid cutting in front of trucks, which need more time and distance than passenger vehicles to stop. Hard braking may cause a vehicle to skid.
–Never use cruise control if the roads are wet, slick or snow packed.
–Remember that four-wheel drive helps you to get going quicker, but it won’t help you stop any faster.
–If your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes, apply constant, firm pressure to the pedal when stopping. You may feel or hear a thumping sound when the system is engaged.
–Each vehicle in your family should be equipped with a winter emergency road kit that contains the following:
• Plastic container of abrasive material such as sand or salt. (Use an empty plastic ice cream bucket to store your sand.)
• Small snow shovel and ice scraper
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Winter grade windshield washer solvent
• Empty coffee can filled with candles and matches (mini-furnace)
• Mobile phone, pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family members and emergency services
• First-aid kit
• Non-perishable snacks
• Blankets, thermal sleeping bag, boots, heavy socks, gloves, hat, and scarves
• Jumper cable with safety goggles
• Warning devices (flares or triangles)
• Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
• Large plastic trash bags, newspapers (use as insulation between layers of clothing)
• Red scarf or flag, or folding windshield sun visor that indicates Call Police
*Above safety tips provided by AAA Nebraska
Winter is coming (or is already here) and the adverse weather normally lasts until March or even April in our area. Prepare now so that you are best prepared to drive safely in the winter weather and make sure you know what to do if the worst happens and you do experience an accident. Stay safe!