If a winter road trip is in the works and reports of major winter storms have not scared off the idea yet, we have some hard-learned tips. Unlike a summer road trip, winter road trippers have some different challenges. Besides the obvious (snow, rain, sleet and hail), simply not being able to roll down the window or pull off the road to visit some place not on the planned route can add a different dimension to the experience. Still, while the price of fuel is down, there might not be a better time for a winter road trip.
Tune-up and test
To help ensure survival on a winter road trip, take that car to a trusted mechanic for any needed maintenance before heading out on the road. Duh. While with the mechanic, consider maintenance items especially important to you for this winter trip.
Check tread depth on tires, test battery life with a load test designed to see how it will perform in exactly the conditions you are about to experience. A check of that electrical system, which may be used more than normal, is a good idea too. Right now you really don’t care if the AC is a little low on refrigerant.
Be realistic, really
Sure, your 4×4 can take us off road to places where no one has been. But should we? If you have an all-terrain vehicle and a decent amount of experience, there’s nothing quite like being the first vehicle on a snow-packed road.
Days from when you go off road – after daytime highs have melted roads and nighttime lows have re-frozen them – the ride will be bumpy. Right after snowfall? Like driving on air.Check weather and traffic reports, briefly
This was really important ten years ago when GPS-equipped autos did not indicate heavy traffic areas. But now they do; who cares? Someone without one does and a good second-choice is Google maps.
Like other GPS devices, Google maps change the color of roads and highways based on the speed of actual traffic on the road (compared with posted speed) to give an accurate traffic reading at any given time.
Emergency help can be just as close as a call from your smartphone. American Auto Club (AAA) members have 27/7 assistance via Emergency Roadside Service, an included membership benefit. Taking others along on your winter road trip? Ask if they are AAA members or if their parents are; benefits cover you in an emergency when the vehicle you are either driving or riding in becomes disabled.
No AAA? Your auto insurance company or cellphone service provider may also offer roadside assistance too, included in the price. If not, it’s usually an inexpensive, easy option to add on.
Winter survival gear
If you did all of the above, odds are swinging to your favor for surviving that winter road trip. Still, as all good people who live in winter climates can tell you: see someone who works in this weather for an idea of what you need.
Just “making it” from point A to point B during a winter storm is an accomplishment for many travelers. Those who work in that weather have a completely different definition of “accomplishment” and what makes for a good day on the road.
Years ago, I delivered newspapers (printed publications containing news, feature articles, advertisements and correspondence) in big vans that had to be on the road every day. When schools and businesses were closed, power was lost and even the postal/UPS/FedEx workers stayed home, but we worked. We had/did all these things and more to be able to drive during a major winter event.
An emergency car kit will have the basics for survival and can be bought online in a variety of sizes. Beginner 72-hour kits from a number of sellers like Emergency Essentials start at $39.95. Want to be prepared for anything? A Comp II Emergency Kit has a comprehensive set of preparedness items needed to survive for the first three days of a major crisis/world-ending event.
Want professional quality? Add snow chains and know how to use them. Best bet: buy in the summer when lying down on the ground to practice putting them on does not freeze you to the street. Also, try to get that time down to less than five minutes. In the winter, you will appreciate the training.
Some extra weight in the trunk is always a good idea too. In newspaper vans with thousands of publications to weigh them down, this was not an issue. Still, every fall, many who drive in winter climates know a bag of sand or something else of weight in the trunk can help with traction. Make that sand some bags of kitty litter or salt and getting stuck is not the end of the road trip, just another adventure along the way.
[Photo credit- Flickr user D. Bjorn, Catchin’ Up]