Driven to be prepared

When it comes to winter car care, don’t spin your wheels

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2006


  Ken Losser brushes snow from the family's vehicles following a snowfall last winter. Clean windows that have been cleared of snow help motorists stay on the road. Clarion file photo

Ken Losser brushes snow from the family's vehicles following a snowfall last winter. Clean windows that have been cleared of snow help motorists stay on the road.

Clarion file photo

Suppress any thoughts of snow as long as you can. But eventually, you’ll be staring blankly at that first frosted windshield, and heading off to scratch around the tool shed for the ice scraper.

Perhaps that annual exercise can serve as a reminder to focus once again on a few simple rules about winter driving and about being prepared for the harsh realities of slush, snow, ice and interminable darkness.

Here are a few tips from the experts that make a good deal of sense, especially here in the far north.

· Before winter hits, have a mechanic inspect your vehicle from grill to tailgate. Check the battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshield washer fluid (you’ll use a lot), the ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, the exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster and oil level.

· Take a critical look at your tires. If they lack sufficient tread to safely grip the road surface, little else about your car or truck really matters.

· Make sure you have a good ice scraper. Keep an extra pair of gloves in the car.

· Another good practice is to keep at least a half tank of gas during the winter season.

· Plan long trips carefully and pay attention to road alerts. Take along warm clothes. You won’t need them if your heater’s working properly, but if you get stuck somewhere, you’ll be praising your self-reliant Alaska nature as you don a few extra layers. Take some water and munchies, too.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends a winter car kit -- items you should have in your vehicle during the cold season, especially if your trip takes you far from home:

· Flashlights with extra batteries

· A first-aid kit with pocket knife

· Necessary medication

· Blankets

· Sleeping bags

· Newspaper for extra insulation

· Plastic bags (for sanitation)

· Matches

· Extra sets of mittens, socks and wool caps

· Rain gear and extra clothes

· A small sack of sand

· A small shovel

· Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)

· Booster cables

· Tire chains or traction mats

· Cards, games and puzzles

· Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag

· Canned fruit and nuts

· Manual (non-electric) can opener

· Bottled water

So, let’s say many, if not all, the above items are stored somewhere in your vehicle nd you’re caught in a real blizzard. What do you do?

FEMA recommends staying in your car. Don’t go in search of help unless it is visible within 100 yards. The risk of getting lost is real.

Display a trouble sign. Tie that bright cloth to the antenna and raise the hood. Run the engine occasionally to keep warm -- about 10 minutes per hour -- and run the heater. Beware of the danger of carbon monoxide. You can’t smell it. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly.

Clap your hands and wave your arms to keep up circulation. If there is more than one person in the car, take turns sleeping if sleep is necessary.

For more information about surviving being stranded, visit FEMA’s Web site at winter.shtm for their hazards fact sheet on winter driving.

Have you ever locked your keys in the car? It’s worse if you’re standing outside in the freezing wind. Here’s another good tip. Make a copy of your key and keep it in your wallet. Chances are you’ll thank yourself once or twice a year..

Hal Spence can be reached at

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