Prepare for winter drivingThis page has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, a winter survival kit for your car, what to do if you get stranded, how to keep windows from fogging up and tips for driving in snow and ice.
Safe driving in rain and fog includes info about driving in fog, on black ice, driving in rain, driving in floods (don't) and chain requirements, with lots of links to follow.
Using tire snow chains/cables
Not all vehicles have space between the wheel well and the big wheels for chains!
To extend the useful life of your chains read the manufacturer's specs. They require that you drive at well below highway speeds. For example, the chains for our Jeep say to not exceed 30 mph. They require that you don't keep the chains on the tire when you get to dry pavement. Our chains instructions say "Do not drive on dry pavement unless absolutely necessary and then only at minimum speed." The speed limit in all posted chain control areas in Yosemite is 25 MPH and going much faster than that will wear out your chains faster anyway.
When using traditional link chain, prevent breakage by inspecting each chain carefully to remove
tangles and twists before you put the chains on. Most broken cross chain is caused by driving on chains with twisted links.
Don't ignore the rubber adjusters that came with the chains; use them to keep the chains on tight.
Make sure you got the right size and make it easier to install them when out in the weather by trying them at home first. If they don't fit, don't try to fix it by deflating the tires, even a little.
Pull off the road to a safe place to install or remove chains. Put on those extra gloves and jacket/snowpants before you start working to protect yourself from hypothermia and frostbite. A small insulated pad to kneel on is really useful. Hey, lots of people lock their keys in the running vehicle when they stop to put on chains! A spare set of keys in your or someone else's pocket could be a wise investment.
Apply the chains as snugly as possible, then drive a short distance, pull safely off the road again and check them. One brand of chains says to stop and retighten chains within driving one mile. Read and follow the manufacturer's specs.
Stay away from chain eating curbs. When accelerating, start slowly to avoid spinning your wheels.
Read the instructions, do they tell you to stop and retighten after 1/4 to 1/2 mile?
When you unpack at home, hose off the chains, let them dry, and spray them with an
all-purpose lubricant, like WD-40, before you put them away so they will not rust.
Even if it's daytime, if it's snowing use your headlights.
Even if it's daytime, if it's a blizzard, use your emergency flashers.
If your wipers are on, your lights should be on.
Clean the accumulated dirt/snow off the lights!
Puuleease don't drive in big, chunky ski boots!
You need good sunglasses for the glare off snow.
If your car lock is frozen, hold a lit match to your car key to
heat it a little (watch out for your fingers and meltable polypro glove liners!
And if it has a security code device in the key, or a plastic key fob, don't try
this). Gently pushing down on the trunk lid a few times may break up ice
crystals so it will open. Also try de-icer in the locks. Don't try breathing your hot breath into the lock, the moisture in your breath will just refreeze.
You'll need a real windshield ice scraper and real deicer. The Centers for Disease Control website warns:
"Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow; shattering may occur.
Avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body."
On a budget? The Yosemite Daily report said: "Top off your wiper fluid reservoir with freeze-proof fluid, a few
tablespoons of rubbing alcohol added to standard fluid works as well."
Can you pass the "Winnebago test"? It's a test discovered by a friend of the Outdoor Club faculty advisor. If you are stuck on a winding mountain road behind a huge, slow moving motorhome and you realize they are not going to pull over and let the dozen cars behind them pass, will you wreck your vacation? You will arrive late. You can arrive late and be in a ferociously horrible temperament or you can arrive late and be in a good mood. Either way it's up to you, not up to the driver of the slow moving vehicle.
is the Cal Trans highway info page, just click on a route number for current conditions, closures, road construction slowdowns.
From the Yosemite Daily Report
"Here is a reminder of what those Chain Requirement signs mean.
the posted speed limit in the park is 25 mph when Chain Requirements are in
effect. This speed limit overrides all higher posted limits within the
chain control area.
R-1 Park signs read "AUTOS & PICKUPS SNOW TIRES OK". This means chains
are required for all vehicles unless they have snow tread tires. (4wdr
without snow tires must chain up.)
Snow tires must have a minimum tread depth of 6/32 of an inch to be
· Studded snow tires may be used if the tires are also rated as snow
tires, if not, the tires need to be chained up. (Studs do not replace
· Any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 6,000 lbs must chain up.
(Usually, large vans on up.)
· All vehicles, including those with 4-wheel drive with snow tires that
are towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle of the vehicle.
· If the trailer has brakes, it must also have chains on one axle.
R-2 Park signs read "4W DRIVE WITH SNOW TIRES OK". This means that
chains are required on all vehicles.
· The exception is four-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires on all four
wheels. (This is for all 4-wheel drive passenger vehicles with an unladen
weight of 6500 pounds or less)
· The 4wdr system must be engaged!
R-3 Park signs read "NO EXCEPTIONS". This means that chains are required
on all vehicles.
· There are no exceptions. (Yes "ALL" means four-wheel drives too.)
