For half of the world, it’s that time of year again when the weather gets cold and many of us wish we were living in the other half of the world (or at least enjoying their weather).
Snow can be fun for the kids (and sometimes the adults, too) but it also can be very dangerous if you are on the road. If your car breaks down during the winter, not only do you have to worry about your car but you must also think about how the weather is going to affect you and your passengers.
Men always joke that women don’t know anything about cars. I’ll fully admit that I don’t know that much about my car, but I try to educate myself whenever I have the chance. Every woman should do that! Even if it’s just to find out the basic information about your car, it is something you should know.
I used to work in the Emergency Road Service department of the local AAA chapter. We’re opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are constantly hearing stories about people getting stranded on the road. What amazed me most is what people don’t know about their car. Typically, women drivers knew the least information about their cars. Believe me, I hate to add to the stereotype, but that’s just how things were.
Some basic facts you should know about your car
- Year it was manufactured
- Make (Honda, Toyota, Dodge, Ford, etc.)
- Model (Civic, Tercel, Daytona, Taurus, etc.)
- Color (yes, some people don’t know the color of their car)
- Drive type (front wheel, rear wheel, or all-wheel)
All of these things can be found in the manual for your car. Or by just taking the time to LOOK at your car and see what you have spent so much money on.
Now that you know what type of car you are driving, learn a little bit about what happens under the hood to make your car go. Just because you are a woman, doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to do basic maintenance on your automobile. Some people aren’t the best teachers, so you may do best if you keep your eyes open for learning situations.
The next time you take your car into the shop, ask your mechanic to explain what is being done to your car. Learn what the various parts of your engine are called. If you have a really patient mechanic, maybe you can be taught how to check the oil or change a tire. Sometimes family members or friends aren’t the best people to learn from. That’s when it’s a good time to turn to a professional for help.
If you mechanic is too busy (which is completely understandable) then check out your local community college or a small tech school. Maybe they offer a “beginners” course about automotive technology. You don’t want to get into an intense course, but look for something that’s made for you. Many schools are now offering programs for women so they can learn basic automotive skills. Keep an eye out for those types of programs and perhaps take the course with a couple other girlfriends. Could be a fun and educational experience.
Basic skills that you CAN learn and might help in emergency situations
- Pumping gas
- Adding windshield wiper fluid
- Changing a tire
- Jumpstarting the battery
- Checking the oil level and adding oil
Knowing those skills and the basic facts about your car is half the battle when it comes to safe winter driving. Armed with those facts and skills, you can be safe in the fact that you aren’t completely ignorant about what goes on with your car.
When a winter storm hits, the leading cause of death is accidents related to transportation. Keeping that in mind, it is important to be prepared when you get out on the road. If you are in the midst of a winter storm, do everything possible to avoid traveling. Public transportation is normally your best bet if you have to go out.
If you are planning a long trip over the winter months, keep in mind that anything could happen. Be sure to plan long trips carefully. Unless you are living in an area that never gets bad winter weather, you should make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for the worse. Also be sure you know how to react if stranded or lost on the road.
To make sure you travel the long roads safely, listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions. It is always best to travel during daylight, but especially during the winter when dark nights mean colder temperaturs. If you can, take at least one other person along with you. Traveling alone can be dangerous enough, adding the winter problems can make it worse.
Before you leave for a long winter road trip, have a mechanic check the following items on your car:
- Flashing hazard lights
- Wipers and windshield washer fluid
- Ignition system
- Exhaust system
- Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade oil or the SAE 10w/30 weight variety)
Of course, you don’t have to hand over this list to your mechanic. Normally if you let them know what’s going on, they can do a thorough check of your vehicle. If you don’t feel confident in your mechanic, then maybe you want to bring a list along to double check that everything is taken care of.
No matter what time of year, you should have an emergency kit in your car that has the items you would need to get out of a bad situation. During the winter months, this emergency kit can become so much more important to have. To fight off the winter cold, there are extras you should have to compliment your normal emergency kit.
Winter Car Emergency Kit
- Extra set of mittens, socks, and a wool cap
- First aid kit with pocket knife
- Small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels
- Necessary medications
- Several blankets
- Sleeping bags
- Extra newspapers for insulation
- Bottled water
- Plastic bags (for sanitation)
- Rain gear and extra clothes
- Small shovel
- Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
- Booster cables
- Flashlights with extra batteries
- Set of tire chains or traction mats
- Cards, games, and puzzles
- Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
- Canned fruit and nuts
- Nonelectric can opener
If you think this list may sound excessive, keep in mind that it could come down to a life and death matter. Not everyone is going to want to stock their car with these items. At least be sure to have good booster cables, a warm blanket, a working flashlight, and a decent first aid kit. If you were to break down or have an accident in bad winter weather, those bare necessities could become very important for you.
Traveling during the winter months can be exciting and enjoyable, especially if it is for a vacation! But don’t let that keep your eyes off of being safe. Getting to your destination safely is the goal of any great trip.
If you would like more information on winter driving, contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter.