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Surviving your first or 21st Colorado winter
Winter driving in Colorado presents unique challenges. Cars require special maintenance prior to the cold and snow; drivers need to brush up on winter driving techniques and all cars should be equipped with a "winter driving kit."

Whether this is your first or your 21st year in Colorado, here are maintenance, driving and other tips for surviving a Colorado winter.

Winter-proof your car: Wet, cold, icy weather stresses your vehicle's mechanical system and impairs the engine's operating efficiency. However, some preparation before winter weather hits can protect both car and driver. Have a qualified auto technician perform a thorough check of your electrical system, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heating and cooling system, and windshield wipers. Make any repairs or replacements well before bad weather hits. Replace summer windshield washer fluid with no freeze/ice melting washer fluid.

Brush Up on Your Winter Driving Skills

Here are a few pointers on dealing with common winter driving situations.

Driving on the Highway After a Snowfall

  • Keep your speed down and headlights on low beam.
  • Do not use cruise control in wet, icy, snowy conditions.
  • Choose the lane that was most recently cleared. Avoid changing lanes to minimize your risk of losing control when driving over built-up snow between lanes.
  • On an icy road, allow the greatest margin of safety by focusing your attention as far ahead as possible (at least 20 to 30 seconds).
  • Be aware of snow removal equipment on the road and plan in advance to move to accommodate it.

Your Car is Stuck in Mud or Snow

  • Increase traction by spreading mats, sand, salt or abrasive material such as cat litter in front of and in back of the drive wheels.
  • Rock the vehicle out of the rut by starting slowly in low gear. Use second gear for manual transmission vehicles. Release the accelerator to permit the car to roll back when the car will not go forward any farther. When the vehicle stops its backward motion, apply minimum pressure on the accelerator again.
  • When using devices under the wheels for additional traction, or when wheels are digging into dirt or gravel and you are getting a push, do not let anyone stand too close to the drive wheels.

You are in a Rear-Wheel Skid

  • Continue to look at your path of travel down the road and steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
  • Take your foot off the brake and ease off the gas pedal if the rear wheels lose traction due to hard acceleration (rear-wheel drive).
  • Continue to steer in the opposite direction to avoid a rear-wheel skid.
  • As the vehicle straightens out, shift to the gear appropriate to your driving speed and accelerate gently.

You are in a Front-Wheel Skid

  • Continue to look where you want to go.
  • Take your foot off the brake and ease your foot off the accelerator.
  • If the front wheels have turned prior to the loss of traction, don't move the steering wheel.
  • As soon as traction returns, you will be able to steer the vehicle again. Steer gently in the direction you desire to travel and accelerate smoothly to a safe speed.

You Must Drive Up an Icy Hill

  • Remain far enough behind the vehicle immediately ahead so you can slow down, stop, or maneuver around obstacles. The stopping distance required on ice at 0F is twice the amount required at 32F.
  • As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down the hill as slowly as possible.
  • Minimize your use of brakes, but if you must slow the vehicle, gently squeeze the brakes to avoid locking the wheels and skidding.

Make up a Winter Driving Kit

AAA Colorado suggests the following items to carry in the car during the winter driving season, along with why they may be needed and how to use them:
  • Flashlight with extra batteries. During winter's shorter daylight hours, it is likely a car will be disabled at dusk or in the dark.
  • Flares or reflective triangles. During periods of heavy snow, or slick conditions, it is good to be very visible and give other drivers ample time to see the disabled vehicle and slow down.
  • Jumper cables. A battery is 35% weaker at 32 degrees than in warmer weather. At zero degrees, a car's battery loses approximately 60% of its strength. Below zero it won't take a charge at all )
  • Cell phone / with extra batteries. If a car cannot start, it is unlikely that a cell phone charger will work.
  • General First Aid kit.
  • Rags or paper towels.
  • Rolls of quarters, dimes and nickels. If a cell phone has no charge, it may be necessary to use a pay phone.
  • Gallon jug of water. Even in the cold, a person can become dehydrated.
  • Non-perishable food items. Power bars are an excellent choice as they are small and nutritious.
  • Blanket and extra set of clothes. First, extra clothes can be layered for more warmth. Second, if you have to shovel snow - changing into warm dry clothes afterward can help prevent hypothermia.
  • Winter formula window washer solvent. Be sure to get fluid rated for temperatures below freezing, and that can melt ice.
  • Non-clumping kitty litter or coarse sand. This is recommended for several reasons. First, rear-wheel drive vehicles (or pickup trucks) need extra weight in the back of the vehicle to improve traction on ice and snow. Second, if a car is stuck in snow, kitty litter or coarse sand can be sprinkled in front of and behind the drive tires for extra traction.
  • Ice-scraper, snow brush and snow shovel. Splurge here and get a long-handled ice-scraper with a snow brush attached so you can easily reach all portions of the car. Use the snow brush to remove the loose snow and don't forget to remove it from head and tail lights.
  • Tire chains. Many Colorado roads close to all traffic without snow chains. Know which roads you will have to travel and be prepared.
  • Extra car fuses.

Other tips for safe winter traveling

  • Don't ever pour hot water on a windshield. The temperature difference can cause the windshield to shatter.
  • Know a safe snow route. If the normal route you travel to work and errands is hilly, lightly traveled, or lacks safe places where you could wait out a storm, think about a using a different route.
  • If a vehicle must be abandoned temporarily on the side of the road, tie a brightly colored cloth to the car's antenna, so it can be found if it should become buried in snow.
Driving in icy and snowy conditions can be very challenging. Prepare your vehicle and review your driving skillsso you are up to the challenge and arrive at your destination safely. Related Links:

  • Repair & Maintenance
  • Approved Auto Repair Facilities


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