Remember, State Law requires you to carry chains in your vehicle when
entering an active chain control area. Tire traction devices can be link
chain, cable chain and/or spider straps. For further information on winter
driving tips go to www.dot.ca.gov/roadinfo/wntrdriv.htm"
My windows are fogging up faster than my navigator can wipe it off!
Yes, it's cold out and you filled your car with people to share the trip expenses. They all are exhaling foggy breath, especially when you all sing along to that CD. Have them take turns holding their breath. Okay, maybe that's not practical. Have them pay up for the gas expense in advance and let them off at the next bus stop. Unthinkable? The swimmers in the Outdoor Club know they can lick the inside of their swim goggles to prevent fogging, but a windshield...?
Not really practical either, well then...
Before the trip, use an ammonia-based window cleaner to energetically clean the inside of the window to remove the buildup of film the emanates from the plastics in the car. If you let anyone smoke in your vehicle...
The fog on the windows could be caused by trying to keep the car interior warm. When air is warm breath condenses, so stop and have your passengers put on those longjohns, jackets and maybe even hats, then keep the car cool. Even a few degrees will affect the maximum amount of water in the air quite significantly. With less water in the air the windows will frost up less.
Make sure your air conditioner or heater is in the fresh air position rather than recirc. The recirculate setting reuses the humid (moist) air already in the car. The air in the car is quite humid due to those mammals you are giving a ride to, and the outside air is less humid (even if it's raining/snowing), so pull outside air in and push it against the inside of the window. And even though you are trying to keep the air in the main compartment coolish, the windows themselves need to be warmer than the cold air/rain/snow hitting them, so set the temperature to warm. Pulling in outside air has the drawback of sucking in truck or diesel exhaust, so pull back from that big rig or go around it. Set the fan to its highest setting if you are going in slow traffic.
Now you can go back to your sing-along or heavy gossip session.
Next time you all get into the car, have each person take a seat, then kick their feet together outside of the car to knock excess snow off. Less snow melting in the vehicle also means less moisture in the car and less fog on the windows.
Driving on ice and snow
Slow down in advance of needing to hit the brakes.
Here in central valley and coastal California most of our roads will not freeze very often as the ground beneath doesn't get that cold, so ice will only form occasionally in patches or after freezing rain.
But as you approach bridges, slow down. Black ice (a thin, invisible, complete coating of ice) forms on top of bridges, causeways or any stretch of road not paved over solid ground.
Likewise, shady places are icier than places where the sun can hit the pavement. Some sections of mountain roads will never get any sunshine due to the low angle of the winter sun.
Slushy conditions can be even icier than non-slush. Places where lots of people brake, such as intersections or hills, can get the ice polished by the braking. Slow down in advance of needing to hit the brakes.
Anticipate being rear-ended. Make your stops slow enough that the driver behind you can react properly. Be sure the seat headrests are installed and adjusted for your head(s). Anticipate people running red lights. Seatbelts really do save lives.
If following a car with a pile of snow on it, anticipate the snow sliding off and heading for your windshield. How much is your insurance deductable? Is it more than the cost of replacing a cracked windshield? Give that car in front of you space.
Even when it's sunny and the road seems dry, you can slide and loose control on patches of sand put on previously icy places.
On one snowy weekend in Yosemite, rangers responded to over 30 motor vehicle accidents, one with six people sent to trauma centers due to a SUV striking a tree, one involving eight vehicles and
an ambulance that slid off the icy road and two in which vehicles
collided with NPS snowplows. One winter weekend Yosemite storm... has more.
There's more at: Safe driving in rain and fog
In cold weather, batteries are 50 per cent less efficient. Idling your car's engine will charge the battery if the alternator and battery are in good condition. If either is slightly below par, or if the belt is just a little loose, idling may slowly discharge the battery, without turning on the charge warning light. Prolonged idling may drain the battery to the point that the car won't restart. This means that if you didn't pack enough proper gear to stay warm overnight on our snow camp trip, and you decide to try sitting in the car to warm up, with the engine running in the middle of the night, not only will you risk waking up everyone else, you could make it difficult or nearly impossible to start the car later when you want to go home.
If it snows overnight while we are on this trip you will be able to get the snow off the vehicle much more easily if you cover it with a big tarp. If you tow a utility trailer, (a big van full of passengers with their gear in a trailer is a great combo for this trip), you will really want at least a small cover for the trailer hitch area so you don't have to clean snow off it at the end of the trip.
You should have just left the vehicle to sit at the campsite for the weekend, and ride the free valley shuttle bus or the free bus to the ski resort.
Clean the snow off the whole hood or it will slide and blow up on the windshield as soon as you drive off. Clean any snow out of the windshield air intake on the hood. Spray a little deicer on the windshield washer nozzles. Snow left on the roof will slide down on to the rear window, blocking visibility and the use of any rear wiper, or slide on the windshield the first time you hit the brakes. Clean any snow away from the exhaust pipe. Clean off all the lights. If you must bring some snow home for a snowball fight with your roommates, fill a now empty ice chest.
