Winter Driving Tips

Winter is here and now a beautiful blanket of snow is covering the mountaintops of Northern New Mexico. It’s a time to make sure your woodpile is stocked and your house is checked for any drafts or other leaks. But if you are like most New Mexicans, little or no preparation goes into the transition to winter weather driving, which can put you at risk.

In 2006, James Kim, Senior Editor at CNET, was driving back from Thanksgiving in Seattle to San Francisco with his wife and family and took several wrong turns when exiting Interstate 5 on his way to the Pacific coast. They bottomed out in a heavy snowstorm 11 miles down a remote logging road. They ran out of food and then the gasoline that was keeping them warm. With just a pair of tennis shoes and a light jacket, James ventured out to find help. Tragically, James died of hypothermia in his attempt. Thankfully, his family was discovered by a rescue team and they all survived.

James’ story is a worst-case scenario of what can go wrong, but there is much you can do to make this winter safe and comfortable for you and your family. Let’s take a look at the good ideas for winter driving prep.

During the scheduled maintenance of your vehicle closest to winter, make sure your mechanic checks the condition of the battery and the heating system. Also, have them make sure the tires are in good condition, inflated to the correct tire pressure. Driving around in underinflated tires provides less control of your vehicle.
Keep at least a half a tank of gasoline in your car, needed to not just keep the cabin warm by running the engine in case you get stuck (even for a couple of hours), but more importantly to keep the fuel lines from freezing. At -5° you may have difficulty starting the car because the fuel is not warm enough.

You know what the best solution for driving in snow? Don’t drive! However, for most people that is not realistic. Here are some basic tips for driving in snow:

  • Drive at least 10 miles an hour below the speed limit
  • If you start drifting, turn your wheels into the direction of the spin
  • Accelerate and brake very slowly
  • Don’t stop! Keep moving and rest the ball of the foot very gently on the brake
  • Make sure you remove snow on the top of the car cab as falling snow can in itself cause an accident
  • Keep plenty of space between you and the car in front of you
  • Wear a seat belt at all times
  • Do not use cruise control

Lee might still be alive if he took the time to let a friend or family member know his itinerary and route. So that is the first and most important step when planning a drive through snowy territory. If for any reason you do get stuck, the first step is to call for help. Cell phones can stop working if they get too cold. Stay in the car and wait for help. Use a bright cloth or object to make the car more visible – such as an item of cloth laid out on the hood. Conserve precious gasoline by turning engine on and off intermittently to heat the cab. Check your tailpipe to make sure it is not clogged from compacted snow. This would cause a deadly backup of dangerous carbon monoxide into the interior of the car.

During the winter months, stock your car with the following care items. Some people just store these items together in a small storage bin kept in the house during the summer months and brought out to the car for the winter:

  • Snacks
  • Blankets
  • Water
  • Essential medicines
  • Extra items of warm clothing for the family

And here’s equipment you should always have on hand in the car:

  • Flares
  • Ice-scraper
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Cell phone charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Shovel

It’s a winter wonderland around Northern New Mexico and fun abounds. Make sure you are prepared for a safe driving winter by following these tips.