Winter can hardly be anybody’s favorite time of year for driving. Yep, those long months of snow, ice and freezing rain, poor visibility and slippery roads, scraping the windows and dealing with dead batteries. Never mind all the shoveling, snow blowing and snow plowing. What a good time!
Yet we Mainers do it year after year and seem to survive just fine, albeit with a fair amount of griping along the way from November to April. But what the heck else are you going to do for six months if you don’t get out on the road and head for the ski resorts, the cross-country ski centers, and the hiking trails of the mountains and coast?!
There are a few things you and I can do to make our life a little easier when it comes to nasty winter driving, some easy maintenance tips for the car or truck, as well as some driving tips that can increase our level of safety and comfort on the road.
For this advice I went right to the source of good information on the topic, the nice folks at AAA Northern New England and Pat Moody, public affairs director.
“Our most common calls in winter are for a dead battery,” said Moody. “So have your battery tested to make sure it’s up for the challenge of winter.”
A good battery will last anywhere from 3 to 5 years. Next time you’re in for service, have your mechanic check it over and test it. Keep the terminals corrosion free by using a wire brush or a commercial solution for the job.
Added Moody, “Be sure your battery is clamped down and secure.”
Slippery roads are no match for worn tires, so make sure you’ve got adequate tread on them. To test, insert a quarter in the tread, which should go to at least Washington’s hairline. Using a penny you should get to the roof of the Washington Monument.
For the best safety handling and maximum fuel efficiency, always maintain your tires at the proper tire pressure.
“That number is listed in the owner’s manual and on the door jamb of the vehicle,” Moody noted.
Check your cooling system to ascertain that you have the proper level of coolant and that what’s in there is still good. You can buy an inexpensive coolant tester at your auto parts store, but better is to have your mechanic take a look at it. A regular coolant flush is good insurance.
For the best type of coolant for your car and the proper amount, Moody again recommends checking your owner’s manual, which has the specs particular to your car or truck. (You notice a trend here?!).
All of the suggestions noted above are in addition to regular oil changes and tune-ups.
Moody suggests carrying a “winter driving kit” in your car, an organized package of handy safety goods you can buy from AAA, any auto parts outfit and even Walmart. You can even assemble your own.
Some of the important items in any such kit include: Cell phone and car charger, bucket of sand and a shovel (kitty litter will also work), snow brush and ice scraper, flashlight, washer fluid, extra warm clothing and blankets, jumper cables, safety triangles and flares, prescription medicines and food (think granola bars and such).
Finally, Moody recommends adjusting your driving to suit the road conditions.
“You’re the #1 factor out there,” Moody said. “Change and adjust for safety.”
Make smooth changes in speed and direction. Look further down the road to assess conditions. Slow down and leave more following distance between you and the car in front of you.
“At least 6 to 8 seconds is needed to have enough time to react,” cautioned Moody.
As for hand placement on the steering wheel, the old rule of thumb was at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. The new recommendation is called “low hand steering,” where your hands are placed at the 9 and 3 position or even 8 and 4.
“You’re less likely to over-steer when your hands are lower on the wheel,” said Moody. “Your steering will be smoother and you’re less likely to cross your hands in front of the air bag.”
Lastly, clean the snow off your car (a big pet peeve of this driver), the windshield, the windows and mirrors, and yes, the roof too!
AAA produces the outstanding publication “How to Go on Ice and Snow,” which provides more advice and techniques for safe winter driving.
Thanks to Pat Moody and all the great folks at AAA Northern New England for all the great information. Safe driving everyone! Have fun out there on the slopes and trails!