Borrowing the family van for an Outdoor Club trip? You are probably used to driving a smaller vehicle and will need to take special care.
A U.S. Government study of accidents by forest fire crews found that human factors are the major contributing factor to motor vehicle accidents. Level of operator proficiency and experience in the vehicle type as well as fatigue were major problems. Unsafe practices included "talking on a cellular phone while driving and a driver removing an article of clothing while the vehicle was in motion" !!!
If you have ever found yourself distracted or subject to road rage, you'll need to figure out ways to keep these things from happening. Let someone else change music tapes, talk on the cell phone or the borrowed club family band radio. If your navigator can't figure out the route, pull over to read the map.
The article stressed the consistant use of seatbelts, even at slow speeds. A vehicle driven on "a narrow mountain road at 5 mph went off the soft shoulder, rolled four times down a 50 percent slope into a steep ravine where the truck struck a large rock and landed upside down. The driver and passenger were wearing their seatbelts and walked away with minor bruises and abrasions".
On our winter trips, when you leave from the Bay Area, it might be warm weather. When you get to the park it will be very cold. It is HIGHLY recommended that you pack your polypropylene undergarments, warm jacket, rain gear, warm hat, gloves and flashlight and boots IN the passenger compartment of the vehicle you will be riding in, and not buried under everything. Many people have been surprised to step out of their heated cars into the cold, and start shivering immediately.
The roads in campgrounds are not plowed as often as the main roadways:
Also from the CDC website:
"Prepare Your Car for Winter
You can avoid many dangerous winter travel problems by planning ahead. Have maintenance service on your vehicle as often as the manufacturer recommends. In addition, every fall:
· Have the radiator system serviced, or check the antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze, as needed.
· Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
· Replace any worn tires, and check the air pressure in the tires.
During winter, keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
Winter Survival Kit for Your Car
Equip your car with these items:
·first aid kit
·a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for water)
·bag of sand or cat litter(to pour on ice or snow for added traction)
·tire chains (in areas with heavy snow)
·high-calorie canned or dried foods and a can opener
·flashlight and extra batteries
·canned compressed air with sealant (for emergency tire repair)
·brightly colored cloth"
AAA had this winter advice:
"• Starting now, keep the gas tank at least half full. In winter it may be necessary to change routes, idle or travel slowly or turn back in a storm.
• Keep a snow brush and ice scraper in the car. Also, carry a clean cloth to "defog" and clean the inside of the windows.
• Do preventative maintenance. Make sure the brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater, lights and exhaust system are in top condition. Also, check the antifreeze level and tire pressure.
• Always carry chains. Remember chains must be installed on the "drive" wheels of the vehicle.
• Carry an extra ignition key. Many motorists lock themselves out of their vehicles when installing chains or attending to problems.
• Carry an emergency kit for winter. Items to include are: a flashlight with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, flares or emergency triangles, window washer fluid, jumper cables, a tool kit, a blanket or sleeping bag, gloves, paper towels, drinking water and energy bars. Also include, abrasive material such as sand, salt or non-clumping kitty litter and a small shovel. (Floor mats placed under the "drive" wheels can be used in an emergency to help free a vehicle.)"
Also from the CDC:
What to Do if You Get Stranded
Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered.
These steps will increase your safety when stranded:
·Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers.
·Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
·Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
·Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
·Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe -- this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
·As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
·Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature.
From the National park Service Daily Report of Feb. 1999
An Ernie's Tours bus was eastbound on the Big Oak Flat Road in
Yosemite NP when it rounded a curve on a downhill grade and came upon a
stationary vehicle partially blocking the roadway. It was snowing heavily
at the time, and the driver of the stopped vehicle was installing chains.
The bus driver locked his brakes while attempting to avoid the vehicle; the
bus went off the road, down a steep embankment, rolled, and came to rest on
its side against a tree approximately 70 feet below the roadway. Rangers,
firefighters and maintenance employees mounted a parkwide response. Seven
of the 18 passengers were injured and required ambulance transport. Three
other passengers, who initially denied being injured, were treated later
that day. Most of the passengers were from Indonesia and had to delay their
return home for several days because luggage and passports were
inaccessible. Removal of the bus was impeded by continuing snowstorms. The
road therefore had to be closed for two nights.
This page was compiled for the De Anza College Outdoor Club winter trip. There is more info at:
Snow or rain camp must-haves
You might also want to read Snow chain rentals, wildlife jams
Snow camp carpools and driving directions also has the answer to the question: Which campsite do I park at?
Snow camp weather, hike safety and first aid considerations
Road trip advice and etiquette has practical advice from experienced and newbie carpoolers on cross country trips, including ways to keep from being so bored; planning before the trip; safety issues; drowsy driving; packing; road trip games, storytelling, debates and discussions; and links to gas price watch sites.