19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without
Winter driving in the West can be wacky at best and perilous at worst. Roads ice over. Rain makes pavement slick as bacon grease. Here are 19 winter driving resources on everything from fog lights to snow chains to driving on ice. Use these in addition to the warnings, notices or other advice specific to your vehicle in your owner’s manual.
Got Traction? Winter Tires & Snow Chains
Don’t think of chains as a substitute for winter tires but as an option you need to have ready when you’re driving on snow.
You shouldn’t go on a winter drive without being sure of your traction. Find out how to use snow chains, the differences between all-season and winter tires and what you really need for where you live.
- How to: Put on Snow Chains. Step-by-step instructions and a video for putting on snow chains and driving safely.
- Snow Chains Buyer’s Guide. The Automobile Association’s guide to what you need and how to buy them.
- How to Choose Snow Tires. Are winter tires worth it? Can you just buy chains instead? Should you buy studded tires? What about siping?
Top Safety Reminders for Winter Road Trips
Don’t use cruise control. Your tires may spin too fast on slick roads, causing you to lose control.
Getting road-ready is different in the cold months. Don’t leave home without reading these short refreshers to prevent winter driving nightmares.
- 14 Items to Put in Your Winter Road Trip Safety Kit. Think you’re prepared? Here’s a checklist of what you may have forgotten.
- AAA’s guide How to Go on Ice and Snow. Easy-to-read info on safer driving in winter.
- 9 Driving Safety Tips to Get You Ready for a Winter Drive. A pre-trip checklist to get your vehicle winter-ready and quick tips on how to drive on slick roads.
- What to Do If You Get Stuck in Snow. Tips on getting your vehicle out of deep snow from an Icelandic off-road driving expert.
How to Drive in Rain, Snow, Ice and Fog
For a car traveling 35 mph on dry pavement, it can take anywhere from 60 to 97 feet for thinking and braking distance. Double that for driving on wet pavement, triple it for packed snow and 10 times it for icy roads.
Tips for handling all the bad driving conditions you're likely to face from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies to Southern California and every place in between.
- Driving in Rain? How to Avoid Hydroplaning and Other Tips. When you’re most at risk of hydroplaning, preventing skids and what to do if you do lose control.
- Winter Driving Tips: How to Drive in Snow. What you should know about stopping distance, driving downhill and where the road’s going to be most dangerous.
- How to Drive Safely on Ice: Top Tips for Keeping Your Car on the Road. You can’t always tell when the road is icing up. Here’s when to use extra caution and steer clear of a wreck.
- How to Recover from 5 Types of Skids. For advanced drivers only, the low-down on different types of skids and how to safely steer when it happens.
- How Do I Drive Safely in Fog? How to drive safely in fog and a list of fog light rules for Western states.
- Common Winter Driving Myths Busted. Thinking you should gear down in slippery conditions? Think again.
- Winter Driving Guide. The difference between traction control and stability control.
Winterizing Your Vehicle
If it’s worked hard over summer, or the weather was really hot, your auto battery could have trouble holding a charge and delivering cranking power come fall.
Summer driving puts a lot of wear and tear on your vehicle. Here’s what you can do in fall to head off dead batteries and other hassles.
- Now Seasonal Car Battery Care: Why and How. Figure out if you need a new auto battery or not, before your car won’t start.
- How to Winterize a Car. A cold-weather survival guide for your car from Consumer Reports.
Real-time Road Conditions
Know in advance or in real time what’s happening with the weather and roads where you’re headed. Here’s where to find out.
- What You Need to Know About Road Conditions Right Now. Real-time road conditions in Western states, with chain requirements, current road reports, forecasts, road cams and winter storm warnings.
- AccuWeather Hyperlocal Weather App. An app for Apple or Android phones that gives hyperlocal, minute-by-minute precipitation forecasts.
- Weather Underground App. For use in rural areas, an app for Apple or Android phones with local data from over 40,000 professional and hobbyist weather stations.
If Nothing Else, Remember This About Winter Driving
When you’re in a hurry to get to work or your vacation rental it can be easy to forget that winter driving is not like warm-weather driving. In winter, bald tires, tailgating, leaving home on a near-empty tank or passing aggressively have even bigger consequences.
