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Winter ready

State Patrol, local mechanic offer tips to travel safe in the cold

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Jeff Grazier Master Certified Technician checks the condition of brakes on a car recently at Graham Tire in Fort Dodge. Grazier said it is important to have properly working brakes all year long, but especially in the winter.

Is your car ready for winter driving? Are you prepared for winter driving? And in all reality, do you know when you should and when you should not be out traveling?

Winter travel

Before hitting the roads this winter, it is advised to be aware of current and upcoming weather and road conditions and the consequences that come along with traveling in unfavorable weather

“People need to realize the dangers of being out in a snowstorm – especially if they don’t have to be out there,” said Iowa State Patrol Trooper Paul Gardner. “We encourage people to check the forecast and road conditions before they venture out. If they don’t have to travel, please stay home. Use common sense before you put yourself or others at risk.”

In many incidences, Gardner said, these big snowstorms are predicted days out, which should give people plenty of time to adjust their travel plans accordingly.

-Photo courtesy of Iowa State Patrol
This semi was traveling too fast for conditions during a snow storm on I-35 and wound up getting the cab stuck underneath the overpass.

It is the duty of the Iowa State Patrol to answer every call of service to ensure no one gets left stranded in bad weather. But those responding times could be extremely delayed.

“Sometimes the blizzard conditions get so severe we may not be able to get to everyone right away,” said Gardner. “If the county pulls their plows, we can only go where our squad cars can go. Especially when you are dealing with zero visibility and large snow drifts – those conditions will affect our response time.”

Gardner said if someone is out in a blizzard and they get stranded, they need to be prepared to be there for quite some time.

“We have never pulled our troopers off the road, but if they can’t make it, they can’t make it,” he said.

If a patrolman is able to reach someone that is stranded, Gardner said don’t expect to be taken home.

“If we can pick them up we put them in our patrol cars and take them to the nearest, safest place. It could be a truck stop, restaurant or a hotel – but they need to be prepared to be there for several hours if not overnight,” he said.

And if their car happens to be stuck in the ditch – that time could be even longer.

Gardner said they will leave their vehicle in the ditch until tow services are available to make it to them. Oftentimes, that is not until conditions improve.

“Their car may be stuck in the ditch for quite some time as well,” he said.

At that time, it is up to the vehicle owner to have their car towed. If not, that could result in a fine.

“It can sit there for 24 hours. Depending on how large scale the storm is, it can be extended a little bit, but if it is left there, we will come and tow it and it will be processed as an abandoned vehicle and they can be ticketed for that violation,” he said. “They have to pay the tow costs, court costs and extra fines.”

If you must travel, there are several things you can do to avoid accidents and to keep yourself safe.

Allen Johnson, director of the Transportation Technology Center at Iowa Central Community College, said before starting out, be sure to have a full a tank of gas.

“During the winter, if you get much below a half of a tank, you should be filling that tank up,” he said.

Also, before starting out, ensure you can see.

“Clear the snow and ice completely off the glass. Don’t just clear a small spot to see out of,” he said. “Drive with your headlights on – especially in less than ideal conditions – run with headlights on so you can see and other people can see you.”

Slow down

“They need to watch their speed,” said Johnson. “The biggest thing is just to get people to slow down. Take your time.”

Increase following distances

“Don’t get right up on people, because when someone hits their brakes in front of you, you are going to need more space to get that vehicle you are driving to stop in order to avoid what is going on in front of you,” said Johnson. “You want to leave yourself an out if you are driving. If something unforeseen happens, you want to have the ability to stop or maneuver around that obstacle in front of you. Give yourself that space to react.”

Also, do not set your cruise control when the roads are icy or snow covered.

“That is a recipe for disaster if someone sets their cruise and hits an icy spot,” he said.

What do you do if you hit an icy spot?

“If the vehicle begins to slide, you will want to steer into the skid – steer into the slide and you don’t want to brake any harder than you have to,” said Johnson.

Winter car preparation

Your car may seem to be a fine tuned machine. However, as winter weather is now upon us, it is not too late to ensure your vehicle will make it through these next few months.

Jeff Grazier, master certified technician at Graham Tire in Fort Dodge, advises not letting your guard down by assuming everything is fine in the winter months.

“If you start looking at adverse weather, the major thing is you are going to need to be sure you are able to get traction and hope your car works,” he said.

Although cars have evolved over the years, and it may not appear they need as much maintenance of those of even 20 years ago, it is still recommended to have it checked over – not only on a regular maintenance basis, but before you head out in the cold weather.

“With the style of vehicles and types of fluids used today, it’s not as big of a deal as it used to be, but it still needs done,” said Grazier. “There are still several things you need to be aware of and have checked out before cold weather hits.”

Grazier advises taking your car to a professional.

“It is more difficult these days to check your own fluids. With some vehicles, you have to have your own tools to be able to check your own fluid levels,” he said. “Lights, wipers, condition of the battery, tires – everything needs checked. If there is a problem, we will let you know.”

Battery

It never fails. If something is going to go wrong, it will go wrong in the most inopportune times.

“When it is extremely hot or extremely cold – that is when a battery will fail. It’s never in between. It always fails when you need it the most,” Grazier said.

Especially with the electrical load of today’s vehicles.

“Cars have evolved with more electronics. They have loaded that battery down with more and more,” he said.

Grazier said to avoid these issues, take your car in and have the battery checked.

Tires

With icy roads you want to be sure to have the best traction, so it is important to have your tires checked.

“Check the condition of your tires. Do you have the proper inflation? Are they in the correct position? Tires should be rotated. And check for proper tread life. We can check that with a gauge. You don’t even need an appointment,” said Grazier.

Lighting

Does your car have proper lighting?

“You not only need good lighting to help you see in adverse conditions, but so other drivers can see you too,” Grazier said. “Check those front and rear lights.”

Wiper blades

Winter driving brings a lot of snow, slush and mess flying up on the windshield. Are your wiper blades ready for that?

“A lot of people, until they need them don’t check their wiper blades,” said Grazier.

And don’t forget the windshield wiper fluid.

“Check that windshield washer fluid before leaving – and use that special mixture for winter that is available,” he said.

Fluids

All fluid levels – especially antifreeze need to be checked.

“Antifreeze needs to register cold enough – which most of them these days do,” said Grazier. “I can’t remember the last one that hasn’t passed because antifreezes are extended life coolant now and they are pretty much set.”

Brakes

Grazier said it is important to check your brakes before winter driving as well.

“You don’t want brakes to fail when trying to stop,” he said, adding you oftentimes use more brake pressure in snowy conditions.

Belts, hoses, the heat – they also should be checked to ensure they are in good condition. Following your car’s manufacturer routine maintenance list should help your car be ready for winter weather, Grazier said.

But, don’t forget to also be prepared for an emergency.

“You don’t know what is going to happen with the weather,” Grazier said. “Put a kit in your car. Have something to drink, something to keep you warm and maybe an extra battery for your phone.”

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