Vehicle Safety Checklist: Prepping for Winter Road Trips

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Winter is here, and this winter, drivers in all parts of the county have seen a big drop in temps. If you haven’t readied your vehicle for winter driving, there’s no time like the present to do it.

Vehicle Safety

With discounts for winter tires still available, let’s get you started with a checklist to help you better navigate wintertime driving. 

Readying Your Vehicle for Winter Driving

The Rocky Mountains are now snow-capped, and ski season has begun. Snow is inevitable, and ice even more so. The first step to ensuring a safe winter car as you brave the icy and snowy roads is making sure you have good quality tires on your car. 

Many tire companies are offering seasonal discounts on snow and all-weather tires, so if you need a replacement, it’s best to buy sooner rather than later. 

There are two main ways to go when looking for winter tires: 

  • All-weather tires: If you live in a snowy climate and don’t want to buy multiple sets of tires, these year-round tires are a great option. You can get a set and not change them out each season. These will have enough grip to work in the snow, but not too much that summer driving is affected.
  • Snow tires: Winter tires may be best for your vehicle if you live in snowy conditions that your region sees more commonly year-round. Another example would be if you have a sports car or a customized car with nice performance tires. You’ll want to switch those to snow tires in the winter.

A couple of things to consider: If you are looking for more traction, go for the snow tires. These are ideal for winter driving, but they do come at a bit of a cost and hassle. 

For snow tires, you will need to either buy two sets of wheels (one for summer tires, one for winter tires) or have the tires manually replaced on your existing set of wheels each season. This manual replacement requires recalibration of the tires, so it’s more complicated than having two separate sets of wheels.

If you are looking for the most affordable solution requiring the least amount of hassle, and you have relatively mild winter conditions, getting good all-weather tires will work for most winter driving.

Checking Your Insurance for Winter Driving Coverage

Before heading out for any in-town or cross-country trip, make sure you have your car insurance current and easily accessible in your glove compartment. This is a good time to check your policy and make sure you’re getting good coverage at a good price. 

With winter driving, you are at higher risk of an accident with weather-related conditions, so make sure you are prepared with good car insurance in case you have any accidents this winter. If you have a new car you are still paying off, you may need GAP coverage to make sure an unfortunate accident doesn’t wipe out your finances.

Recommended Winter-Driving Road Trip Gear 

On top of your all-season weekender road trip gear, you should also add some winter gear. 

Here is a great list of gear to carry in your car in the winter to make sure you are prepared for anything: 

  • A heavy-duty shovel: This is for the very practical application of digging out of a parking spot when you get snowed in or for digging yourself out of a ditch. 
  • Ice scrapers: Equip yourself with some new ice scrapers if yours are looking battered. Get the ones with a flat, plastic profile with the sharp metal strip on the end. These are cheap, simple, and they do the job well. 
  • Proper winter clothing: This one is self-explanatory, but definitely a must if you get caught in a storm or your car won’t start in the cold.
  • A blanket or two: These come in handy if you’re stranded in a storm, but they are also great for keeping you warm while your car warms up.
  • Automatic start: Speaking of warming up your car on a cold day, this is a luxury, not a necessity. But if you want to get one installed, it’s actually pretty simple to do. 
  • Granola bars and other non-perishable snacks: Make sure to keep some food in your car in case you get stranded in a storm and need to stave off the hunger bug.  
  • Cash: Hide some cash in your car in case you need to get gas, food, or water in an emergency.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries: Keep a couple of flashlights in your car and replace the batteries regularly with use. As the sun continuously sets earlier and earlier, you never know when you’ll need one.
  • Jumper cables: Cold temperatures mean your battery may die easier than in the summer, so be prepared to jumpstart your car if needed. 
  • Tire pressure gauge: The tire pressure in your tires will likely drop as the temperatures fall, so if your tire light comes on, check your tire pressure and be prepared to pump them up with fresh air.

This comprehensive list will get you started and set you up for every possible scenario you may encounter while driving in the winter. Just like the outdoorsy folks who prepare gear for winter backpacking, any winter traveler should take the time to collect the necessary gear. 

It is better to be over-prepared and have a few extra things in your trunk this winter than to be missing your shovel when you’re snowed in with two feet of snow. If you want to save money on your adventure, just follow the advice on how to make your trips affordable.

Maintain Safe Following Distances and Drive Cautiously

Every winter, it seems people forget how to drive in the snow and ice. It takes a few days of bad weather to get people off their dry-road habits of stopping too quickly and following too closely. Ensure you use vehicle safety in your winter driving habits this year. 

Naturally, remember to give people extra space and not follow too closely as you drive in snowy or icy conditions. Accelerate and decelerate at a slower pace than you normally would while driving in other seasons. Remember what your anti-locking brakes feel like when slowing down on ice. 

Finally, if you live in a place where the temperature drops below zero, then make sure you are running your car regularly in the cold. Your battery is more likely to drain if your car goes unused in the cold for extended periods.

Author Bio:

Luke Williams writes and researches for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org. He is an insurance expert whose passions include teaching drivers safe habits.