Almost a quarter of auto crashes in the U.S. annually – nearly 1,259,000 — are weather-related. Almost half of those happen during rainfall.
It’s better not to venture out at all when the weather’s awful. But if you absolutely have to be on the road, here are key things to remember.
Slowing down is more likely to get you there safely and on time than rushing. Statistics show you can expect bad weather on main roads to result in travel time delays from 11 to 50 percent. On arteries with traffic signals, you can expect speed reductions from 10 to 25 percent on wet pavement and from 30 to 40 percent with snowy or slushy pavement.
Why fight it?
Give yourself more stopping distance. Forget the 3-second rule; allow at least 120 feet on wet pavement, 180 feet on packed snow and 600 feet on ice to stop.
Make sure all parts of your vehicle are winter-ready — starting with the right tires, properly inflated and in good condition.SHOP WINTER TIRES
6 Fall Color Day Trips Near Denver Not to Miss
That extra chill in the morning air means fall colors will soon be peaking. Here are six of the best leaf-peeping drives you can do from Denver in an afternoon or a day. Don’t delay: The best time to experience Mother Nature’s autumn art show is September through mid-October.
Before You Go
Check your tire pressure. You lose some tire pressure (tires get slightly flatter) as you travel to higher altitudes, since the atmospheric pressure decreases (as in the expression “thin air”). Colder temperatures will also cause a slight loss in tire pressure.
If you’re just planning on a day trip, all you need to do is fill your tires to the full, proper PSI (pounds per square inch) before you leave and be sure they aren’t underinflated. Although your tires will lose about two PSI if you travel from 5,000 to 10,000 feet in altitude, they’ll regain this PSI upon descent. If your autumn adventure extends over several days, it’s a good idea to have your tire pressure checked and set the morning after arriving at altitude and when you get back home.
Check road conditions. Fall weather is unpredictable and roads can become impassable with little notice. Know before you go.
1. Eldorado Canyon State Park and Clear Creek
The Drive: 51-mile loop trip, around 90 minutes
Considered one of 10 state parks not to miss by SmarterTravel.com, Eldorado Canyon State Park is easy to get to and fall leaves aren’t the only allure here. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, climbing, picnicking, wildlife watching and fishing are all popular uses. It’s also a great destination for birders, with recorded sightings of golden eagles, prairie falcons, wild turkeys, blue grouse and about 75 other species.
Get there early and bring the $8 entrance fee. When parking reaches capacity, you may have to wait until another vehicle leaves to enter.
Return via Golden and stop for a walk along the Clear Creek Trail, a paved path framed by colorful trees along a bubbling waterway.
2. Guanella Pass
The Drive: 123-mile loop trip, 2 hours 45 minutes
The 11-mile stretch of Guanella Pass Road between Georgetown and the Mount Bierstadt trailhead provides as-good-as-it-gets leaf peeping without leaving your car. Admire vivid reds, yellows and oranges and contrasting greens of aspens, willows and evergreens, along with plenty of vistas around every switchback. Don’t miss the view of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans from the parking lot at the top of the pass, which has an elevation of 11,600 feet.
3. Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway
The Drive: 254-mile loop trip, 4 hours 40 minutes
The Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway goes from Granite to Buena Vista to Salida to Poncha Springs. Some of the best scenery is in the stretch between Granite and Buena Vista, where the fall foliage has Buffalo Peaks as a stunning backdrop.
You’ll parallel the Continental Divide at the foot of the Sawatch Range, with views of the highest concentration of 14ers in the country. You’ll also follow a good stretch of the Arkansas River with its famed white water.
4. Golden Gate Canyon State Park
The Drive: 49-mile round trip, 1 hour 15 minutes
A short drive from west Denver will get you to this state park with miles of hiking trails, rocky peaks, and aspen-filled meadows. Enjoy fishing ponds, picnic sites and the Panorama Point Scenic Overlook, where visitors can see 100 miles of the Continental Divide.
>Don’t miss the 3.6-mile Horseshoe Trail which meanders along a running stream past boulders, stands of aspen, meadows and mountain views.
5. Kenosha Pass
The Drive: 126-mile round trip, 2 hours 30 minutes
The Kenosha Pass Trail is hard to beat for autumn scenery. Walking just 3 miles on the east side of Highway 285 will lead you through dazzling stands of aspens to a 270-degree view of green and gold forests with 13ers and 14ers stacked up behind.
