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Be prepared for winter driving

By: Drivers.com staff

Date: 2014-01-20

December 21st marks the official start of winter in the northern hemisphere and, if drivers haven't already done so by then, it's time to take stock of the items they should carry in their car to help cope with snow or icy driving conditions.

Take a tip, then, from Canadians, who experience some harsh winter weather, particularly in the north of that country.

The Canadian Automobile Association web site contains a list of equipment that could save lives in the event that drivers are stranded in bad weather. The list distinguishes between items that should be carried in the passenger compartment and those which should be kept in the trunk.

The CAA recommends the following items be kept in the trunk:

The following items should be kept in the passenger compartment:

In the event of being trapped in snowdrifts or a snow bank, the CAA warns drivers not to panic.

"Avoid over-exertion and exposure," the CAA says. "Shoveling and bitter cold can kill. Stay in your car. You won't get lost and you'll have shelter. Keep fresh air in your car. Open a window on the side sheltered from the wind. Run your motor sparingly. Beware of exhaust fumes and the possibility of carbon monoxide. Ensure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow.

"Use the candle for heat instead of the car's heater, if possible. Put on the dome light. Overuse of headlights may run your battery down. Exercise your limbs, hands and feet vigorously. Keep moving and don't fall asleep. Keep watch for traffic or searchers. Wear a hat, because you can lose up to 60% of your body heat through your head."

In a comment to Drivers.com's Driving Forum, Myron, of Colorado (a state admittedly well south of the Canadian border but one subject to heavy snow in the mountains) says that many newcomers to the area feel it necessary to own an SUV to get around in the winter.

"As it turns out, they are the people you see rolled over in the ditch because they don't understand the physics of driving a vehicle with a high center of gravity with excessive body roll and the inability to brake effectively. The combination of these dynamics on slick roads translate to about 80% of the winter driving accidents involving SUVs," Myron says.

"Many people think that 4WD or traction control makes them invincible on the road, but the reality is that the proper winter tires and proper driving attitude make the most difference. Mounting four snow tires, preferably of a winter compound and tread design, makes the most difference.

"I've been able to get around very nicely in a rear-wheel-drive turbo-charged car with lots of torque simply by installing the proper tires and adjusting my driving style to compensate for the slick roads. This means that I upshift to a higher gear the instant the tires begin to spin, to limit torque to the wheels.

"I also allow plenty of time to stop, operating under the assumption that the unexpected may happen and that the street leading up to the intersection is icy and not plowed or sanded.

"Another winter driving tip to keep in mind is to maintain momentum going UP the hill and slow down as one goes DOWN a hill. Studies have shown that when people approach a hill, the tendency is to slow down as they go up. Unfortunately, if one doesn't maintain a reasonable momentum going up the hill, the result is to get stuck on the hill and cause other motorists to get stuck also.

"This becomes a wheel-spinning circus in which there is nothing entertaining´┐Ż unless you're a pedestrian watching the melee."

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