14 Items to Put in Your Winter Road Trip Safety Kit
If you’re going over the hills, through the woods or over a mountain pass during wintry months, do yourself a favor. Put a winter road trip kit in your vehicle, just in case.
Icy roads and traffic jams in cold weather aren’t predictable. Preparing in advance may save you some misery...and keep you safer in bad driving conditions.
Here Are Items to Put in a Winter Road Trip Safety Kit to Keep in Your Vehicle During the Cold Months.
- Plastic storage tub for keeping it all together and dry. And easy stowing when warmer weather returns.
- Headlamp. It could be not only snowing but dark when you realize you’re going to have to put on the snow chains.
- Speaking of tire chains, don’t forget them. If you have several sets of chains for several vehicles, putting the right chains in a dedicated winter safety kit for each car will keep you from being stranded with the wrong chains when you need them. (Here’s a video on how to install chains.)
- Reflective gear. A fluorescent safety vest with reflective strips can be bought at most big box home improvement stores. Orange warning triangles are available at most auto parts stores.
- Windshield ice scraper, in case of freezing rain, sleet or heavy snow.
- Waterproof jacket with a hood and rainpants. You’ll be glad to have that hood to keep snow from going down your back if you need to put on chains.
- Something to sit or kneel on when installing chains. Snowy or icy pavement is not a comfortable surface. A small tarp or even a piece of cardboard will really help.
- Gloves. Mittens won’t do you much good if you’re installing snow chains. Get gloves that are water resistant.
- Beanie or baseball cap. A knit hat that covers your ears will keep your head warm. Or a cap with a bill will keep snow from hitting your face.
- A towel to use after snow chain installation and removal, to put on the seat to keep it dry from your wet outer layers.
- Water. If there’s an accident on the pass you could be idled for hours. It’s a good idea to carry some water.
- Snacks. Keep a few energy or protein bars with a long shelf life in your kit.
- Kid items. Long road delays+hungry kids = nightmare. An extra diaper, a deck of cards and bag of snacks won’t take up much room and could make things a lot more tolerable.
- Pet items. A foldable fabric water bowl, spare leash and treats will be rewarded with lots of wags.
And one last thing: keep waterproof shoes handy inside your vehicle. Driving to your destination with wet feet in winter is no fun. Bring along the galoshes, just in case.
Want more tips on winter road safety? See 19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without.
Did you know you can get a free pre-trip safety check for your vehicle at Les Schwab? Find out more here.
5 Questions Any Good Tire Dealer Should Ask
Tires are a big investment most people make only every few years. If you want to make the right decision, you’ve got two choices:
- Become a tire selection expert.
- Become a tire dealer selection expert.
Option 2 is a lot easier. Make sure the salesperson asks you these five questions:
1. “What do you use your vehicle for?”
The best tire for a commuter in an economy car may not be the same as what’s needed for the family car. The tire that’s best for comfort and least noise for your long-distance commute may be overkill for a third car that's used less often. If you’re hauling loads or a trailer with your truck, that suggests a different choice than what’s right on a truck used for lighter duty.
Road conditions are a part of this equation. If you regularly go off-road, you’re driving streets with lots of potholes, or you live in a place with winding roads and tight curves, the salesperson’s recommendations will differ.
2. “What are your driving habits?”
If your dealer asks this question, they’re a keeper.
Literally and figuratively, tires aren’t one-size-fits-all. For example, a new driver in the family can change the ideal tire. So can your tendency towards conservative versus faster driving.
3. “Will you be doing any driving in winter conditions?”
You need tires that suit the weather conditions where you drive and your dealer knows that. A good one will ask.
All season tires are the choice for drivers in sunnier places. If you’re driving on snow or ice every year, you’ll likely have winter tires for cold months and a different set for warmer weather. Your dealer’s recommendation on what’s going to last longest and perform best will also be different if you live in a place with extremes of heat and cold than someplace with more consistent weather.
4. “What’s your budget?”
All these factors — driving habits, safety, longevity, comfort, handling, noise — have to be balanced with your budget. A good dealer is happy to explain the differences between a quality, basic tire, a premium tire, and everything in between, because it narrows the choices to what's best for you. You should never get the feeling the store rep is pushing a tire just because it’s on sale or it’s the most expensive.
5. “Here’s how our warranty works …”
OK, it’s not really a question. But the best dealers will bring this up. If you want to get the best value for the money, it’s really important to think this through. Service warranties can include free services worth hundreds of dollars over the life a tire. They vary substantially by dealer. Some features and limitations to find out about:
- Road hazards: If you run over a pothole, nail, or debris that damages the tire beyond repair, is the value of the tire covered?
