There’s nothing that can ruin a good road trip faster than bad weather, or having mechanical difficulties along the way. But life happens, which is why it’s important to be prepared before ever leaving the house.
Since I lived in Alaska for seven years, where there are L-O-N-G stretches of road where you never see another car, I tend to over pack my car with emergency supplies, even when going to the grocery store. But there are some very basic things you need—from a spare tire, good flashlight and working cellphone—to some things that you’ll thank me for later—like a warm blanket, extra sets of shoes and gloves, extra food and gallons of water, and even kitty litter.
Even if you have an automobile club membership, it may take time for them to get to you, and in some areas of the country, it can get dangerously cold while you wait in the car. While it would be nice to rely on others for help—you have to be able to help yourself.
Getting Ready for Bad Weather
Before you find yourself slipping and sliding through the winter season, or driving a long detour after a road washes away, you can save yourself some trouble by getting your car ready for bad weather. Some things I suggest:
- Fill up the fluids. You can do this, or have your mechanic do it, but you should definitely make sure that your oil, antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid are full—and you might even want to get an oil change while you’re at it. I personally prefer the pre-mixed antifreeze, so that I don’t have to measure, but check your owner’s manual to make sure that you’re using the type of oil and antifreeze that your car requires.
- Check the tires. Are you tires designed for winter weather? In the old days, (yeah, I’m that old), we used to have to switch our tires out every winter, though some people preferred using chains. Nowadays, with all-weather tires available, you usually don’t have to do that—but make sure that your tires have enough tread to give you the traction you need on snowy hills. Bald tires are dangerous in the fall, too, when you’re traveling on wet, leaf-strewn roads, so you may want to make this update earlier in the year.
- Replace your windshield wipers. This is one of the quickest and cheapest things you can do to make your car safer—and isn’t it nice to be able to see where you’re driving? I recommend changing to the more heavy-duty wipers in the winter—if you’re not sure what you need, your local auto parts store can tell you.
What to Carry
No matter what time of year, you should travel with a working flashlight and cellphone, as well as a spare tire. I also carry a car charger for my phone, just in case the battery starts to die. When I think I may hit bad weather, I add:
- Warm blankets: You can never have too many layers when you need to stay warm while waiting for help.
- Extra sets of shoes and gloves: If you’ve ever had to dig out a car, you know how wet and cold your feet can get. I also carry an extra jacket and hat, just in case my outerwear gets soaked.
- Extra food and gallons of water. I know, you’re not driving to Siberia. But remember those people who got stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 20 hours during winter storm Jonas last month? Bet they were wishing that they’d been able to order a pizza.
- Kitty litter. Despite a common misconception, kitty litter doesn’t melt snow. But it does help greatly with traction.
- Coloring books/toys for kids. While most kids prefer electronics, batteries don’t last forever. Distractions such as coloring books and toys will keep your kids calm while you wait for help.
- A shovel. Yes, it takes a lot of room. But it is necessary. While manufacturers do make smaller plastic shovels, or foldable ones, I still swear by a full-size metal shovel to get me out of most messes.
- Battery cables or portable jump starters. I used to carry cables, but there’s not always someone around to help when you have a dead battery. I feel a lot more confident carrying my own portable battery charger so that I’m never stuck in a cold, dark parking lot hoping that a Good Samaritan will stop by.
All of this said, the one most important bit of advice that I can offer is to listen to the experts when they tell you not to travel. If you don’t have to be on the road (and unless you are emergency personnel, healthcare workers, or road crews, you really don’t), then stay home. The more time that crews have to get the roads clear—and the fewer vehicles that they have to avoid—the easier it will be for everyone.
And of course before any trip, make sure you have the appropriate travel insurance policy to cover all of your needs no matter the weather conditions.
Do you have any suggestions for what to carry when driving in bad weather? Leave a comment below.
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