As a child, there’s nothing like getting a day off from school to play in the snow and enjoy the wonder of winter. However, dealing with winter weather on the roads as an adult is anything but fun.

Deteriorating road conditions, low visibility and frigid temperatures can quickly spell disaster if you aren’t prepared. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 17 percent of all vehicle crashes happen during winter weather conditions. Winter weather makes it more challenging to maneuver a motor vehicle, as most aren’t equipped to handle snow, freezing rain or sleet.

It’s best to avoid driving if you can. However, you may not have that luxury. If you’re required to go to work in all weather conditions or need to take care of an essential task on a snowy day, you want to be prepared for anything during your drive.

Winter Car Care Tips: What Winter Does to Your Vehicle

Wintertime isn’t great for motor vehicles. Outside of the obvious dangers of snow and ice on the roads, low temperatures can affect how your vehicle operates and performs.

Battery Issues

One of the most common problems car owners run into during winter is being unable to start their cars due to dead batteries. While cool temperatures are known for prolonging a battery’s lifespan, cold temperatures can cause a battery to discharge energy faster than heat does.

This is due to the way cold weather affects the chemicals within the battery’s cell. Cold temperatures slow the chemical reactions in the battery, making it difficult to generate a current.

Tire Pressure

Low temperatures can also affect your vehicle’s tire pressure. As the temperature cools, air molecules contract causing a pressure drop. Low tire pressure mixed with slick surfaces on the road can end up in an accidental off-roading venture.

Winter Car Safety: Hazards You Face on the Road

When you take to the streets in winter, you can face a variety of hazards, especially when precipitation is involved. If you want to assemble a winter car survival kit, you need to know what kind of obstacles you could face.

Slick, Snow-Covered Roads

Slick, snow-covered roads are the most widely understood threats to drivers. Many states have invested in infrastructure to combat this problem. 

However, even the most coordinated efforts can’t guarantee your route will be free of ice or snow. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 24 percent of annual weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement.

Special Considerations for Winter Conditions on Rural Roads

It’s doubly important to avoid or carefully approach driving on rural roads in winter weather. Unfortunately, rural roads are disproportionately dangerous due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Narrow lanes
  • Sharp curves
  • Exposed hazards
  • Pavement drop-offs
  • Steep slopes

Ice and snow can exacerbate these problems, so you need to show extreme caution and understand you and your vehicle’s limits.

Dangerously Cold Temperatures

If you live in or are traveling through an area that gets extremely cold, having to spend excess time outside can cause illness or death. If you get stuck, limiting time outside of your vehicle is essential to maintaining warmth.

Downed Powerlines

Small ice buildups can quickly affect powerlines and tree branches. A ½-inch accumulation of ice can add significant weight causing branches and powerlines to sag or collapse. 

Galloping is another issue that powerlines experience when they are coated in ice. The weight of the line causes them to swing, collide and, potentially, break. 

Low-hanging or downed powerlines can pose a threat to drivers at any time of the year. It’s essential to know what to do if your vehicle contacts a downed powerline.

For more information on downed powerline safety, check out this post.

What You Should Always Keep On Hand

You need to consider several factors before creating your emergency kit, such as:

  • The type of vehicle you drive
  • The length of your commute
  • How long it would take for help to arrive if your vehicle gets sidelined

Regardless of the time of the year, here are a few items you should always keep in your vehicle:

  • Cell phone and portable charger
  • A spare tire
  • Jumper cables
  • Jack and tire iron
  • General emergency/first-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Tire gauge

3 Items You Should Include in Your Winter Car Kit

The two best things you can pack to deal with winter weather driving are patience and heightened awareness, as both can help reduce your likelihood of an accident.

Besides those intangibles, here are three other essential winter-specific items you should have in your car:

  1. Warm clothing and a blanket - Having a jacket, pair of gloves, hat, pair of hiking/snow boots and blanket can help you preserve body heat if you’re stuck in the cold for several hours. Having several layers can help you retain heat as the air between each layer works as an insulator.
  2. Water - Dehydration happens fast in the winter and can cause you to lose body heat. So, keep a bottle of water on hand while you’re in the car to stay warm and focused if you get stuck on the road. Remember that in extreme cold, your bottle of water will freeze if left in your car. So be sure to grab fresh water when you head out. 
  3. A portable shovel - If you get caught spinning in the snow, a small shovel can help dig your tires out just enough to give them the traction they need. 

Other excellent items to keep in your vehicle include:

  • A glass window scraper- A scraper makes it easy to quickly clear your windshield in the mornings or after a winter storm.
  • Nonperishable, high-energy foods - Granola bars or dried fruits can give you a boost of energy if you get stuck on the road.
  • Kitty litter or sand - Kitty litter and sand can help give your vehicle’s tires traction to get out of snow. 

Stay Informed on How to Stay Safe

For more electrical safety content, check out our safety pages, review our blog or take us with you on the go with our “Power for Your Life” podcast.