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Why Preparing Your Car For Winter Is a Good Idea (An Anecdote)

February 23, 2010 - 5:30am

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This past month, we celebrated my little daughter's first birthday—which meant a trip from Virginia to New Jersey. Ordinarily, this isn't a major effort, but this was on the verge of the big snow storm on February 5. Naturally, we were a bit concerned about our travel prospects.

I'm originally from Wisconsin and know what winter can do to a car and its passengers. That's why we took some care to prepare our car for what might have been truly horrifying driving. The tires on our car are new but we checked the air pressure anyway, just to be sure they were properly inflated. We also loaded the back of the car with a bit of extra cargo (blankets, drinking water, antifreeze, and washer fluid), so that we would reduce our chances of fishtailing if we hit black ice.

Our last precaution was making sure we didn't let our gas gauge dip below a quarter of a tank. My father was a firm believer in having lots of gas in the vehicle, so that you wouldn't run out if you were stuck in traffic (as my wife and I once were during a memorable drive through North Carolina, post-blizzard 2004). Plus, a fuller tank adds a bit more weight to the vehicle.

The drive up was fine but we came back on Sunday, February 7th. We made excellent time through New Jersey and Delaware—it was Superbowl Sunday and the roads were rather empty—but just north of Baltimore, we hit the first signs of trouble ahead. Snow on the road, packed down and pitted, made several lanes bumpy, while other lanes were partially obstructed by plowed snowbanks. Driving speed slowed from almost 70 to about 40, with many lane changes and increasingly poor visibility (owing to the dirty water thrown onto my windshield by cars ahead). It was terrible driving and I'm still glad we made it back so quickly...but I credit our preparing the car for this kind of weather in advance.

The best thing? The things that will help make your car safe can make them fuel efficient as well. Properly inflated tires can give you a mile or two per gallon, for one thing, and having emergency supplies on hand can mean not losing time looking for a service station in the middle of the night. Check out Fueleconomy.gov for more tips on improving your gas mileage.

We had a great time celebrating my little girl's birthday. And that's thanks, in part, to thinking ahead and being ready for the weather.

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