Yesterday, I spent seven hours on the road in Iowa. When we left, the weather forecast looked rather clear and we figured the trip would be relatively easy (well, as easy as a four hour car trip with a toddler and an infant will ever be). About an hour into it, we ran into a blizzard – whiteouts and such. At one point, we came upon a semi on its side blocking the road, turned around in the middle of a period of about twenty feed of visibility, and backtracked for a dozen miles or so. Even better, about halfway through the trip, my son got carsick, causing us to stop and clean things out at the nearest gas station.
Several little frugal preparations (no, I’m not going to suggest you go buy a shovel and rock salt, though both can be useful – esp. the rock salt) made this trip much easier, and they are things that anyone driving in potential winter conditions can do to make sure their trip goes as smoothly and safely as possible. If you’re about to go driving through bad conditions, make sure you do the following before you leave.
Charge up all available cell phones before you leave. Even the one you keep in the glove box just so you can dial 911 in a pinch. Get them all charged up, so that you reduce the potential variables that would keep you from being able to call ahead about emergencies and call family and friends to let them know what’s happened with you. The technology is available – use it.
Keep an extra set of clothes or two available to you inside the interior of the vehicle. If you’re in a situation where you have to get out of the automobile for some reason, more layers of clothes are better. Make it as easy as you can for yourself to access these extra clothes.
Take along some extra blankets. If you’re stranded for a while, blankets will allow you to stay warm for much longer than would otherwise be allowed. We spotted several vehicles off the side of the road with windows shattered – in that situation, blankets would be your lifeline.
Pack some high-carb snacks. Granola bars, beef jerky, and the like are brimming with energy that your body can easily process and turn into heat. Keep some along with you for the trip, just in case.
Put something heavy in the trunk of your car if you have rear wheel or all wheel drive. Extra weight adds a bit to the traction that your tires can get with the road. You’ll slightly reduce your gas mileage in exchange for less slipping – a trade that I’d make any day of the week.
Grab your home first aid kit – just in case. Although it can be useful to have a first aid kit for your car, let’s be realistic – most people don’t have one. Instead, grab the one you have at your home and stick it under a seat. If you slide off the road and bust out a window, you’ll likely be very glad you had that first aid kit.
Check two basic things on your car. If you do nothing else, check your hazard lights and check your tires. Turn on your hazard lights and make sure they’re all clearly visible (you can check your headlights and tail lights at the same time). Also, check the tire pressure in each tire and make sure you’re filled to the amount recommended in your car’s manual (not the amount listed on the tire). A properly inflated tire can help with getting through slick spots, it improves your gas mileage.
If you’re ferrying children, have at least a day’s worth of their basic supplies along. Formula, diapers, a change of clothes or two – the last thing you want is to be trapped in a stuck car with a howling child in a makeshift diaper and a lack of formula.
All of these tips will save you valuable time and/or money during winter driving. Some will help you avoid an accident and the rest will be invaluable should you find yourself in a bad place. If you’re going on a winter trip later today, good luck and be prepared.