For many desert dwellers, a road "winter wonderland" trip is a holiday tradition. And with so many enticing destinations located just a few hours away, it's easy to see why so many trek to a play day in the snow. However, before you head for the high country, here are a few tips to those who may be out of practice when it comes to preparing for and navigating through winter road conditions.
To help winterize vehicles, check the following car components:
• Tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10-degree temperature drop. Last winter, AAA responded to more than 14,000 tire service calls across the state. Avoid an untimely flat by checking pressure once a month, and by keeping tires inflated to your vehicle manufacturer's recommendation. Also, ensure your tires can grip slick, snowy roads, by making sure they have adequate tread.
• Battery. Last winter, nearly 25,000 Arizonans called AAA for mobile battery assistance, but you can avoid that scenario by testing your battery strength, and by ensuring that connections are tight and free of corrosion.
• Antifreeze solution. Antifreeze regulates your engine's temperature in both cold and hot weather. Therefore, it's important to ensure you have equal parts antifreeze and water in your radiator to keep fluids from freezing.
• Windshield wipers and fluid. After enduring heat and direct sunlight over the summer, your wiper blades may be due for replacement. Find out by inspecting blades for cracks, splits or other deterioration. Also, switch to a winter-blend wiper fluid, as regular washer fluids can freeze in your car's reservoir.
• Belts and hoses. These rubber components can become weakened in colder temperatures, therefore, it's important to check for cracks and damage before winter weather sets in.
To keep drivers safe on their snowbound journeys, follow these winter weather driving tips:
• Check road conditions before leaving home by calling the Arizona Department of Transportation's road condition hotline at 511, or by visiting az511.com.
• Slow down. Motorists should reduce their speed in wet or snowy conditions to maintain traction and control, and to reduce their risk of getting into a crash.
• Keep a safe distance. If you are driving in wet or snowy conditions, give yourself at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
• Brake gently to avoid skidding, and use low gears to avoid losing traction. Also, do not engage your vehicle's cruise control, as you can more easily lose control on wet roads.
• Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges.
• Pack an emergency car kit that includes: flashlight, flares, jumper cables, a basic repair kit, a cell phone, and kitty litter to help stuck tires regain grip in snow or mud. Also carry extra food, water, clothes and blankets in your vehicle should you have to wait for assistance.
• Linda Gorman is communications and public affairs director for AAA Arizona. Reach her at (602) 650-2716 or firstname.lastname@example.org.