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Tips for a Safe Holiday Road Trip

Tips for a Safe Holiday Road Trip

By Philly Murtha, November 24, 2015

Nowadays, it’s much safer and easier to take a winter holiday road trip than in the past—even if driving through sleet, fog, snow, and on icy highways—with the help of driver-assistance safety technology systems that are featured in many of today’s new cars, trucks, and SUVs. Also, smartphone connectivity to 24-hour roadside assistance is almost always at your fingertips.

However, even with all of the driver safety and connectivity systems that are available on today’s vehicles, it’s a good idea to prepare now for holiday and winter travel—especially if heading to ski/snowboard parks in the West or Canada or trying ice fishing in below-freezing temperatures in the upper Midwest, or if visiting family in the often-snowstruck Northeast.

No matter your destination or type of conveyance, a few pre-trip check points may be helpful:

Visit your car dealer service department or auto mechanic for a maintenance check-up. Ask them to:
  • Check fluids and levels—oil (thinner oil in colder regions), transmission, battery, brake fluids, coolant or antifreeze, and de-icer if you will be traveling in a cold climate.
  • Make sure your windshield wipers work, and that your wiper blades are in good condition. If not, replace them.
  • Fill up window washer fluid to be ready for dirt, salt, snow, and mud. Make sure it has antifreeze if driving in sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Check the working condition of the heater, defrosters, and A/C system.
  • Test the main battery—especially if it is 2 years old in warmer climates and 3 to 4 years old in colder regions.

Tires need special attention:

  • Tires should be inflated to the correct air pressure (psi) to save fuel and provide better ride and handling. Cold temperatures act to lower tire pressure. Newer vehicles have tire-pressure monitors to let you know when to fill.
  • Tires can last for 5 years or even longer with correct air pressure and regular rotation. If you are uncertain about tire age or tread, check out tiremaker Michelin’s handy website guide:
  • Does your vehicle have a spare and is it a temporary or full-size tire? More than half of vehicles built since 2014 are equipped with smaller, lighter temporary spares.
  • Vehicles with run-flat tires don’t have a spare. According to the makers of these specialized tires, you can drive up to 50 miles on a run-flat tire before repair or replacement.
  • Inflator or repair kits with sealants are another option and included on many vehicles, but they only fix a limited number of punctures, according to automakers. Make sure your dealer or service professional explains how to use a kit, just in case.
  • If you travel in mountains or region with major snowfall, pack a set of chains, a shovel, and even a bucket of sand—if in a rural area—to help when stuck in snow or on ice.
  • Snow tires may be a good investment in tundra and ski country.

Battery Up:

  • When the temperature drops, battery power does too. For gasoline-powered vehicles, more fuel is needed to start a vehicle, which depletes battery power.
  • For hybrids and electric vehicles, driving range is lowered due to higher battery power consumption.
  • Don’t forget to always carry jumper cables.

Before you hit the road:

  • Be prepared for storms or unexpected blizzards. Even with smartphones and navigation systems, it’s a good idea to pack the following items: blanket, extra parkas, boots, flashlights, and emergency food items such as energy bars, apples, and a pack of bottled water.
  • Pack the all-important scraper/snowbrush.
  • A first aid kit and flares add extra protection.
  • Check the weather before heading out. Latest weather, GPS, and travel reports can be gleaned on the Web or on smartphone app updates. Download free planner apps from iTunes or
  • Leave your travel plan with a friend or relative in a text or voicemail beforehand.

On the road:

  • Follow simple speed rules for a safe and enjoyable trip. In a rainstorm, reduce speed by 30%; if it’s a snowstorm, cut speed by 50%. Ice requires even more cautious driving.
  • Always leave a car length or more for every 10 miles per hour of speed. In winter conditions, it’s best to leave even more space between vehicles.
  • Don’t drive next to semi-trucks or 18-wheelers.
  • Even with 4-wheel-drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), it’s important to brake ahead of when you think it’s needed. Traction control helps, and so do the new safety systems, but you still need to be the pilot.
  • Don’t use cruise control (even the new adaptive system) on icy roads or wet highways. If there is a loss of traction and skidding, don’t brake but gradually lift your foot up from the accelerator.
  • Long drives can be fatiguing, especially in inclement weather. Make time for rest stops.

Additional Research:

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