Leaves are off the trees, mornings have been brisk and studded tires have been legal for a few weeks now. What does that mean here on the central Kenai Peninsula? It’s time to prepare for fall and winter driving conditions.
Even if the snow doesn’t fall any time soon, shorter daylight hours and chilly temperatures mean roads could be slick in the morning, and the moose alongside of them can be hard to see. Make sure you’ve got a few rags stashed in your vehicle so you can clean the road grime off your headlights, and it’s a good time to start giving yourself extra time when braking.
While the days are still pleasant, take the time to check your vehicle.
■ Check your antifreeze. Make sure it can handle temperatures that get as low as 20 degrees below zero.
■ Do you need an engine block heater? They are designed to help your engine start easier in cold weather.
■ Be prepared: Do you have winter wiper blades, jumper cables and washer fluid? These basics can make a difference when the weather is bad.
■ Get a tune-up. This is the best way to make sure you don’t have an unexpected breakdown. Any problems can be corrected before the cold makes them a major issue.
■ Check your oil and other fluids, belts and your battery. It only takes one thing to turn a simple trip into a nightmare.
Now think safety behind the wheel. You’ve heard the tips from us many times, but they bear repeating. If one more person puts them into practice each season, it’s potentially one less accident. With that in mind, here are some winter driving reminders:
■ Common sense is the best defense against accidents. This means slow down and increase the distance between your car and other traffic. Slowing down not only drops your chances of locking bumpers, it also saves you fuel, which saves you money.
■ Moose will appear out of nowhere. Slowing down and glancing the road’s edges help eliminate problems.
■ A winter survival kit can keep an inconvenience from turning into a catastrophe. It should contain a flashlight, blankets, jumper cables, a warning device (flares or reflective triangle), a small bag of abrasive material (sand or cat litter), a cloth towel or roll of paper towels, a small shovel, water, some emergency food and a book of matches.
■ An ice scraper and good windshield wiper blades are a must for good winter visibility. Don’t try to save time by scraping just a little hole in the ice off your windshield. A credit card is no substitute for an ice scraper. Avoid those drivers who have not cleared their windshields — they can’t see you. Also, don’t forget to clear the snow from your headlights and taillights.
■ No matter how short a trip you’re making, dress for the weather. If you have car trouble or are involved in an accident, you’ll be glad you took the time to don your boots, coat, hat and mittens. At the least, keep some winter clothes in the car for an emergency.
■ Four-wheel drive does not protect you from accidents. It may help you maneuver through snow, but it absolutely will not help you stop on a slick road.
For the most part, winter is an enjoyable time on the peninsula. It’s a time to celebrate the uniqueness of our northern climate, listen to the snow fall and bask in the dance of the northern lights.
With a little preparation, you can mitigate the chances of a breakdown — or worse — ruining the season.