Winter Driving: Expected Snow Storm Signals Need For Caution

Bemidji Pioneer

Plan ahead, announce destination, departure and expected arrival times and carry a Minnesota winter survival kit.

Those are some of the tips Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp has offered as Minnesota awaits an expected snowstorm the Christmas holiday.

“They’re saying it’s going to cover most of the state with up to half a foot of snow,” Hodapp said.

People should wear warm clothes and equip the vehicle with energy food such as candy or granola bars. He said at one time people carried a roll of toilet paper in a coffee can and rubbing alcohol to soak the roll as fuel. But propane heaters are available and even a candle in a can provides significant heat in a car. However, it’s important to keep a window cracked so the flame doesn’t use up the oxygen in the vehicle, Hodapp said.

If the car goes in the ditch, he said it’s necessary to make sure the tailpipe is free of snow to prevent carbon monoxide from building up in the vehicle.

A shovel, warm blanket, road flares and flashlights that work are also part of the survival kit. And Hodapp warned people not to take for granted that their cell phones will allow them to call for help. They might go off the road in an area with no cell phone reception.
In addition, Hodapp listed the following precautions:

  • Get a tune-up.
  • Check battery.
  • Check coolant.
  • Check Wipers.
  • Keep gas tank close to full.
  • Keep washer fluid full and carry an extra gallon.
  • Sand bags.
  • Block heater.
  • Snow tires.

Drive slowly, anticipate, plan, drive defensively.

Decrease speed and leave plenty of room to stop, at least three times more space than usual behind the car in front of you.

Brake gently to avoid skidding. If wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

Keep your lights and windshield clean.

Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.

Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your wheels skid, take foot off the accelerator, steer in the direction the front wheels should go. If rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.

If rear wheels start sliding the other way, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.

If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid, take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.

As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck, don’t spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.

Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.

Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.

Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.

Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.

Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Other necessary equipment includes:

  • Jumper cables.
  • Tow and tire chains.
  • Bag of salt or cat litter.
  • Tool kit.
  • Reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth.
  • Compass.
  • First aid kit.
  • Ice scraper and snow brush.
  • Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container.
  • Scissors and string/cord.

If you become stranded, do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.

If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.


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