6. Peak to Peak Scenic and Historic Byway
The Drive: 149-mile loop trip, 3 hours 40 minutes
Colorado’s oldest scenic byway, the Peak to Peak offers some great tourism sites along with spectacular foliage. This drive takes you through Rocky Mountain National Park and offers up views of the Continental Divide. Look for mine tailings (scrap rock from Gold Rush mines that was dumped down the sides of mountains) along the road from Ward to Black Hawk. A short side trip just before you get to Black Hawk will take you to the lesser-known ghost town of Apex. Also worth a detour: the 1890s-era Goldminer Hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, located a few miles west of Nederland.
Tire pressure checks are always free at Les Schwab Tires. Stop by before and after your high-altitude adventures.
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How to Avoid & Prepare for a Flat Tire on Your RV or Trailer
Family adventures in your RV or with your trailer in tow can come to a screeching halt with just one flat tire. Now what? If you’re planning ahead and wondering what you’ll need to change a flat tire on your RV or trailer, we’ve put together some tips and a list of tire-changing tools you’ll need for your own vehicle.
We talked to some of our tire experts at Les Schwab who spend most of their summer weekends exploring their favorite places across Oregon in their RVs or with their trailers in tow. In fact, we even checked out some of the toolkits they carry in their RVs and trailers to see what they take along. Here’s what we found and what they recommend.
Start With the Spare
Your RV or trailer spare tire is one of the most important items you can carry when you travel. Without it, you may be waiting for roadside assistance or unhooking your rig and driving back into town to fix the trailer tire.
Before you head out, bring your RV or trailer into the Les Schwab Tire Center near you. We’ll check all of your tires, including your spare for cracks, separating tread, and other issues that could leave you stranded.
Les Schwab Tip: Be sure your spare is easily accessible. If it’s not mounted to the back of the RV or trailer, put it somewhere that is easy to reach.
Visually Inspect Your RV and Trailer Tires at Every Stop
It’s tough to tell if your RV or trailer tire is on the verge of tire failure or a flat. Every time you stop for gas, bathroom breaks, or meals, check all the tires for wear, escaping air, and cracks. If you notice anything unusual, get to the nearest Les Schwab before it becomes a problem.
Les Schwab Tip: If your tire goes flat anywhere near one of our locations, we may be able to come to you during regular business hours. Give us a call.
Check the Tire Pressure
A lot of RV and trailer tire failures happen because of low tire pressure. With a simple gauge, an electric pump, or a trip to Les Schwab, you can help keep your tire pressure at an optimum level. Check out Using a Tire Pressure Gauge for more helpful advice.
Pack Extra Tools
Do you have all the right tools to change ALL of the tires on your RV or trailer? This list should help you get back on the road quickly if you ever need to change a flat tire.
- Leather Gloves to protect your hands. Our tire experts have changed thousands of flat tires and they list heavy gloves as a must-have. Any gloves are better than nothing, but they affirm that leather gloves are more durable when handling heavy, hot metal.
- Bottle Jack is a compact lifting device that comes in a variety of sizes and lifting capacities. Bring a piece of plywood with your bottle jack to help stabilize it and prevent it from sinking into the ground if the shoulder is soggy, the asphalt is hot, or if it’s otherwise unstable. You’ll be glad you have it if you find yourself with a blowout in a muddy patch of road.
- Long Handle Lug Wrench comes in a variety of sizes and is essential for loosening the lug nuts. You’ll also need sockets that fit the lugs on EVERY wheel. Remember to check the spare, too. Those lugs can often be a different size.
- Torque Wrench will help you tighten the lugs properly without damaging the wheel studs. Incorrect tightening of the lug nuts can cause a loss of torque pressure between the wheel and the mounting surface, potentially causing the wheel to come loose.
- Socket Set and Cordless Impact Wrench and/or Gun to make some of the work easier. You’ll still need the lug wrench to loosen each lug and the torque wrench to tighten them properly.
- Bolt Cutter. Those who’ve been traveling by RV or hauling trailers for a while have changed a flat or two over the years. One thing they’ve learned to always carry is a bolt cutter to remove the steel cords from a tire that has failed and wrapped itself around the axle. Long handles can help reach where you need it.
