Winter is coming and it is time for that annual ritual every sensible and responsible car owner must perform – preparing your car and yourself for the cold season. Spending a few hours arranging all the stuff you need can make all the difference between a minor delay on the road and a major emergency with dangerous consequences. Read ahead for information on how you should prep your car and your emergency kit to have a safe and incident-free winter.
Winter Emergency Protection
To tackle a breakdown in the middle of winter, there are some specialty items to have ready, just in case.
The winter tool you will likely use the most isn’t an emergency tool, but in the depth of winter, an everyday tool for many, even in Portland. Most winter days can bring ice on the windshield, even if there is no snow, so a strong ice scraper is essential.
Keeping a car running to stay warm is ideal, but if that is not an option, staying warm in a dead car can be a huge challenge. You should have blankets, gloves, socks, small hand warmers and other warm clothing. So, instead of getting rid of that old winter jacket, throw it in the trunk. Gloves are very important to have handy in the event you must work outside on the car changing a flat tire, digging the car out of some mud or ice, standing under the hood or scraping ice.
Stepping out of your car to attend to a situation in the cold rain can leave you drenched and cold in a matter of minutes. Having a rain poncho and a spare set of clothes, to ensure you don’t have to stay in your soaked clothes, is a great idea until the situation can be managed or help arrives.
Battling the cold can be a draining experience for the body. Have a few protein bars, some chocolates, or some MREs in the car to replenish your energy levels as needed. Also, don’t forget about keeping some water as well. Staying well fed and hydrated is sensible winter preparation.
A winter emergency tool that invariably gets used in Portland’s muddy and rainy winter is the portable shovel. This can be very useful if you skid off the road and end up stuck in a muddy ditch. Also, if possible, keep a small sack of sand or cat litter in the trunk to give tires much needed traction to get out of the mud. In an extremely muddy situation, it may also be a great idea to carry a tow rope so a helpful motorist can help pull your car out of the mud, or icy patch.
To recap, here’s a quick list of things to gather for winter in Portland, OR:
- Ice Scraper
- Extra Clothing
- Small Hand Warmers
- Rain Poncho
- Food, like MREs or protein bars
- Small Shovel
- Tow rope
Prepping Your Car
Keeping your car in good condition is the simplest and most effective way to avoid winter emergencies. Make sure your car is prepared for the winter season.
Standard checks include topping off all fluids such as anti-freeze, brake fluid and engine oil. Since Portland has more rain and relatively few snowstorms, be sure to check the condition of your windshield wiper blades. It is also recommended that you switch your wiper fluid to the type which does no freeze. Be sure to check door and window weather stripping to be confident that your car is sealed properly from the rain.
Having the battery and charging system checked is a smart idea before winter. If you wind up stranded in your vehicle, it will be less miserable if you can run the car and turn on the heat from time to time.
Driving after a heavy shower on muddy and icy roads can be very tricky if your car’s heater/defroster is not working properly, so be sure to have that checked out as well. Poor vision caused by fogged up windows will make driving in the rain or snow even more dangerous.
In Portland, headlights tend to get hazy after years of weatherization, detergent and wax build up as well as pollution, so it is important to get them restored so that you can see clearly during winter nights, and so others can see you, especially in heavy rain. Professional headlight restoration services are the best way to solve this problem.
Check the condition of your tires and replace standard tires with rain tires, if necessary. Many Portlanders have rain tires on all year around, but if you do choose to switch tires in the winter, don’t forget this important winter task. If you don’t have rain tires, it is recommended that you consider getting some for the added safety in Portland’s rainy, winter conditions.
To recap, here’s a quick list of things to prepare your automobile for winter in Portland, OR:
- Topping off all Fluids
- Check Windshield Wiper Blades
- Check Weather Stripping
- Check Battery
- Switch Wiper Fluid to No-Freeze
- Check Heater and Defroster
- Restore Headlights
- Check Tires / Switch to Rain Tires
As you can see, prepping your car for winter involves standard maintenance activities along with emphasis on certain components and parts that will be used heavily during the cold season. The safest bet to avoid winter emergencies is to always keep your car in good running condition. However, you cannot simply presume that your car will never break down. That is why you need to have certain emergency items in the car all times.
Basic Emergency Protection
Just think of all that can go wrong when you are driving on an isolated road during a winter storm and prepare your emergency kit accordingly. These are things you should always have handy in case of emergencies, regardless of the season:
Repairs and Signals
You will need a flashlight along with a few extra batteries to see in the dark. You will need a tool kit with various wrenches, sockets and basic tools. A multitool is also a very handy thing to have with you in the car always.
It is a great idea to carry jumper cables to jump start your engine with the help of a helpful fellow traveler.
Having emergency signaling items in the car, such as warning triangles and flares will help to keep you safe from other motorists while you are pulled over, but also signals to other drivers that you may need some help.
Replacing a flat tire will require a manual or hydraulic jack to raise the vehicle, a lug wrench to free the tire, along with a spare tire. For some cars, like Volkswagens and Audis, don’t forget your lug nut key as well.
Always have a fire extinguisher, adequate drinking water, and a first aid kit in the car. Many times, these things are overlooked because people tend to focus on automobile preparation and not personal preparation.
It is a good idea to always carry a phone charger or a power bank to call emergency services or loved ones for help just in case your phone’s battery is drained. Also, if you’re stranded and don’t have cellular service, you will not be able to rely on your phone’s GPS, so keeping a paper map of your area in the car is a good idea.
To recap, here’s a quick list of things to keep in your automobile always:
- Basic Tool Set
- Multitool (with knife)
- Jumper Cables
- Warning Triangles and Flares
- Spare Tire, Jack, Lug Wrench, Lug Nut Key
- Fire Extinguisher
- Drinking Water
- First Aid Kit
- Phone Charger or Power Bank
- Paper Maps
Winter Driving Tips
All your winter preparation will serve no purpose whatsoever if you ignore basic winter driving precautions.
- Find out current road conditions before you go out – call 511 (in any state) or 800.977.ODOT (in Oregon)
- Drive with headlights on all day and night
- Brake earlier – it takes more time and distance to stop in rainy or icy conditions
- Slow down – the posted speed limits are for dry conditions
- Take turns more slowly to minimize risk of sliding or skidding
- Don’t use cruise control
Combine preventive measures with smart emergency planning to ensure you are prepared for any eventuality or contingency on the road even during the most adverse winter conditions.
Owner, Hillside Imports
Rene Rodriguez has over 25 years of experience working exclusively on VW and late model Audis. As Hillside Imports owner, and service writer, he’s dedicated the past 20 years to educating consumers about safety, reliability and performance.