When I moved to Wisconsin from Hawaii to attend college (almost two decades ago) I didn’t know how to dress for snow, let alone know how to drive in it. I didn’t have a car while I was in school so I didn’t do much driving at at any time of the year. However, six weeks after I graduated from school I bought my first car, and got a crash course in winter driving. (Lucky for me I didn’t literally receive a crash course in winter driving.)
I managed to stay accident-free for the first few years despite having to navigate through ice storms, blizzards, and wicked winds. It wasn’t until about four years ago that I experienced my first serious spin out on a snow-covered highway. I wasn’t harmed, but my car got lodged in a massive snowdrift. At the time I didn’t have a cellphone and I had no clue what to do. I was so shaken up, yet so thankful I didn’t get hit as I spun across two lanes of traffic, I must have been on autopilot as I exited my car. I opened my door to see two other motorists who had witnessed what happened walking towards my car. They ended up shoveling my car out of the snowdrift as I stood there trying to get my bearings.
Thanks to the kindness of those generous motorists I technically avoided becoming “stranded.” (The irony of my rescue story is that one of the guys who stopped to help me ended getting his car stuck in the process.) I realize how fortunate I was to have others come to my rescue on that cold winter’s night… but I know next time I may not be as blessed, which is why it is always a good idea to know what to do when stranded.
If you become stranded:
· Try to attract the attention of other drivers. Turn your hazard lights on or light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. You could also hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna. This will also help police officers responding to your distress call to recognize your vehicle.
· If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
· After you check the car’s exhaust pipe get in, and stay in your vehicle. It’s not a good idea to leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
· To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the items in your vehicle’s winter survival kit.
· Crack at least one of your windows. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
· Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.
As a television news reporter dispatched to cover wicked weather I can’t tell you how many times I have uttered the words: “The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, avoid coming out here if at all possible.”
However, if you do have to travel and you do get stuck:
· Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
· Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
· Shovel as much snow from the wheels and the underside of your car.
· To help your wheels get as much traction as possible pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels.
· If you have passengers in your car, team up and try rocking the vehicle. Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, gas it a bit until your vehicle gets going.