"Snowy roads" in Colorado

Photographer Monika Clarke writes: “4 wheel drive is the only way to travel in Colorado.”

With wintry weather looming, now is a good time to take stock of your vehicle and be prepared. As The Safe Driver writes, it’s smart to bring your vehicle to be inspected by a mechanic before the start of the cold season.

The mechanic (or you, if you are so inclined) should make sure your car has adequate antifreeze; do what is needed so that the battery and ignition are in top shape, with clean battery terminals; and check the brakes for wear and fluid levels, as Ready.gov writes.

In addition, it’s important to check the exhaust system for leaks and crimped pipes, and to repair or replace them if needed, Ready.gov writes. This is essential because carbon monoxide, which can cause death, is not easy to detect.

Also make sure to have the fuel and air filters checked, Ready.gov writes, reminding drivers to “replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas.” A full tank will prevent the fuel line from freezing, Ready.gov adds.

Your mechanic also needs to make sure the heater, defroster, and thermostat are working well, and ditto for the lights and flashing hazard lights, which are key in emergencies. The oil should be checked for level and weight, as heavier oils do not lubricate as well as thinner ones when the weather is cold, Ready.gov writes.

Any problems with the windshield wipers need to be fixed, and the washer fluid level should be maintained, Ready.gov writes. Finally, it is important for winter driving safety that tires have an adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually enough for most winter weather conditions, but in some locations, vehicles are required to have chains or snow tires with studs, Ready.gov says.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) notes that in Colorado, driving conditions in the winter can change “from sunny to blowing” in as little as an hour or two. The state urges drivers to check their tires ahead of time. Here is how to tell if you need new tires, according to CDOT:

  • Insert a quarter into the tire tread upside down, with Washington’s head going in first
  • If the top of George’s head is covered by the tread, your tires are OK – do this test at multiple points around each tire
  • If the top of his head is visible at any point around the tire, you need new tires

CDOT writes that in Colorado, when a chain law is in effect, your vehicle is required to have:

  • Snow tires with minimum 1/8” tread, or
  • All weather tires with mud and snow (M/S) mark with 1/8” tread, or
  • Four-wheel drive with 1/8” tread tires, or
  • Traction device (chains, auto-sock, etc.)

Highway signs will alert drivers when a chain law is in effect, CDOT writes. The department also recommends that drivers give snowplow drivers extra room and slow down. Drivers should note that even roads treated with liquid de-icers can be slippery, CDOT writes. Do not use cruise control in wintery conditions. It is helpful to keep a scraper, snow brush, coat, hat, gloves, blanket, first aid kit, flashlight, tire chains, matches, and nonperishable food in your car in case you get stuck in a winter weather situation. You can learn more on CDOT’s Winter Maintenance FAQs page.

Image by Monika Clarke

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