Be Prepared for Trouble!

Safety TrianglesI remember putting chains on my father's tow truck and plowing snow with the front bumper at 30 mph to go and drag a hapless motorist back onto the highway. I also remember my time in northern BC where one didn't leave the driveway without a shovel, tow rope, extra winter clothing, tools and a collection of small spare parts at this time of year. Are you really ready for your next trip in winter conditions?

It's easy to become complacent. We expect our highways to be open at all times and perfectly maintained, even under severe winter conditions. Sometimes this is not a realistic view and the first question that you should ask yourself is, do I really need to make this trip?

If the answer is yes, the next step in planning your journey might be a visit to DriveBC. The map view shows a variety of information using icons to indicate incidents and road conditions. Web cams let you look at current conditions in hundreds of locations around BC.

Is your vehicle up to the trip? Shift Into Winter has some maintenance advice for you to consider.

Start out with a full tank of fuel or a fully charged battery. Keep them both topped up, especially if you are going to travel one of our mountain passes that have long distances between service facilities. It does not cost you more to travel on the top half of the tank and the reserve could become very important if you are stranded.

Carry equipment to get yourself out of trouble. Transport Canada has recommendations for what to include in your basic emergency kit.

Yes, I still carry booster cables, a first aid kit, tools, spares, flares, triangles, blanket, cell phone, ham radio and a shovel with me.

Remember that a functional cell phone without an active account or SIM card can still be used to call 911 if you have signal. Keep a 12 volt charger for it in the glovebox.

One bonus of being prepared is that you will also be able to provide help for others.

If you do get stuck, your first thought should be to keep the situation from becoming worse. Put out those warning devices far enough away to give other drivers time to see, think and react safely.

Your vehicle is shelter and you are likely better to stay with it until help arrives. If you run the engine to stay warm, insure that the exhaust outlets are clear to prevent fumes from entering the passenger compartment.

My final tip is that if you do travel, this is not the time to use cruise control. It's a fair weather friend that you must only use when there is good traction.

As former traveling commercial traveler from Saskatchewan for 22 years my employer always reminded their traveling staff the emergency supplies to carry in the car for winter driving. We did not have cell phones in those days. In Saskatchewan black ice was not as prevalent as it happens in BC. However many of the city streets at intersections were often the equivalent as black ice. In slippery braking conditions I always slipped the transmission in neutral before applying the brakes. I found you have much better control and seems to prevent a lot of the vehicle from sliding sideways etc. What is your opinion on this as with the recent street conditions we have had it still works for me? I have found you have better control of the vehicle, the braking distance is shortened.

I have had many drivers tell me this over the years, particularly when an automatic transmission is involved. There is only one prohibition involved that I can think of in the Motor Vehicle Act:

Coasting down grade

197 When traveling down grade a driver must not coast with the gears of the vehicle in neutral or the clutch disengaged.

I think that this was designed to prevent a runaway vehicle in the event that the driver could not get the vehicle back into gear.

I too used this technique for years in the praries and taught it to many as well but I'm not sure there is an advantage any longer with ABS brakes, they seem to aleviate this need.

Check Ride - I similarly learned this technique from a combination of driving school information and practical application in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. Places it gets real cold.

The idea behind it, as I recall, is that if a driver has maybe just emerged from his garage and then maybe proceeds down to the end of the lane where he needs to use the brakes - or encountering the first stop signs on his route by shoving the shifter into Neutral, (it's never necessary to push a button or pull the lever toward you between Drive & Neutral) - because with the motor on fast idle then the last thing you needed was to be in Drive! If you were, then that would mean that much of the force behind the brake application would be applied against the vehicle's motor, thus providing far less control to modulate the brakes if placed in Neutral. It makes no sense to fight your own vehicle.

Meanwhile, my jury is still out on ABS. It sure can stop you fast and hard on many surfaces, but when it gets icy my inclination is still to turn off the assist so that I can feel what's happening and lock up if I want to for a moment.


Years (many) ago I was on the road for the Manitoba Telephone System & carried some of the items you mention in order to be prepared in case of being stuck over night in the cold. That was a long time before the modern communications were available. I must say your list is far more comprehensive than I had thought of long ago.

