FORT LEE, Va. – The Garrison Safety Office encourages community members to prepare their vehicles for snow and frosty temperatures. Vehicles that have not been properly maintained or are missing the ever-important emergency roadside kit could leave drivers stuck, literally, out in the cold.
“I think it’s safe to say that nobody wants to be stranded by a vehicle breakdown and unable to handle the situation during adverse weather,” observed Timothy Lawrence, GSO director. “Properly readying vehicles for winter driving is essential for the safety of all passengers and will greatly decrease the chances of motorists being not only stranded, but also unprepared for a roadside emergency.”
The American Automobile Association recently reported the most-common calls received by its Emergency Roadside Assistance service during winter months were from motorists seeking help with dead batteries, frozen radiators or improperly inflated tires – all of which can be aggravated by a sudden cold snap.
As a breakdown prevention measure, the AAA has published a simple checklist to help motorists understand the full extent of their vehicle’s winter maintenance needs. Many of the items on the list can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, but others should be performed by a certified technician.
Any winter car-care checklist should include the following:
• Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. Make sure the battery terminals and cable ends are free from corrosion, and the connections are tight.
• Check tire inflation pressure more frequently in fall and winter. As the temperature drops, so will tire pressures – typically by one PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker typically located on the driver’s side doorjamb. Don’t forget the spare while performing this step.
• Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread. Uneven tire wear can indicate alignment, wheel balance or suspension problems that must be addressed to prevent further tire damage. All-season tires work well in light-to-moderate snow conditions, provided they have adequate tread depth.
• Check the coolant level in the overflow tank when the engine is cold. If the level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. Individuals can check the existing antifreeze protection level with a tester available at most auto parts stores.
• Wiper blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots. Consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup that may prevent good contact between the blade and the glass.
• Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that contains antifreeze components to prevent freezing.
• Inspect the underside of accessory drive belts for cracks or fraying. Many newer multi-rib “serpentine” belts are made of materials that do not show obvious signs of wear; replace these belts at 60,000-mile intervals or as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
• Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or feel spongy
• Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs so you can see and be seen in dark or winter weather conditions.
Now also is a great time to assemble an emergency kit equipped for winter weather. It should be kept in your vehicles at all times. On-hand emergency equipment should include the following:
• Ice scraper with brush; never drive with frost-covered windows or snow buildup on vehicles, which can cause visibility problems and pose a hazard to other motorists
• Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats; a snow shovel; and a tow strap rated for the weight of your vehicle
• Jumper cables
• Warning devices (flares or reflective triangles)
• Snow boots
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Window washer solvent – winter formulation with antifreeze components
• Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
• Drinking water
• First-aid kit
• Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers
• Blanket or sleeping bag
• Extra warm clothing (coat, gloves, hats, scarves)
Finally, when heading out on the road for a day of shopping, a family trip or any other prolonged outing, ensure your mobile phone is fully charged and pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services. Don’t forget the car charger to refresh the battery as needed.
With a little preparation, motorists can reduce their anxiety level and perhaps save themselves time and money when dealing with the oncoming winter months. Keep in mind also that there are people in our community who may not have ever driven in winter weather conditions because of their age or previous geographic location. Parents and community leaders should talk to these individuals and encourage them to review the defensive driving information found at sites like nsc.org (National Safety Council). A downloadable winter driving tip sheet is available at www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/documents/winter-driving-tips.pdf.