A few weeks ago I left for my morning commute during our recent snow squall. I was prepared to get through the little city roads to US 31 and breeze up to Kokomo. As usual, I checked the road conditions on INDOT and traffic conditions on Google, and each source indicated travel conditions were fine. In my experience, fine is pretty good mostly dry conditions.
Apparently, when the word squall is involved, standards reduce drastically. I hadn’t even left my city before fish tailing while turning left. Luckily there was no one nearby to hit, and I was able to shift my tires to stop the car before driving into the light pole, but I was still felt shook up. The truck sitting in his driveway watching me decided to wait until I was far down the road before pulling out.
This was the day I learned that squall is a horrible word, and for me, it translates to stay home you crazy person! Since the roads were really rather busy, I assume most of us either didn’t know the word (like me) or don’t care. I have always stayed a bit more concerned about winter driving since the car accident I was in while seeing Christmas lights many years ago (for that story, see Choosing a Value for Personal Property).
I assumed the bad weather stuck to the city alone. Another key thing to remember about winter driving – Roundabouts are really slide-abouts. The roundabout were so clogged, I had to have other cars stop to let me in. Even then the normal two lanes went down to one, and I was going under 10mph trying not to slide. Many people were not so lucky.
Unfortunately that day, because of the squall, they couldn’t keep 31 clean. The roads were horrible, with most people going really slow, and a few people speeding for their lives to not be late to work in the left lane. Honestly, I would rather all of us be late to work, or not go at all, and live. Particularly because when the squall kicked in, there were pop up white-out conditions.
To my displeasure, I’m accumulating a lot of commuting during bad weather stories. Because of all the sliding about, getting stuck in traffic, and general time I spend on the road, I try to take care of my car.
So as a fellow commuter suffering the winter season, here are some tips for car maintenance to make sure your vehicle is up to shape.
- Get a regular tune-up (which hopefully includes much of the following)
- Have alignments done regularly (particularly if you are driving around Kokomo, on 31 regularly, or anywhere that has lots of bumps and pop-holes) – well aligned car won’t wear down your tires as much (poor alignment during the winter can cause your tires to wear unevenly).
- Check fluid levels, including windshield washer fluid
- Check tire tread and make sure it doesn’t get too low!
- Have a Battery check-up done
- Make a winter emergency kit for your car (ice-scraper, de-icing liquid, flashlight, batteries, blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots, first aid kit, small shovel, etc.) Include anything you would need in case your car broke down during your drive in the winter.
- Keep area clean under windshield wipers (make sure you don’t still have dead leafs and debris)
- Make sure you keep filled up on gas – never let your car run to empty.
- Check wiper blades – make sure to replace them before they are ineffective (lifespan of a year for maximum effectiveness).
One additional tip - Don’t store anything in your trunk that you may need if your car breaks down (unless you have access from the front of your vehicle to the trunk). The last few winters have become cold enough, my trunk froze shut. I couldn’t get it open for a few weeks.
Overall, just be smart and safe out on the roads. We can’t prepare for everything, but it doesn’t hurt to do what we can. I wish all my fellow commuters safe dry roads and a lack of snow during commuting hours.
Photo: “Fisk Road” by F.D. Richards. Flikr. Unmodified. CC BY-SA 2.0