Winter Driving Tips: How To Prepare for a Winter Road Trip

Car driving on winter roads

While the term “road trip” often makes drivers think of summer travel, many families hit the road in the winter for the holidays. Unfortunately, 17% of all vehicle crashes occur in winter conditions. Keep yourself and others safe on the road by making sure your car is ready for a winter road trip.

Winter Road Trip Car Maintenance

It’s a good idea to always have your car inspected as the seasons change, but especially so in the winter months. Cold temperatures mean your vehicle’s components are forced to work harder than usual, which can make small issues into big problems as parts break down more quickly.

There are some basic preventative maintenance you can do to keep your car working efficiently and safely while on your road trip, including:

Replacing your windshield wipers. Winter visibility is already reduced by low light, snow, mist or rain; don’t let streaky windshield wipers add to the problem. The rubber should fit snugly against the glass without scratching or squeaking.

Getting an oil change. The engine’s oil is responsible for keeping the different components lubricated. It reduces friction and the heat created by driving. When oil is old, it becomes thicker and full of debris — an issue that’s exacerbated by cold weather. Making sure you have new oil will preserve the performance of your engine.

Swapping your tires for winter ones. Winter roads can be icy, slick and dangerous. Winter tires have deeper treads and more flexible rubber to grip roads and increase maneuverability. It’s easy for an auto shop to swap out your all-weather tires for a winter set.

Testing your lights. Winter evenings get dark quickly. Your car’s headlights, brake lights and signal lights are important for preserving visibility and keeping you safe on the road. Walk around your parked car and check to see if all of your lights are working correctly, and replace bulbs if not.

Measuring your tire pressure. Your tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10-degree drop in temperature, and underinflated tires mean poor gas mileage and even higher risk of a crash. Regularly test the tire pressure in cold weather and inflate the tires to the recommended psi, which you can find on the inside of the car door.

Packing an emergency kit. No one wants to get stranded on the side of the road during the winter, but hazardous weather and traffic conditions mean it does happen. Keep yourself safe by packing a winter emergency car kit that includes items like a first aid kit, extra layers of clothing, food and water, a list of emergency contacts, and flares.

Winter Road Trip Safety Basics

There are a few more safety practices that are important to keep in mind once your car is prepped and ready for the road. 

Know where you’re going. Be prepared for any detours or traffic issues on your trip so you aren’t surprised by sudden changes. If the road or weather conditions turn hazardous, don’t risk the trip; instead, wait for things to improve.

Slow down. It’s easy to stress out with the pressure of the holidays, but don’t let impatience make you a reckless driver. Leave early and prepare for delays.

Don’t use cruise control. Cruise control can cause your tires to spin too quickly and increase your risk of skidding or spinning out on icy roads.

Keep your distance. Winter roads make it harder to stop; it can take up to three times the distance on a snowy road and ten times the distance on an icy road to stop as on a road that’s dry. Give yourself space between you and the car ahead of you.

Fill up your gas tank. If you find yourself stranded or delayed, a running car can be the difference between staying warm and needing emergency help. Keep your gas tank at least a quarter to a half full so you don’t run out.

By maintaining your car and practicing safety habits, you can set out on winter roads with the confidence you’ll make it to your destination safely. Make an appointment with a trusted auto shop today to get your car ready for your winter trips.

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