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It’s that time of year again when the leaves are changing color and covering my yard. I’m not much of a fan of the extra yard work, but I am a HUGE fan of the feasts and parties that are so central to this time of year. This year, my family and I will be staying close to home for the holidays but if you’re planning to hit the road this year, there’s few things you need to know and be prepared for.

Preparation and some planning is the key here. This could be a memorable holiday season, but it could wind up being memorable for all the wrong reasons.

James Kim and his family, who were from San Francisco, were traveling for the holidays in late November 2006. They became stranded in the snow after taking a wrong turn as they tried to reach the coast after spending Thanksgiving with family in Seattle. They missed the turn off they needed twice and wound up on a rarely traveled logging road where they became stuck in the snow. After using up the gasoline to keep the heater running, they eventually resorted to burning the tires for warmth and ate what little food they had. After waiting for some time without seeing a single other person on the road, James set out on foot in an attempt to find help for him and his family. James’s wife, Kati, and their children were rescued but James was found dead almost two weeks after they had originally been stranded. Rescuers who tracked James said that he was clearly a very determined man and displayed super human effort in looking for help. It appeared that the cold and fatigue finally took their toll after he had wound up in the creek that he’d been following and was simply too weak to get out again.

At the time, the story caught national attention and was an all too poignant example of how dangerous winter driving can be.

The period of time beginning in┬áNovember and continuing through until March makes up one of the busiest road trip seasons each year, and for those of you who will be hitting the road this holiday season, the chances are highly likely that you’ll run into to adverse conditions. Here are some tips that may help keep you from tragedy.

  1. Check weather conditions and map out your route. These days, we have nearly instantaneous access to the most up to date weather reports and in some cases, you can keep track in real time just how the conditions are in any given area. Keep an eye on the road conditions and remember, Aunt Kathie’s turkey is to die for, but not literally. If the conditions aren’t looking good, and travel warnings have been issued, please listen to them. You may miss the amazing desserts this year but at least you’ll be around to have a go at next year. Know the route that you intend to take and let family members know when you’re leaving if your trip takes you through roadways that might be a little hairy.
  2. Pack a safety/survival kit or least some basic supplies like extra food, extra clothes, maybe a sleeping bag and a good flashlight. If you’re into being prepared, may I also suggest maybe some waterproof matches or a lighter, one of those crank radios that you power yourself and don’t need batteries, a tow rope and maybe even some kitty litter for use as a traction aid. A little preparation can make a huge difference in the amount of suffering you have to endure if you do wind up stranded.
  3. Get your vehicle serviced, ESPECIALLY if you’ve been putting things off. Regular and consistent maintenance is the best, most cost effective way to avoid breakdowns. Servicing your vehicle and the different fluids, belts and hoses costs you so much less than paying for a breakdown. Between towing, the repairs themselves and the lost time, it really makes so much sense to keep ahead it all. Not to mention your car will love you for it and will be a whole more likely to be as dependable as you need when the weather outside is frightful.
  4. Test your battery and your starting and charging system. We have a most amazing little machine that will test your battery, your starter adn your alternator in a matter of mere seconds to let you know if your charging and starting system can be relied upon. Each battery has a specific level of what are called cold cranking amps that determine how much oomph your battery has when it’s cold and you need it to crank over and start a cold and sluggish engine;. If your battery is rated for 700 CCA but the test shows your battery only has 350, that’s enough to leave you stranded if the temperature gets low enough. Every year when the temperature drops below freezing overnight, the next morning we always wind up fielding calls from customers who say they can start their car. If your battery is already weak, both extreme winter cold as well as summer heat, can and will knock it out of commission.
  5. Test your anti-freeze and the rest of your cooling system. Have the system inspected if you don’t know when the last time it was you had it into the shop. Old coolant can cause hoses and seals to become weak and that can lead to leaks and or blown hoses. It costs nothing to have our tech take a look and let you know what kind of shape you system is in.
  6. Visibility. Make sure that your wipers work and that the windshield washer fluid are good to go. If it’s been snowing and the roads are wet but it’s not raining or snowing, that muck that gets sprayed on your windshield can cause a serious hazard if you can’t quickly clean it off. Make sure you have new wiper blades and check the level of the washer fluid itself. Carry an extra jug of the fluid in your trunk.
  7. Make sure you keep your gas tank as near to full as possible. If you get stuck or caught on the freeway in a blizzard and they close the road, you will want the heat that your running engine can provide, IF you have the fuel. If you do, your car can run quite awhile while only idling.
  8. Slow down. If the roads are slick and snowy, we recommend dropping your speed to half of what you’d normally cruise at. You will be able to react better in slippery conditions at lower speed. But don’t drive to slow, especially on a grade, you’ll need the momentum to get through.
  9. Make frequent rest stops to avoid fatigue. Fatigue is a year round killer on the roads but in slick or icy conditions, it can turn deadly even quicker. It only takes a few minutes of stretching and fresh air to get you awake and alert again and ready for the road.
  10. If you do get stuck, the best thing you can do is stay in your vehicle. Keep warm, have a snack, and depending your cell coverage, after you’ve called roadside assistance, you can update your Facebook status. #stuckinthesnow Wait for help to arrive. Crack the window if you have an older vehicle as they are prone to exhaust leaks. Also make sure that there is no snow blocking your tail pipe. Both of these situations can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide.