Desert dwellers guide to driving in snow

Perhaps the one thing most Phoenix drivers never need to worry about is driving on snow and ice covered roads. We have gorgeous cactus flowers, blazing orange and purple sunsets with only the tops of mountains in the far distance ever covered in snow. Windshields never need to be scraped and our driveways never require shoveling. That’s probably why so many people move here each year!

However, sometimes you need a change of scenery and actually see a change in season. If you are planning a trip up north or anywhere that has real winter weather, then as a desert dweller, this is your guide to driving in the snow.

Winterize your vehicle

What does it mean to winterize your vehicle? If you are a desert dweller likely you have no clue, but that’s ok, it’s not something we’re accustomed to.

Before you burn rubber into the land of snow and ice, you should have your vehicle properly prepped. The preparation should include a maintenance inspection. If you are not a car buff, just bring you car into a mechanic shop for an inspection.

Ask for the following to be inspected:

  • Tires (tread and pressure)
  • Battery
  • Belts and hoses
  • Radiator
  • Oil
  • Lights
  • Brakes
  • Exhaust system
  • Heater/Defroster
  • Wipers
  • Ignition

When leaving for your trip, be sure have a full tank of gas and err on the side of caution when refilling your tank. You want to keep the tank from going much under a half tank in case of a back-up or other long delay on the roads.

Bring an emergency kit

Your car should be stocked with an emergency kit during a winter time roadtrip. While it is rare, there are times when many people get stranded on the freeway for long periods of time due to the weather. It is better to be safe and prepared, than sorry.

This kit should include the following:

  • Extra food (food high in protein is desired)
  • Extra bottled water
  • Flashlight
  • Light flares
  • First aid kit
  • Extra blankets, hats, gloves and any other warm clothing
  • Kitty litter (kitty litter can help get your car unstuck from a snow drift as it provides traction)

How to prepare mentally for winter driving?

Besides having your car in tip top condition, you need to get your mind right for the road. This means being bright, alert and responsive at all times. It is important to rid yourself and your car of any distractions. Ask your passengers to respect the drive and do not use your phone while driving.

Keep in mind that a change in the weather, from snow to ice to rain, can change the braking distance you are used to. Give yourself more distance between your vehicle and the car ahead of you.

Other important driving tips:

  • Take your time accelerating and decelerating. This will help you avoid skidding or spinning your wheels.
  • You will need to get used to driving slower. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.
  • This also means taking turns at a slower rate. Becoming a more gentle driver will help.
  • Don’t power up a hill or stop while driving up a hill. Both can cause disastrous results.
  • Respect the snowplows. They might be driving slower than other vehicles on the road, but it can be dangerous to pass them.
  • Plan ahead! If there are any weather warnings or advisories, consider staying home or delaying your trip for a day or two. If you are caught in a storm, get off the road and find a warm hotel room for the night.

What if you become snowbound?

No one ever wants to get stuck in the snow, but it can happen. If this is the case, you want to stay inside your car and try to phone for help immediately. Leaving your vehicle is not advised because the storm can easily cause confusion and get you lost.

To attract attention, tie a piece of brightly colored cloth to your car’s antenna. You can also keep your dome light on at night to also attract attention. The dome light only uses a tiny bit of battery, so it should be fine if left on.

Other life saving tips:

  • Be sure the exhaust pipe is not packed with snow. This can cause carbon monoxide to build up and can be lethal.
  • Use whatever you can to cover your body to maintain heat. Even if that means using floor mats, newspapers, etc.
  • Use the heat from your car’s engine for only short amounts of time to conserve gasoline.
  • Do not overexert yourself if you attempt to dig your car out or push it out of the snow.

Final Considerations

If you must travel and hit a storm or snow, just stay calm. Keep focused on the road and exit if you can. There’s no rushing during winter weather. Avoid costly accidents by having your car prepared ahead of time and by driving with caution. There’s no shame in taking a break from your road trip or spending a night in a hotel before you reach your destination. Winter weather can be scary, but you can be prepared.