Winter Tips From the Automotive Department

When cold weather hits in Colorado, commuters can face an array of difficulties in getting from point A to point B.

Our Automotive specialists came up with a few tips to keep drivers safe and happy this winter.

Winterizing the Vehicle

  • Good tires are probably the best place to start, because they’ll give you traction to confidently get around where you need to go. Sometimes, people with marginal tread on their tires come in and get tire chains to put on, instead of investing in new brand new tires. In this case, it’s a good idea for drivers to learn how to put those chains on before they actually need them… It’ll save much frustration later.
  • Automotive Green Vests are also advocates for commuters putting more air in their tires as the temperatures drop, which will help with snowy road maneuverability and gas mileage. Air expands and contracts with the temperature, so when air temperature drops, tire pressure drops.
  • Apart from normal maintenance and oil changes, another good thing to do is check the level and the state of the coolant (antifreeze), so the engine runs in tip-top shape during unpredictable bouts of cold weather. We advise to check the coolant reservoir on the top of the radiator to make sure the fluid inside reaches the “full” line.  Coolant can be many different colors when it is added (depending on brand), but if it has turned clear, or has rust or floating objects in it, then it’s time to have the reservoir flushed and refilled.
  • Batteries should be checked before cold weather becomes the seasonal norm, so the driver can be confident that it will last the whole duration of winter.
  • Diesel drivers should look into fuel additives to prevent their gas from “gelling” when the temperatures drop.
  • As far as visibility goes, Green Vests will recommend a good pair of windshield wipers and an extra bottle of washer fluid to keep in the trunk (they like the Polar brand, which is rated up to -30 degrees F).
  • Headlights have a tendency to go out when it’s colder, so it’s a good idea to have a spare, or to at least know where you can quickly get one for your model of car. If your headlights have become foggy, you can bring them back to clear with a restoration kit, and Rain X makes several products that will keep windows from fogging up on both the inside and the outside.

Getting Prepared

Sure, it’s cliche, but the saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry” definitely rings true when dealing with Colorado roads in the wintertime.

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Long-handled and hand-held ice scrapers and snow brooms.

We recommend that drivers have an emergency kit readily available in case they are stuck or stranded for extended periods of time.

Fill a box or a Rubbermaid container with items that will help you keep warm and safe if your vehicle breaks down, such as an extra set of warm clothes and pair of gloves, blanket, sleeping bag, food rations, candles, matches, LED flashlight, flares, orange reflective triangle, jumper cables, tow strap, and bag of sand or cat litter for traction.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need traction and don’t have cat litter or sand, you can use the floor mats from inside your car for a traction device.

New floor mats will also help protect the carpet in your vehicle from the excessive moisture tracking inside the car on wet shoes and boots.

And of course, we have no shortage of praise for a good snow broom and ice scraper, which can make the lives of those without covered parking at home or work much easier.  For scrapers, we recommend the ones with brass blades, which are tough on the ice but gentle on windshields.

Driving Tips

Not that any of our Green Vested commuters have learned any of these lessons the hard way (ahem), but many among our ranks are snow-traversing veterans. And if there’s anything they’ve noticed on Colorado roads during the wintertime, it’s that drivers could use a little bit more confidence when driving them.

But that doesn’t mean drive faster, they are quick to add.

Give yourself time to stop, with 2 to 3 car lengths to the vehicle in front of you for every 10 miles per hour of speed, and start pushing the brakes lightly long before you actually need to stop.

And if you get stuck at a stop sign or a light, put the vehicle into second gear to get going again. Many automatic transmissions also have an option on the gear shift to get into a different gear than the standard “drive.”

When drivers are headed uphill in slippery conditions, it’s best to keep RPMs steady, and not to put the pedal to the metal.

And lastly, when turning a corner and starting to slide, let off the gas, but definitely don’t brake. You’re basically on skis at that point, so focus on guiding the vehicle to a point of better traction.

For more Colorado winter driving tips, visit the CDOT website.