One other suggestion, instead of a tow rope I always used to (sorry, past tense) a come along with a couple of nylon slings. The come along could be used around a tree or other inanimate object and could be used for pulling a vehicle out of distress much like a winch but easily powered by arms. It helped me out a few times.

FYI, some tips that we have developed or adopted over the years.

I suggest that all motorists consider carrying a small axe as part of their winter equipment. If stuck, obviously used to make a fire if wanted or necessary. It can also be used as a hammer or used to chip away compact/ice to make clearance for a jack under an axle to change a tire.

We carry squirt bottles (i.e. Windex dispensers) filled with windshield washer fluid. The winter variety is rated for -40C or so and is ideal for cleaning head/tail lamps (including while enroute), washing and de-icing windshields especially around the perimeter where wipers do not go, de-icing wiper blades, etc.

Candles. Prepared candle kits are not easy to come by so I make my own. I use a 250 gm coffee can, fill with candles and put a couple of books of paper matches inside plastic sandwich wrappers in the can on top of the candles. I find that many non-smokers do not have matches on board and some new vehicles are no longer fitted with cigarette lighters. Candles can be obtained from many sources rather inexpensively. I find most of mine at yard sales, usually for next to nothing. Longer candles can be cut off so that they are part of an inch short of the length of the can so the lid can fit easily back on. Carry in the passenger compartment if possible.

Many people I have spoken to do not realize newer vehicles are fitted with a fuel shut-off valve and even a moderate impact with a snow bank that does not damage the vehicle, can trip this fuel valve. No fuel, no motor operation and hence, no heat! And frequently it needs a mechanic's attention to get this valve re-opened.

On our rural roads those candles might just save the day if an hour or so passes before another motorist happens by when it is sub-zero outside.

One thing about fuel levels in fuel tanks, there are many configurations where the in-tank fuel pump is attached to the pickup tube, and is cooled by fuel. If you have less than 1/4 a tank of fuel, the pump is no longer cooled by the fuel, and its lifespan is shortened.

As far as an emergency kit, I always packed blankets and those foil ponchos, plus a bunch of energy bars, non perishables, and water. (That kit kept me and 5 other motorists fed and watered on Snoqualmie pass for a day and a half back in the 80’s)

A bag of kitty litter helps traction, or a couple chunks of old carpet. Chains are a no brainer. A bottle or 2 of gas line antifreeze, a jug of coolant, a couple litres engine oil, a good jerry can of fuel, some tarp straps, a tow strap, a logging chain, (a small chain saw if you have one) a small propane torch, tools, a selection of automotive bulbs(headlamp and rear)

Mix and match what you need or can handle. My list is a bit more intensive, but I’m required to go off road at times, places where I might not meet anyone else for who knows how long.

The bright side is, 2 more months and you won’t need any of this stuff. Not on the coast anyhow.

Happy trails......

I carry everything that others posted only I do it year round. The last time I put tire chains on a car goes back to my teenage years and it was to get up a greasy hill in mud. Chains aren't just for snow.

I also keep a pair of felt lined caulk boots. If you are ever stopped on a icy road thoes caulks come in handy. I know lots of people carry the clip on things.

I've seen some posting on ABS brakes. The only time I think threshold braking is better is in sand or gravel where if you lock them up you dig yourself a trench. Under these conditions you can always pull on the hand brake and lock-up the rear. ABS cycles through several times/second and I know that I personally cannot do the same. My feeling is on ice ABS will stop you faster than manually operating yourself. Maybe wrong but it would be interesting to see the stopping distance by those that claim they can do a better job on ice, with and without the use of ABS.

Heard of people shifting an automatic into neutral but thought it was mainly with pick-ups during the era when they had ABS on the rear only and with any weight in the box the front had a tendency to lock-up while the rear kept pushing especially when on high idle prior to warming up. Got an idea this was back in the days the practice was to put snow tires on the rear only and summer tread on the front.

I would say the main thing is to point out to people that they should ensure that there are sufficient EV charging stations, or places to plug in, along their route, as drivers are likely to use more electric power in winter weather than in summer weather.

... are always wise to keep the fuel tank full.

It helps to prevent condensation in the fuel tank, shifts some weight toward the rear axle (usually helpful with any kind of drivetrain setup), and if you end up in a snow drift then so long as the motor still runs (and the exhaust has been kept clear to the outside air so you don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning) you can keep on running the heater when necessary.