- Reflectors or Flares don’t need to be expensive or heavy duty to help alert traffic and keep you safe. In addition to turning on your hazard lights, place one reflector close behind your RV or trailer and another 10-15 feet farther away. (Not Shown)
- Mat or Towel to protect your knees from the inevitable, unforgiving pavement and rocks. You’ll appreciate the protective layer to keep your clothes a little drier and cleaner when the road is hot and dirty in the summer or cold and icy in the winter. (not shown)
Other Tips for Getting Your RV or Trailer Ready for the Road
Before you head out, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips to get your RV or trailer ready for the road. As you’re planning your road trip, use this handy interactive essential road trip checklist to make sure you and your vehicle are as prepared as possible.
Les Schwab Knows RV and Trailer Tires
Your local Les Schwab carries the right tires, wheels, and accessories for your RV or trailer, plus we’re here to inspect your tires, including your spare, and offer helpful advice for your next outing. Stop by or schedule an appointment today.
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How to Have a Happy, Safe Summer Road Trip
So you’re hitting the road for your favorite campsite, fishing hole, theme park or beach rental. Here are 17 summer driving reminders to keep you, your passengers and fellow travelers safer on highways and byways.
- Make sure your vehicle is safe and road-ready with this checklist.
- Buckle up every time.
- Put kids 13 and younger in the back seat. No exceptions.
- Inflate tires properly. Proper inflation is important for safety and can save you up to 9 cents per gallon through better fuel efficiency.
- If you’re hauling, use a safety chain for trailers and inspect your hitch whenever you stop.
- Check blind zones before backing up. Trucks, SUVs, RVs and vans are more likely than cars to be involved in backovers.
- Remember to add clearance for trailers, campers, bike racks and roof racks. It’s easy to forget your extra height or length.
- Add following distance. A fully loaded vehicle needs more stopping time.
- Add extra following distance for motorcycles. They can stop much quicker, in shorter distances.
- Slow down if there’s a sudden cloudburst to avoid hydroplaning.
- Never leave kids or animals in an unattended car, even with windows down or A/C on.
- Lock your vehicle when exiting.
- Don’t drive distracted. Don’t text or check your phone. Check out cell phone laws by state.
- Watch for pedestrians and cyclists on the shoulder. Warm weather means there are more sharing the road.
- Before driving, don’t take medications, alcohol or drugs that will impair you.
- Pull over if you get drowsy.
- If you get stranded without a roadside assistance policy, call an on-demand roadside service.
Trailer and Tire Do’s and Don’ts: Answers to Common Questions
Whether you’re towing a camper, a boat or a cargo trailer, whatever’s attached to your hitch needs the same attention your vehicle gets. If you’ve noticed uneven tire wear, your trailer is bouncing or you’re not sure what type of tire is best, here’s a quick FAQ.
1. Is It Okay for the Rear of My Truck to Sag When It’s Hitched to My Trailer?
You don’t want your tow vehicle to sag under the weight of your trailer. It means there’s not enough weight distributed to the front wheels of your truck or SUV and it will compromise your handling. You’ll also create uneven wear on all your tires, and they won’t last as long as they should.
If the trailer tongue isn’t within an inch or two of being level with the ground, you need to make some adjustments.
There are many approaches to fixing an unlevel tow issue, depending on your rig:
- Adjust your trailer mount up or down to get the proper rise or drop.
- Rearrange your load. You want about 10 to 15 percent of the fully loaded trailer’s weight placed on the trailer tongue. (Determine tongue weight, the weight a fully loaded trailer exerts downward on the hitch ball of the tow vehicle.)
- Add airbags to the suspension of your tow vehicle. This lifts up the rear and puts more weight on the front, evening out the load.
- Add helper springs to your tow vehicle.
- Use weight distribution hitches with spring bars.
2. Is It Okay to Mount Non-trailer Tires on My Travel Trailer or Should I Get Special Trailer Tires?
ST (Special Trailer) tires are a better choice. Non-trailer tires are made to carry people. ST tires are designed for carrying the heavy-duty load of travel and other trailers.
