Over the river and through the woods? It’s just a typical Sunday drive in the Pacific Northwest. But as winter approaches, that easy road trip you’ve been doing for years — or maybe for the first time — can quickly turn dicey. We have some tips that will help you stay safe on the way to meet up with family and friends to celebrate the holidays. These are all tips you’ve probably heard from your dad, but take them from a new dad: you can never be too prepared.
Know before you go
Whether you’re heading through town or through one of Oregon’s various mountain passes, it’s always better to know what’s ahead than blindly heading into a huge pileup or winter storm. Fortunately, the Oregon Department of Transportation runs one of the best websites for checking traffic conditions. If you’re taking a road trip to visit family this holiday season, do yourself a favor and give TripCheck a quick glance before leaving the house and each time you get back in the car. Washington and California also have websites to check the conditions.
Carry chains or use traction tires
Those flashing bright orange signs on the highways leading into the mountains aren’t just notices. You must wear chains and use them if your car does not have snow tires. It’s the law, and in Oregon, for some reason, lack of preparation seems to be a popular topic lately on roads such as Highway 26 on Mount Hood. Do everyone a favor, especially yourself and your family, and stop by your local tire store, auto parts store, Bi-Mart, Frederic Meyer, and just about any other big box store you can think of to buy a set. They cost around $120 on average and only take 10-15 minutes to install. Make sure when you lay them out that there is no twist in the side chain before carefully placing them on your tires. Make sure the ties are facing outward and try to keep them from moving under the tire as you roll forward to put them in place before tightening them in place. Finding a good place to put chains can be tricky, but please, for the love of all that is good in this world, please don’t stop in the middle of the road or on a truck ramp in leak to install. Be sure to keep a pair of work gloves with your kit, as attempting to put on metal chains in cold weather can do a number on your hands. Having chains in your trunk this winter could be the difference between getting stuck for hours and getting to Grandma’s on time. Or even protect you and your family from harm.
“Kick in the Tires”
Having enough air in your tires is crucial to maintaining optimum safety when driving in winter weather. On most vehicles, you can check how many pounds per square inch (PSI) your car is asking for on the sticker on the inside of the driver’s door jamb or on the underside of the door itself. Most gas stations carry pocket tire pressure gauges. If you need air, that same gas station probably has a compressor you can use for a few quarters. Checking a battery is a little trickier. Unless you have a multimeter– and even then, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be confusing and slightly dangerous – you’ll have to seek help from your friendly neighborhood auto parts store. Almost any auto parts franchise will help you check that your battery is working at full capacity. This is especially important during the winter months, as the cold can hasten cell death inside your battery and reduce the number of cranking amps delivered to your starter, which starts your vehicle. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere in freezing weather without being able to restart your car. Taking this step and having your battery checked can save you a huge headache later on.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
Packing an emergency kit might seem like overkill, but it can go a long way when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with no traffic to report. Flares or emergency triangle, jumper cables, essential tools (such as several types of screwdrivers, pliers, metric socket set and ratchet, a few wrenches, tape, and work gloves) and a first aid kit are key items to carry with you at all times. A shovel for spillage is always handy, and a small sandbag for gravel in icy conditions can be a lifesaver. You can find all of these items at your local hardware or auto parts store for less than about $60. Keeping your AAA membership or your car manufacturer’s built-in roadside service up to date is also a helpful tip when it’s cold and wet. Taking these precautions should give you some peace of mind when you set out on your winter adventures.
Keep a thick coat in your car
You never know when you might need to get out, either to get a reception or to seek help. If you’re down somewhere with no service, you might be stuck waiting with no heat until you can flag someone down or walking until you get service. This wait or this walk will be much more comfortable if you have a good jacket hidden somewhere. Maybe an old ski or snowboard jacket you forgot in the back of your closet can find a new home in your car.
Drive slow, mate
No need to pump your brakes – your car probably has an anti-lock braking system (ABS) if you fall into a slide. But you should seriously slow down if there is snow or ice on the road. Keep an eye on your car’s digital thermometer; If it’s raining and the temperatures are flirting with 32 degrees Fahrenheit, let off the gas a little and adopt a leisurely pace. Even if you’re in a rush, keeping you and your family safe on the way to your destination should take priority. Put the phone down, let your passenger choose the wrong holiday music, and keep an eye on your speed and on the road.