How to Prepare for a Safe Winter Road Trip

There are numerous reasons you might hit the road in the winter, even though we more commonly associate the summer months with road trips. You could be visiting friends or family for the holidays, for example, or maybe you’re going to a winter destination, like a ski resort.

If you’re going to drive in winter, you want to make sure your car is ready to go and in condition. You also want to prepare yourself to be safe.

The following are tips to get ready for a safe winter road trip.

car on a road trip

Have Your Car Checked Out

You want a qualified technician you trust to check your car out before going on any road trip. You might want them to check your tire condition and your car’s alignment. You’ll need them to check your tires’ air pressure because freezing temperatures cause them to lose air faster.

Depending on where you’re going, you may need snow tires.

You or your mechanic should check your antifreeze levels, engine oil, power steering fuel and any other fluids.

In the week before your trip, keep your gas tank full so that you can avoid condensation collection in the fuel line, which would then stop your flow of gasoline.

Some other things to do or have done to winterize your vehicle include:

  • Check your battery. Your battery power tends to go down when the temperatures do, meaning your car needs more power to start in the winter. If your battery is already struggling, you’re at more of a risk of breaking down.
  • For your cooling system, you should ideally have a ratio of between 50-50 or 70-30 of antifreeze to water.
  • Have your breaks inspected, as well as your belts, spark plugs, hoses, cables, and wires.

Research and Plan Your Trip Carefully

You don’t want to wing it on any road trip, but especially not one in the winter. You should start planning your route in advance, and then once you do that, you can research what the conditions are typically like. You’ll know what to expect.

You can learn which roads for example are often shut down during storms and which roads aren’t frequently plowed.

When you’re driving in winter, you need to make a plan to allow you to stay on major roads as much as possible and don’t take any unfamiliar shortcuts.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

No matter the time of year, it’s a good rule of thumb to give yourself more than enough time on your road trip, so you’re never feeling rushed. Break your trip down into manageable segments and don’t push it too hard.

You can include a list of the places you want to stop along the way and give yourself additional time between each in case the weather is less than ideal.

If you’re going to stop overnight along the way, make sure your reservations are flexible. You should also book flexible reservations for your final destination if you’re driving in winter when conditions are unpredictable.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

If you’re driving in winter, remember the following to give yourself peace of mind and protection in case something doesn’t go according to plan.

  • Check to make sure you have adequate car insurance coverage and that it’s updated. Have your most current insurance documents with you.
  • Sign up for roadside assistance before your trip and keep the number where you can get to it quickly. If your coverage provider has a mobile app, download it before the trip.
  • Notify at least one person about your destination ETA and also your route.
  • Check the weather for your entire route and not just your ultimate destination. You may have to postpone or delay your trip in some situations.
  • Figure out if you’re driving somewhere snow tires or chains are needed, and if so, familiarize yourself with how to use them. If you need to use chains, get comfortable with taking them on and off too.

Create an Emergency Kit

You should always have an emergency kit in your vehicle, and in the winter, you may need a few other things added to it. Your car’s emergency kit should include:

  • First-aid supplies
  • Flashlight and fresh batteries
  • Warm change of clothes
  • Duct tape
  • Multi-tool or multi-use knife
  • Blankets
  • Extra phone charger
  • Basic tool kit
  • Flares
  • Snacks that are non-perishable and have a significant amount of protein
  • Jumper cables
  • Air compressor
  • Bottled water

Planning a winter road trip can mean more strategizing, but if you do these things ahead of time, it doesn’t have to be stressful once you actually hit the roadways.


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