- Expiration: How long is the tire covered? Three years? Five years? The life of the tire?
- Workmanship: Are both the tire and the quality of installation/repairs covered?
- Free services: Are regular inspections for wear, tire rotations and rebalancing included? What’s the cost to fix flats?
- Locations: How many stores will honor the warranty? The service warranty that comes with tires you buy at a dealer is an agreement with the dealer, not the manufacturer. A service warranty goes beyond the standard workmanship and material warranty you get from the company that made your tires. It can cover labor and free maintenance services. But your service warranty is good only at the retailer that sold you the tires. (If you’re weighing buying online, consider that if you get a flat, or a tire is defective, you have to get it off your vehicle and return it yourself.)
Find the right dealer and you don’t have to become a tire expert
Real professionals will be happy to talk your ear off about technical features — tread bars, siping, harmonic noise — or just give you the basic benefits of a tire in layperson’s language, your preference. Make sure they’re asking the questions above as a starting point. The answers will make the best choice obvious.
Do You Even Need a Spare Tire?
The fact that spare tires are no longer standard equipment on many newer-model cars can come as a nasty surprise when you get a flat tire. While most new light trucks and larger SUVs still come with a spare, here’s important news:
About 35 percent of vehicles now come from the factory without a spare tire.
Getting a flat tire is a major hassle and it can be costly. Here’s what to know about spares, including why more autos are coming without them, how to decide if you really need one and the upsides and downsides of inflator kits.
Which New Car & SUV Models Don’t Include a Spare?
On May 23, 2015, my 7-year-old granddaughter, my friend and I were stranded for four hours on I-84 west of Baker City, Oregon, with a blown-out tire and no spare. My brand new car did not come with a spare! I called my insurance emergency assistance four times. I waited for my insurance company to call and get a tow truck for about three hours. A local towing company wanted to charge me $530.00 to tow my car about 20 miles to Les Schwab in Baker City. I mentioned to the insurance agent that I wanted my car towed to Les Schwab so I could get a new tire. The insurance agent called Les Schwab and I spoke with Jake at the counter. Les Schwab came out with a new tire, changed it and we were back driving in about 30 minutes. I went back to the store and bought a spare. Thank you Les Schwab, you saved our day. Too bad the other businesses I dealt with on Saturday did not have your ethics for putting customers first. Thanks again for being there for us. You will be the first I call next time I need a tire changed, and I will recommend to my insurance company they need to put you on their call list.
– Penny M., Baker City, OR
The time to find out if your new or used car is going to come equipped with a spare is before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t rely on the sales staff to volunteer the news. It can be difficult to tell which models come with a spare and which don’t, since some trim levels will, but not all. Be sure by asking the sales rep directly. (And if you’ve recently bought a newer model car, be sure to check whether it has a spare, so you’re prepared with an alternative in case of a flat.)
Why Aren’t Some New Cars Coming With Spare Tires?
A bunch of factors are in play.
- Efforts to improve fuel efficiency. Removing the spare can reduce a vehicle’s weight by about 30 to 50 pounds, once you include the jack and wrench. It can also improve aerodynamics by reducing air drag from spare tire compartments that poke below the undercarriages of vehicles. These two factors can improve miles per gallon performance and help carmakers meet strict EPA standards for their full fleets, an attractive option for both car companies and energy-conscious drivers.
- Need for more space in smaller vehicles. A spare can take up significant room in compacts, sports cars and small sedans. There can be a trade-off between comfort and the space in small cars.
- Lack of storage space, especially in hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles. Batteries and emissions equipment for such vehicles sometimes now take up space where the spare used to go.
- Reduced manufacturing costs. Yep, a carmaker can save several hundred dollars by foregoing the spare in new cars.
What Are Alternatives to a Spare Tire? Are They Any Good?
Some new cars are coming from the factory equipped with tires or inflator kits that claim to make the spare tire unnecessary. There are upsides and downsides to all.
Run-flat tires are designed to allow driving for a limited distance after losing air from a typical puncture. They are built with either a reinforced sidewall or an internal support ring to carry the vehicle’s weight if the tire tread gets pierced. (The sidewall is the curbside face of the tire.)
Run-flats are made to travel from 10 to 50 miles under 50 mph when deflated, so you can get somewhere for service. Run-flats may also offer better control than standard tires when there’s a tire failure involving complete loss of air.
