Across the river and through the forest? That’s just a typical Sunday drive in the Pacific Northwest. But as winter approaches, that simple road trip you’ve been taking for years — or maybe for the first time — can quickly become precarious. We have some tips that will help you travel safely to meet family and friends to celebrate the holidays. That’s all advice you’ve probably heard your dad say before, but take it from a new dad: you can never be too prepared.
Know before you go
Whether you’re driving through town or across one of Oregon’s various mountain passes, it’s always better to know what lies ahead than to run blindly into a violent traffic jam or winter storm. Fortunately, the Oregon Department of Transportation maintains one of the best websites for checking traffic conditions. If you’re traveling to visit family this holiday season, do yourself a favor and give something TripCheck a quick look before you leave the house and every time you get back in the car. Washington and California also have websites where you can check the terms.
Wear chains or use traction tires
Those bright orange flashing signs on the highways leading up into the mountains aren’t just clues. You must wear and use chains if your car doesn’t have one winter tyres. It’s the law, and in Oregon, for whatever reason, poor preparation seems to be a problem hot topic lately on roads like Highway 26 over Mount Hood. Do everyone a favor – especially yourself and your family – and visit your local tire dealer, auto parts store, bi mart, Fred Mayer, and pretty much every other major store you can think of to pick up a set. They average around $120 and just last 10-15 minutes to install. When laying it out, be careful not to twist the side chain before carefully laying it over your tires. Make sure the fasteners are facing out and try to prevent them from moving under the tire as you roll forward to set them in place before tightening. Finding a good place to chain up can be difficult, but please, for the love of all that is good in this world, please do not stop in the middle of the road or at a runaway truck ramp to get around to install them. Be sure to keep a pair of work gloves with your gear, as trying to put on metal chains in cold weather can damage your hands. Having chains in the trunk this winter could mean the difference between being stuck for hours and getting to Grandma’s on time. Or even protect you and your family from harm.
“Kick the Hoops”
Sufficient air in the tires is crucial for maintaining optimal safety when driving in winter weather. On most vehicles, you can check how many pounds per square inch (PSI) your car charges by looking at the sticker on the inside of the driver’s door jamb or on the underside of the door itself. Most gas stations carry Pocket-sized tire gauge. If you need some air, the same gas station likely has an air compressor you can use for a few quarters. Checking a battery is a little trickier. Unless you have one multimeter— and even if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be confusing and slightly dangerous — you’ll need to enlist the help of your friendly neighborhood auto parts store. Almost every auto parts franchise will help you check if your battery is working at full capacity. This is especially important during the winter months, as the cold can accelerate cell death in your battery and reduce the number of cranking amps delivered to your starter motor – which powers your vehicle. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere in sub-zero temperatures without being able to restart your car. Taking this step and getting your battery checked can save you a massive headache later.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
Packing an emergency kit might seem like overkill, but it can go a long way when you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with no traffic to stop. Road flares or an emergency triangle, jumper cables, essential tools (like several types of screwdrivers, pliers, a set of metric sockets and a ratchet, a couple of wrenches, tape, and work gloves), and a first-aid kit are important items to keep with you can carry themselves. A shovel is always handy when it needs to tip properly, and a small sandbag for grit in freezing conditions can be a lifesaver. You can find all of these items at your local hardware store or auto parts store for less than $60 or so. Keep your AAA membership or your automaker’s built-in roadside assistance up to date when it’s cold and wet. Taking these precautions should give you peace of mind as you set out on your winter adventures.
Keep a thick coat in your car
You never know when you might need to walk a path, either to get some signal or to signal for help. If you break down somewhere with no service, you may have to wait with no heat until you can flag someone down, or leave until you have service. Waiting or walking becomes much more comfortable when you have a good jacket stowed away somewhere. Maybe an old ski or snowboard coat you left in the back of your closet will find a new home in your car.
Drive slow, homie
No need to brake – your car probably has anti-lock braking system (ABS) if you start to skid. However, if there is snow or ice on the road, you should seriously slow down. Keep an eye on the digital thermometer in your car; When it’s wet and temperatures are flirting with the 32-degree Fahrenheit mark, ease off the gas a little and cruise at a leisurely pace. Even if you are in a hurry, the safety of you and your family should be the priority as you travel to your destination. Hang up the phone, let your passenger choose the bad holiday music, and keep an eye on your speed and the road ahead.