If you wake up to find a layer of ice on your car and on the road, your action plan shouldn't venture down a slippery slope. Here's the 411 on tackling icy conditions.
Short of keeping your car in the garage, experts agree that the tried-and-true method of warming up your vehicle for 15 minutes, turning up the defrost setting full blast and using a long-handled plastic scraper is the best way to de-ice a windshield.
Using hot water on the windshield is a bad idea. Why? If you have a rock chip that hasn't been repaired, it can crack your entire windshield, says Sean Thorton, general manager of 1st Class Glass in Bothell. Metal objects can also permanently damage the glass, so stick with that plastic scraper and some elbow grease.
And stay with your car. While it may be tempting to go back inside, an unattended running vehicle presents a perfect theft opportunity.
Keep supplies handy
Keep a basic winter survival kit in your vehicle; it should contain a flashlight, batteries, a blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots and a first-aid kit. Also load your car with winter travel gear, such as tire chains, ice scraper/snow brush, jumper cables and road flares. See more winter-preparedness tips at takewinterbystorm.org.
While we don't often see such extreme cold in the Northwest, it is possible to break off a key inside the lock of a frozen car door. Monty Mills, snow and ice program manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), advises warming up the key using body heat or a lighter.
Another option is to buy a tube of glycerin-based de-icer from an auto-supply store. Just be sure to keep it in your garage or desk at work — and not in the glove box of your frozen-shut car.
Because rubber stiffens as the weather gets colder, all-season tires won't handle the roads as well as winter tires specially designed for driving in temperatures 45 degrees or below. Winter tires are a safer bet as the temperatures drop. "Winter tires can provide increased traction, braking and handling," says Anant Gandhi, Bridgestone Americas product manager.
You'll also want to check your tire inflation. Lower temps can make your tires underinflated, which may result in poor handling and fuel consumption.
On snowy roads, "with chains on, every tire becomes a traction tire," says Alice Fiman, communications manager for WSDOT. Be aware of requirements on mountain passes, or you could get ticketed or forced to turn around by the Washington State Patrol. When "chains required" signs are posted, state law requires that you have chains in your vehicle, even if you have four-wheel drive.
Washington allows AutoSock as an alternative to tire chains. The fabric and elastic self-centering tire cover can be found at Six Robblees' Inc. stores in Tukwila, Tacoma and Everett, and at autosock.us.
Due to the unpredictability of the Puget Sound convergence zone, you can't just look outside and know the road conditions for your entire route, Fiman says. "You could drive 2 miles and things could be completely different," she says.
So go online and check. WSDOT's winter travel page (wsdot.wa.gov/winter) is a wealth of information, including chain requirements, road temperatures, safety information, live webcams and traffic alerts.
It's a good idea to get a general car checkup (brakes, fluids, wiper blades and battery) and keep your car washed and waxed during the winter. This will help protect your vehicle from sand and de-icing chemicals that may be on the road.