Structurally, STs have straight, solid ribs — the ribs being the circumferential bands of strong rubber separated by grooves. This makes them suited to bear heavier loads. They have about 10 percent more load capacity than light truck (LT) tires of the same size and 40 percent more than an equivalent passenger tire.
The stiffer sidewalls on ST tires improve stability and reduce swaying. These tires are usually narrower to fit standard trailer wheels. They’re designed with shallower grooves to improve fuel economy and help them run cooler, since hauling loads can generate a lot of tire heat.
Non-trailer tires have lots of voids and deeper grooves on the tread to evacuate water quickly for better traction. The ribs are often jagged and separated by grooves.
3. My Trailer Is Bouncing When Underway. What’s the Problem?
Any trailer hauled without its load will bounce. Boat trailers, for example, are made with stiff, solid axles with loose springs, which causes them to jump a lot when not weighed down.
If your trailer still bounces while loaded, there could be other issues that need attention:
- Your tires aren’t properly inflated.
- Your tow vehicle’s shocks are worn or aren’t designed for the load. (You’ll feel bouncing that continues after going over a bump).
- You need to shift the weight inside the trailer.
- The trailer is overloaded and the suspension could be damaged.
- One of the trailer axles might be damaged.
- You’re not towing level (see question 1).
4. What’s Causing Uneven Wear on My Trailer Tires?
Generally, trailer tires don’t wear evenly: It’s just physics. When a tandem axle trailer with four tires takes a tight turn, the inside tires will “slide” a bit rather than roll, because they have significantly less distance to travel. Over time, this scuffs off tiny parts of the tread, creating odd wear patterns.
That said, rapid or significantly uneven trailer tire wear can be caused by:
- Riding with the wrong tire pressure.
- Exceeding your tires’ load capacity.
- Trailer misalignment or bent wheels from hitting curbs, potholes or debris.
- Not towing level, which puts more weight and strain on one axle.
- Uneven load management instead of spreading weight evenly to all wheels/tires.
If all four tires are wearing heavily on the inside, the trailer is probably overloaded.
Trailer axles are built with a slight upward curve in the middle. When the trailer is unloaded, the tops of the tires lean slightly outward (toed-out, or duck-footed). When they are carrying the weight of whatever’s loaded, the axles straighten to a flat position and the tires come to a straight up-and-down position.
When the load is too heavy, the axle bows downward in the middle, causing the tires to roll pigeon-toed (more on the inside shoulder of the tires). That’s not the normal contact patch for tires, and you’ll see pronounced wear there.
Another possibility is the axle has been flipped over (the bow in the axle that is supposed to be pointed up is actually pointed down).
If only one tire is wearing faster on the inside, you may have a bent suspension part, like a spindle. This can cause one tire to skid rather than roll smoothly down the road, creating heat and friction that wears out the rubber.
If you see faster wear on the outer tread, this may be a case of an under-loaded trailer: The trailer weight is too light to straighten out the axle. Or, outer tread wear on just one side may be a symptom of a worn suspension component.
If you notice tire cupping — a bulge on one area of the tire — the belts or plies inside (the strong cords of steel and nylon that give the tire its strength) are failing. It can be caused by tires that haven’t been properly balanced, wheel bearing problems, bad alignment or something worn out in your suspension. It can also result from excessive heat caused by going over the speed rating of your tires.
Tires on a trailer parked for a long time can develop flattened spots in the area that contacts the ground. To prevent this, simply move your trailer regularly.
Find out how to keep your trailer tires in the best condition possible in our post, 8 Great Ways to Get the Most from Your Trailer Tires.
Winter Driving Tips: Winterize Your Vehicle
Like unpacking your heavy winter clothes that got boxed up in the spring, winterizing your car is a quick and easy process that can make any trip or commute a lot less stressful. Here’s what you need to know.
- Check your battery. A good battery is one of the unsung heroes of your daily commute. When it fails, everything comes to a screeching halt. Check your battery condition and ensure it’s still holding a charge before you need it this winter.
- Winterize your ride. This guide from Consumer Reports shares all the tools you’ll need to get your vehicle ready for the cold months ahead.
- Be ready for any weather. Winter driving conditions are rarely ideal, so it makes sense to give yourself extra time whether you’re driving across town or across the state. Also, be sure to keep the tank full, or nearly full, just in case you get stuck in a winter storm that takes hours to maneuver.
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