Winter driving safety for POVs

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeromy Kapp
  • 51st Logistics Readiness Squadron Vehicle Management
Service members utilize government and personal vehicles to fulfill daily functions and as a result we must safeguard vehicles from the elements, particularly during winter.

Those of us that grew up in areas with four seasons and a cold climate can attest that there is a need to prepare your vehicle and yourself for winter driving conditions, however someone from Florida, Hawaii, or any other warm climate has not likely experienced driving in sleet, snow or cold weather.

Prior to driving in winter conditions, it is advisable to practice driving in an empty parking lot during daylight hours until you are confident in your driving skills. Take a minute to review the owner's manual of your vehicle so that you are prepared for any situation that may arise. Know how to use the emergency brakes, know the location of the hazard lights and roadside emergency kit, and check the condition of the spare tire.

Below are additional tips to make your winter traveling as safe as possible:

- Ensure the engine oil, coolant, and windshield washer fluid is at the full mark or the top hash mark of the dipstick. Engine oil keeps the engine lubricated which enhances the life of the vehicle. Coolant needs the proper 50/50 mixture to ensure it doesn't freeze and damage the engine. In the winter, windshield washer fluid is used more frequently, so use quality de-icer fluid.

- Clear the windshield and all affected windows, including the side mirrors, of snow and ice before you operate the wipers. This will prevent damage to the wiper motor. Check to see that your front and rear window defrosters work properly. Headlights should not be covered and should provide adequate lighting. Check your wipers and blades of any rot or damage. If you run your fingers along the wiper come up with black residue, it's time to change the wipers.

- When the temperature drops, so does battery power. During cold weather, a hybrid-electric vehicle's driving range is reduced. To reduce the likelihood of battery problems, make sure all lights and accessories are off. Keep an eye on the voltmeter or battery trouble light. Short trips may not provide the necessary charge for the battery - additional running time may be required to keep the battery charged.

- Check tire pressure and make sure each tire is filled to the vehicle manufacturer's recommended inflation pressure, which is listed in your owner's manual and on a placard located on the driver's side door frame or rear edge of the driver's door. The tire pressure drops when the temperature does, causing uneven wearing. Tire rubber starts to degrade after several years, and older tires may need to be replaced even if they have not seen much wear. Tread should be at least 1/16 of an inch or greater on all tires, including the spare.

- A byproduct of winter weather is traffic. It is best to plan out your route accordingly and adjust for extra time. Keep items in your vehicle such as an ice scraper, jumper cables, emergency kit, and spare food. Also, keep your fuel tank close to full. You might need more fuel than you anticipated to get to your destination or to keep warm, especially if you get stuck in a traffic jam or snow. Increase your following distance enough so that you'll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you. Apply firm, continuous pressure if you have antilock brakes. Pump the brakes gently if you don't. Stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go if you find yourself in a skid. This steering maneuver may require additional counter-steering before you can regain full control of the vehicle. Continue to stay off the pedals until you are able to regain control.

Preparing yourself for winter driving is critical to ensuring the safety of yourself and others. If at any time you feel the conditions are questionable, the safest way to prevent an accident is to not drive at all.