Downsides: Driving on a run-flat for even the shortest of distances will ruin the tire. It will have to be replaced. Plus, if you’re somewhere remote and get a flat, you may not be within range of the next tire repair shop.
Self-sealing tires have a lining coated with special sealant inside the tire. When an object on the road pierces the tread, the sealant material "surrounds" the hole. Then when a nail or other debris is removed, the sealant fills the full area.
Downsides: The self-sealing tire won't work if a puncture is more than about a quarter of an inch in diameter. They also don’t work for sidewall holes, so if an object goes through the tread to the sidewall you’re going to have a dead flat and won’t be going anywhere.
Inflator kits are a growing — but less-than-ideal — substitute to the spare tire. New autos with standard tires sometimes come with an aerosol seal kit. Such products offer a very temporary fix for minor tread punctures so you can get to a nearby tire store or service station for repairs.
Some are as simple as $10 canned products that plug small puncture holes by spraying sealant into the flat via the air-inflation valve and inflating the tire just a bit. Other tire-sealant kits include a small air cartridge and a replaceable container of sealant at a cost between $20 to $80.
Downsides: Tire sealant kits only work on small holes in the tread, and they don’t work at all for slits or holes in the sidewall.
Sealants also leave grime inside the tire that can affect your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), the safety equipment that alerts you if you’ve lost air in a tire. Any time you use a sealant you’ll need to have the TPMS sensors in your tires cleaned. And sealants can easily damage these sensors. You’re looking at a cost of $45 to $100 per tire if they need to be replaced.
When Is It OK to Go Without a Spare Tire? And Not?
If you’re buying a new car, here are five tips for deciding whether to get a model with no spare, based on where you live, what type of driving you’re doing, cost, safety and convenience.
- The freeway shoulder can be a dangerous place to change a tire. If you live in an urban area with 24-hour towing, and you’re doing mostly daytime driving, you may be good with no spare. Just be sure you have AAA towing service ($69 a year for the basic package), roadside assistance coverage included in your auto insurance policy, or one of the new, on-demand services. Without it, a standard tow (around 5 miles) will cost you an average $109, according to Angie’s List.
- Decide up front if you’re willing to go spare-less for the life of your vehicle. If you find yourself regretting your decision later, you’ll pay more for an aftermarket tire, jack and lug wrench (typically $150 to $300) than you do when the kit comes as original equipment on a new car. Plus, there may not be a space to safely carry them in your vehicle if you bought a spare-less auto model.
- If you take a lot of road trips, routinely drive in places with long distances between service stations, or travel a lot on rougher roads, you need a spare tire. Getting a flat in rural areas means you could be a hundred miles or more to the nearest repair shop. If it’s after business hours, you could be looking at being marooned for hours, paying for a hotel for a night (or more if it’s a weekend), leaving a vehicle loaded with gear or belongings on the side of the road, and paying a hefty towing fee over a long stretch of highway.
I lease my 2013 Hyundai. I came out after work to a flat tire. I opened my trunk and imagine my surprise when there was no spare tire. I called Les Schwab and they said they had a guy in the neighborhood and he would be right there. He came and put air in my tire and followed me to the nearest store. It was after closing, but they kept the bays open for me. They removed the screw from my tire and sent me on my way with no charge. Who does that? I am a fan and tell everyone I know!
– Peggy P., Sacramento, CA
- Get a spare tire if you travel with small kids, especially if you're taking occasional road trips. Getting stranded with a flat and no spare can mean several hours of waiting for a tow, even in an urban area. This is sure to be stressful for parents and possibly unsafe for tots, especially if it’s a really hot or frigid day.
- If you have medical needs that need daily attention, better have a spare.
Flat tires can be a major, costly hassle — or simply a slight inconvenience. Especially in the West, where distances between tire service can be long and lonely, a spare tire is the most cost-effective insurance that you won’t get stuck by the side of the road.
Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?
Hitting a pothole is never fun. But those holes in the road can do more than spill your latte. Potholes can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a minor impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment. A pothole strike can damage your shocks or struts, or harm your suspension.
Give Your Vehicle a Quick Inspection
After hitting a pothole, check for any of the following signs of pothole damage.
- A bulge on the tire sidewall. This is an indicator that the tire was pinched between the edge of the pothole and the wheel causing the internal plies to be weakened or severed.
- Your steering wheel is no longer centered or the vehicle wants to pull to one side or the other. The impact may have been hard enough to affect the alignment or damage a steering or suspension component.
