Monday Medical: Winter vehicle safety tips
December 20, 2010
Hundreds of motorists were stranded for as long as 14 hours in heavy snow and 32-degree weather in western New York earlier this month. If that happened to you, how prepared would you be?
Often simply getting around town in the winter can be treacherous. Just as we prepare for the winter season by gearing up for recreation, we should put the same effort into preparing for transportation. It is paramount for your personal safety and the safety of other road users.
Here are a few tips on how to winterize your car and what you need to carry with you in case you become stuck or stranded.
What are the most important things you should do to make your vehicle safe in the winter? I asked Sean Doran, owner of Doran Auto Repair in Steamboat Springs.
"No. 1 is tires — bar none," he said. "Followed by vision, checking lights, windshield and windshield wipers, and then make sure defrosters — front and rear — are working correctly."
Doran recommends that motorists start the season with a pre-winter vehicle inspection. Think about doing this when you put on your snow tires. An inspection includes checking the heating and cooling system and wipers as well as inspecting brakes, axle seals, hoses, belts, filters and fluids.
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With a heads-up phone call, local shops can do most of these inspections within a day's notice, often free of charge, Doran said.
A vehicle with winter tires can stop up to 50 percent faster than a vehicle with all-season tires. This kind of control can make a difference. The average deductible for car insurance carriers is $500 and can be as much as $5,000. Spending a few hundred dollars on a good set of snow tires could help you avoid the costs involved in an accident, and even save a life.
When it comes to properly maintaining your tires, remember this rhyme: "Inflate, rotate, evaluate."
"Make a habit of periodically checking your tires visually before you get in your car," Doran said. "If you have a tire pressure gage, check once a week, and absolutely before you leave town."
Snow tires are softer by design to give the vehicle better grip on ice and snow. Because they are softer they can wear more easily and therefore should be rotated every 3,000 to 4,000 miles.
Last but definitely not least, evaluate your tread. Colorado law requires a minimum depth of 2/32 of an inch. However, for the driving conditions we encounter in the Rocky Mountains, you should consider replacing tires at 6/32. A simple test will tell you if your tires are in need of replacement; all you need is a penny.
With the penny upside down, place it into several tread grooves across the tire. If part of Lincoln's head is covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32 of an inch of tread depth remaining. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is covered, you have more than 6/32 of tread depth remaining.
What supplies should you have in your car in the winter? I asked Steve Hilley, Yampa Valley Medical Center quality programs coordinator. Hilley has a passion for preparedness, and here's what he recommends.
"You need to prepare to spend time in your car," he said. "You need to make sure you stay warm."
In addition to your cell phone and the essential snow brush/scraper for clearing off your car, Hilley suggests carrying an "emergency winter car kit" with the following items:
■ Extra winter clothes that can fit over your clothes
■ Snow boots
■ Hand/foot warmer packets
■ Blankets and/or sleeping bag
■ Water stored in metal water bottles (so you can heat it)
■ Candles and matches/lighter
■ Nonperishable food
■ Small shovel
■ Flashlights and light sticks
■ First-aid kit
■ Portable radio
■ Duct tape
If you do get stuck or stranded, Hilley recommends:
■ Stay put
■ Periodically run your car for heat, but keep the tail pipe clear to prevent fumes from getting in the vehicle
■ Monitor fuel and car battery
■ Keep a window cracked for proper ventilation
■ Light a candle — it will help create heat and can melt ice
A final bit of advice from me to you: Take the time.
Take the time to check your tires and have a mechanic inspect your car. Take the time to make an emergency kit.
Also, take the time to drive more slowly. When your car is covered in snow, take the time to clear off your entire car — not just the windshield, but all windows, headlights and taillights, the hood and roof. You will see better, and the driver behind you will, too. When planning a trip out of town, check the weather and road conditions, leave earlier or stay home if conditions are not ideal.
With the amount of snow we hope to receive here for another epic ski season, take special care so you get where you want to go safely.
Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.