Checklist for a Winter Road Trip

Submitted by on Thursday 7th October 2010
In this article
  • What to check out on you car before you go.
  • Special considerations for cold weather.
  • Emergency supplies — don’t leave home without them.
Checklist for a Winter Road Trip

So, you’re going to brave the holiday traffic and winter weather? Even with fuel costs up from a couple of years ago, road tripping can be an affordable travel option. But don’t leave your garage without reading — and following — these SharpTravel car safety tips:

Check Out Your Car

Make sure your car is in top shape before you go. Better yet, have a mechanic check your car for the following:

Fluids. Check oil (and don’t forget to change the filter), power steering fluid (might be low if wheel "groans"), windshield washer fluid. (But see next section for windshield wiper fluid information in extreme cold weather.)

Lights. Make sure headlights, brake and signals lights are in good working order.

Paperwork. Don’t let a traffic stop slow you down. If you haven’t already done so, affix your new registration stickers prior to travel. Also check for your driver’s license, registration papers and proof of insurance.

Lost your driver’s license or registration? Most motor vehicle departments can issue on-the-spot replacements. Some offices with digitized processes even include your photo. Lost your insurance materials? Call your agent or issuing company for a faxed duplicate. If necessary, you can even make late payments by phone using a credit card.

Spare tire. Is it in good condition, and do you have the necessary jack?
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Spark plugs. These need to be replaced every 30,000 miles in automobiles that use unleaded gasoline. If you car takes leaded fuel, replace every 15,000 miles.

Tires. Use a gauge to make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure recommended by your car’s owner’s manual. Also check for splits or nails in tires. Ensure that the treads are not dangerously worn.

Windshield wipers. Replace worn blades.

Prepare for Cold Weather

Blanket, just in case. You might also consider taking along some newspaper for extra insulation in extreme conditions.

Chains, if you plan to travel to ski areas or other places where chains are required. If snowy weather looms in the week before your trip, consider packing your chains just in case. Even major highways require chains during some winter conditions.

Defroster. Make sure this is operating correctly before you go.

Heater. Yeah, that better be working. Enough said.
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Sand or other substance to use for traction under wheel in icy conditions.

Shovel. Useful in the snow.

Snacks. Pack a few non-perishable or long-life snacks and a bottle of water for your trip. An energy bar can be a beautiful thing when you’re snowed in and the truck stop vending machines are empty.

Warm clothes, including gloves with a good tread to help you hold tools in inclement weather. If you plan to bring along tire chains, throw in a pair of work gloves. Regular gloves often tear.

Windshield scraper. You need to have one of these if you’re planning to park overnight, or even park for a dinner break in the cold. (Heck, if it’s cold enough, you might need one for a brief gas and bathroom break.) A small broom to sweep off snow will also help. The snow make look festive atop your car, but it can be darn distracting when it starts falling on your windshield while you’re driving on the highway.
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Windshield wiper fluid can freeze in the ducts in extreme cold weather, making your windshield fluid and wiper useless for melting windshield ice. Before heading out, completely drain the windshield fluid and replace with anti-freeze.

Winter tires. In extreme climates, have winter tires installed. At any rate, make sure your tire’s treads aren’t worn.

Prepare for Emergencies

Cell phone. In snow or ice conditions, avoid using the cell phone while driving. Pull over before making a call — it could save your life if you get stuck. Don’t forget to take along emergency phone numbers. When traveling across country or into mountainous terrain for winter sports, check with your service provider to ensure that you’ll have cell coverage. If not, consider purchasing an inexpensive CB radio for emergency use. If nothing else, you’ll make friends with truckers.
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Flares. You’ll need these if you have to change a tire or pull over for any reason.

Flashlight and batteries. These come in handy in any emergency situation.

First aid kit. You can buy these pre-packaged. The essentials include a first aid manual, bandages, blanket, bottled water, and of course, any prescription drugs you are currently taking.

Road condition info. Check it out before you travel. Information on construction and road closures is available on www.aaa.com.

Check also Smart Motorist - winter driving guidelines.

This article last updated on Sunday 12th February 2012
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