- You feel abnormal vibrations in the steering, seat or floor.
- You may hear a new noise when underway. Something may have been bent or displaced and could be rubbing on the tire/wheel assembly.
- A dashboard warning light appears.
How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?
Hitting a pothole can cause bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, and shock and strut issues depending on the severity of the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll puncture your tires or damage your vehicle, but if you have any concerns, get it inspected.
Below are some photos that show how potholes can damage wheels or rims.
When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask for an inspection that covers:
- Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment
- Damage to the tire’s steel belts
- Intact tire balancing weights
- Bent or cracked wheel rim
- Damage to shocks and struts
- Other broken suspension components
Tips to Minimize Pothole Damage
With summer and winter weather throughout the West impacting our roads, potholes are going to happen. Here’s what you can do to minimize the damage and possibly avoid these hazards.
- Always drive on tires that are properly inflated and in good condition. This will give you the best chance of absorbing the impact safely.
- Drive defensively. Slow down when you’re on an unfamiliar or rough road, and avoid distracted driving.
- Be alert to what’s ahead, and make sure you keep enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so you can avoid issues.
- Recognize that though you might miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting.
- When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and hold your steering wheel tightly. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.
Les Schwab Has Experience with Pothole Damage
Our pros have seen plenty of pothole damage and can offer recommendations, including tire repair and replacement, alignment work, and more. Stop by your local Les Schwab for a free inspection. If you need new tires, wheels or alignment, we’ll help get you and your family quickly and safely back on the road.
Guide to Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
Notice to our customers: Important changes affecting vehicles equipped with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems have been put into place.Learn More
What Is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System?
TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. It is a feature on many late model vehicles that monitors tire pressure and warns the driver, with a light on the dash, if one or more of the tires’ pressure falls 25% below the original equipment manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure.
See the questions below to learn more about TPMS, and how to check if your vehicle is equipped with TPMS.
Why does TPMS exist?
As a result of tire-related safety concerns, Congress passed the TREAD Act in 2000. The TREAD Act requires vehicle manufacturers to install TPMS in new vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less.
What vehicles have it?
Passenger cars, SUVs, and light trucks. TPMS has been progressively introduced in new vehicles since 2005. Refer to your owner’s manual for more information.
How do I check to see if my vehicle has it?
When you start your vehicle, look at the dash for the TPMS warning lamp. If you see the warning lamp light up momentarily, your vehicle is equipped with TPMS.
What does it mean when the warning lamp is on?
The warning lamp should light up briefly when the vehicle is started. But if the light stays on, that means tire pressure is low in one or more of the tires, or the system is not able to read the sensors. In this case, you should have your tire air pressure checked. We provide this service for free at all of our Les Schwab locations.
What kind of maintenance is required on my TPMS?
Replacement or relocation of a TPMS sensor, or sometimes even just inflating a tire may cause the TPMS to get out of whack. Generally, recalibration is easy to perform: we provide this service to customers free at all Les Schwab Tire Centers.
Does this mean I don’t need to check my tire pressure?
Regardless of TPMS, we recommend tire pressure checks every 30 days. Properly maintained tire pressure decreases tire wear and improves vehicle safety, handling, braking and fuel mileage. Come in anytime for a free air check.
Find Your Store
How Do I Know When I Need New Tires?
The primary functions of tread are to divert water from beneath the tire, to improve traction and to avoid hydroplaning on wet roads. As tire tread wears down, it becomes less reliable. Find out when you need new tires in this video, or read about it below.
Tires become completely unsafe when they’re worn down to 1⁄16 of an inch. Many people prefer to replace their tires even sooner, especially when driving in adverse weather conditions.
Check Your Tread Wear Bars
All tires sold in the United States today have what are called tread wear bars. These are small raised bars of rubber in the grooves of your tire. Look at the tread pattern and you’ll see these bars running between the tread blocks. As your tires wear, these bars will become flush with the tire’s tread. When this happens, it’s time to replace the tires.
Do a Penny Test
An easy way to check the tread on your tires is to do the penny test. Take a penny and place Lincoln’s head in one of the grooves of the tire tread. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tire.
If the penny goes in enough that the tire tread is at least as deep as Lincoln’s forehead, your tires are generally considered safe and do not need replacing. Make sure when you’re administering the penny test that you check all four of your tires.
While you’re at it, check a few spots on each tire to look for any irregular tread wear. This could indicate a wheel misalignment, need for tire rotation or both. Talk to one of our tire experts if you think your tires are wearing unevenly.