Digging the car out of the snow

The winter of 2013-14 is going down as one of the harshest on record.

The Great Lakes are nearly frozen over, municipal water mains and sewer lines are freezing, there are mountains of snow where parking lots used to be, it’s nearly March and we’re still looking at sub-zero temperatures – should we continue?

Now, we’re topping it off with another winter storm warning, with howling winds and several inches of snow.

Stress, strain, accidents and other dangerous conditions often accompany a snowstorm.

Although thousands of drivers have been or will be digging their cars out from this winter’s snow storms, a sore back, fender-benders and serious injuries do not have to be the inevitable result.

To get off to a safe start, experts advise some common sense tips.

Clear the tailpipe of any snow before you even start your car engine, safety experts say.

And, if the snow is above the bottom of the car, dig a hole through the snow to the mid-section of the car’s underbody to allow any leaks from the exhaust system to vent as well.

Without proper ventilation, deadly gases can quickly build up in the passenger compartment.

In addition, safety experts suggest:

– Clearing the ice and snow from your windshield and rear window is a good start, but don’t stop there – the headlights, taillights and side view mirrors are essential for visibility. Do not forget to clear away snow from the hood and roof, which will only blow onto your windows again, and onto the cars behind you.

– It is tempting to get your car cleared off in the first attempt, but if you are not physically up to the task, take it in steps or bring a friend.

– If digging and spreading of sand near the wheels does not get you out, use your car’s weight to your advantage. Flooring the accelerator pedal rarely helps and can result in an unexpected and potentially uncontrollably dangerous acceleration. However, by rocking the car with quick forward and reverse movements you can often use the weight and force of the car to push out and over snow.

– If you go into a skid once you are on the road, turn in the direction of the skid. It may seem counterintuitive at first and even a little scary when doing it, but turning into the skid is your best chance to regain some traction. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply firm and continuous pressure. If you do not have anti-lock brakes, mimic that effect by pumping the brakes.

– When you are heading up an icy or snow covered hill, you will have the best chance of safely making it up by approaching it at a slow speed and maintaining it at a steady rate. Avoid sudden stops, quick accelerations and jerky motions. When heading down, shift into a lower gear before making your descent and maintain a slow steady speed, rather than relying on your brakes to improve traction.

If the vehicle becomes disabled:

– Activate hazard warning lights immediately and pull off the road of the far right shoulder, well off traveled lanes.

– Warn on-coming traffic by setting flares or reflective triangles behind the vehicle, especially at night.

– If it’s necessary to stop on a center median, pull off the road as far as possible.

If you decide to stay with your vehicle, close the windows and lock the doors. If someone approaches offering assistance, talk through a closed window and ask the “good samaritan” to call for help.

If it is necessary to jump-start a dead battery, the following general procedure follows. However, motorists should always consult the vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific instructions:

– Position the cars close enough for jumper cables to be connected, but not touching. The transmission on both vehicles should be in park, or neutral for a manual transmission. The parking brake should be on and the ignition and accessories off.

– Connect one end of the positive cable to the positive terminal of the good battery. Attach the other end of the positive cable to the positive terminal of the bad battery.

– Connect one end of the negative cable to the negative terminal of the good battery. Attach the other end of the negative cable to a good ground like a bolt on the engine or other unpainted, metallic surface on the car with the dead battery. Do not connect the negative cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery.

– Start the engine on the car providing the jump. When attempting to start the disabled vehicle, don’t crank the starter for more than 20 seconds. If it doesn’t start in 20 seconds, wait two minutes before trying again.

– When the disabled car is running, disconnect the jumper cables in the reverse order from which they were connected.