The holidays may be over, but winter is here. If you’re planning a winter road trip, the best way to help ensure smooth travels is to plan ahead. Here are the top tips to get ready for a winter road trip and stay safe on winter roads from two Canadian experts:
“The No. 1 thing is vehicle preparation, and No. 1 on the list is dedicated winter tires or all-weather tires,” says Spencer McDonald, an award-winning international consultant and speaker on driver safety, president of Thinking Driver, based in Surrey, B.C.
“Any tire you choose should have the ‘snowflake’ symbol on the side of the tire, which means it has been designed and approved for winter performance – and four winter tires is the proper approach.”
McDonald emphasizes that tires should be inflated correctly, to the specified tire inflation described on the vehicle doorpost – and checked regularly, every couple of months at a minimum.
“A vehicle that is regularly maintained is probably going to be just fine to roll straight into winter in most situations without additional issues,” McDonald says. Plus, maintain a full reservoir of windshield washer fluid and carry additional windshield washer fluid with you, “unless you’re checking it all the time.”
McDonald recommends carrying a winter driving safety kit, with a candle or candles for warmth, water and food. If your vehicle were to break down while out of cell signal range, you’ll also want something with you, like a game, that can help keep your children occupied during what might be a protracted wait for help.
Also a shovel, in case you’ve got to dig yourself out of a snowbank. “A folded shovel is good, and if you need to add traction, buy non-clumping kitty litter. That is a great thing to keep in your trunk. You might also want to have a signalling device, maybe flares or at least a safety triangle to put out if you’re stalled on the side of the road.”
If your vehicle is parked outside and snows before you head out, take the time to clear all the snow off first, including the roof, using a snow brush. Make sure all your lights are cleared as well. “Also, clearing the snow off will prevent snow from blowing off onto the windshield of the car behind you.” If your windshield is frosty, scrape it, as well as all the windows – don’t simply rely on the defroster. “Make sure your vision is clear in all directions.”
As glare from the sun can become a significant issue, “sunglasses in winter become a real safety feature,” McDonald adds.
When you’re on your way, he strongly recommends that drivers look further ahead than normal, to anticipate potential problems, drive to the conditions, and begin braking earlier than in summer, using the brakes more lightly and gently over a longer period of time.
That’s the best way to prevent losing control of the vehicle in a skid, he adds. If you do ever find yourself in a skid, “the rule of thumb is to do everything very gently. “Ease off on whatever you’re doing, look and steer gently in the direction you want the vehicle to go, and do everything as gently as possible.
“Know before you go. If the weather is forecast to be really, really bad, or if it is really, really bad and you can reschedule your travel, do that,” McDonald advises. Even if you are a skilled driver and your vehicle is prepared for the conditions, many others may not be as skilled or prepared, he notes – if there’s an incident, you may end up caught in a traffic jam that could last for hours.
“Regardless of the season, think about what could potentially go wrong and mitigate your risks in advance.”
Thinking Driver offers an online winter driving course – Defensive Driving: Extreme Winter Driving with Skid Recovery eLearning – to help drivers brush up on their skills. Family Fun Canada readers can use the coupon code WIN2020 for a discount off the regular rate. ($48.80, and with the coupon, the price is reduced to $20). Good until Dec 2021.
Lance Hughes, the fleet supervisor with the Alberta Motor Association in Edmonton, also emphasizes the importance of being prepared by taking good care of your vehicle. Make sure your vehicle has been winterized properly. Check all fluids and do regular oil changes – and Hughes suggests using fully synthetic oil, which helps vehicle engines work better in cold weather. All of these preventative steps can help prevent an emergency scenario where you find yourself stranded at the side of the road in the middle of winter.
“Make sure you’ve got really good winter tires,” he says, noting that AMA members receive a discount when purchasing tires at Kal Tire.
If you visit a tire shop, they can tell you what kind of shape your tires are in. Remember to keep your vehicle’s tires properly inflated, which not only makes things safer, it also increases fuel efficiency, Hughes points out.
If your vehicle battery is three years old or more, AMA members can call the AMA, which offers members a free battery test and a network of approved auto repair facilities.
Hughes, too, emphasizes the importance of having an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle, with things like blankets, proper footwear, a collapsible shovel, blankets for everyone, water, something to eat, and a roadside kit with things like booster cables, reflective cone, reflective tape, gloves, multitool and a non-battery operated flashlight.
Cell phone reception becomes very important if a vehicle breaks down in a remote area, so having a fully charged phone and phone charger are key, as is telling a trusted person your travel plans, including your route and when you expect to arrive at your destination, he recommends.
“Be prepared and give yourself the time to get where you need to go.”