Tips for getting your vehicle ready for driving in winter weather

DENVER – The first snowstorm of the season is coming to the Front Range, and drivers need to be prepared – especially if you’re new to the state.

Colorado has some special laws regarding winter driving that you may not have encountered where you lived before if you’re a recent transplant.

Here are some tips for keeping your car and yourself safe while traveling in Colorado’s winter weather:

TIRES

Tires are among the most important things you can invest in for winter driving. A good test to see if you need new tires requires just a single quarter.

Take the quarter, turn it upside down, and put it into your tire tread – Washington’s head goes upside-down.

If your tire’s tread covers his head, your tires are OK. But if his head his poking out, you should probably look into getting a new set.

All-season tires are a good suggestion if you can only afford one new set, since they’ll get you through most of Colorado’s ever-changing weather conditions.

But in the winter, snow tires are strongly suggested for most vehicles and are necessary for some.

The Colorado Department of Transportation will put in place traction or chain laws at times during periods of heavy snow.

The “Traction Law,” also known as “Code 15” requires vehicles to either have four-wheel or all-wheel drive; as an alternative, to have snow tires or mud/snow tires; or if your vehicle doesn’t fit into either of those categories, have tire chains or another alternative traction device, like an AutoSock.

These tires usually have an "M" or "M+S" designation on the tire.

But when conditions get really bad, CDOT will implement the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law, known as “Code 16,” which requires every vehicle on the road to have either chains or an alternative traction device.

CDOT has partnered with many Denver-area tire shops to offer discounts.

Any drivers with equipment that doesn’t meet standards at the time face fines between $130 and $650. For more information from CDOT on the traction and chain laws, click here.

OTHER VEHICLE NECESSITIES

While good tires will ensure you don’t end up blocking the roads or in a ditch somewhere, there are a few other things you can do to winterize your car to ensure you’re safe at all times no matter what weather pops up.

Car batteries should be checked, as the cold weather will suck some of their energy, causing the batteries not to perform as well. Batteries operate between 30 and 60 percent worse in weather under 32 degrees.

Check your fluids: be sure your antifreeze is rated for winter conditions and is filled up. Also be sure your oil is rated for the temperatures you’ll be driving in (most 10W-30 and 5W-30 oils perform at all temperatures).

Some no-freeze washer fluid could also prove worthwhile, as certain washer fluids that are heavily water-based can freeze. In winter driving conditions, snow, ice and salt from the roads can cause windshields to become cloudy as they accumulate more gunk from the road.

Also be sure your brakes are working well and that the brake fluid is at the correct level. Mountain driving brings steep inclines and declines and sharp curves, and when the roads are slick, stopping times can be multiplied by up to six times the stopping times during normal conditions.

Be sure to stock your car with an emergency kit filled with a flashlight, jumper cables, extra warm clothes, blankets, kitty litter (for traction purposes), flares and an ice scraper. In the event you become stopped in traffic during a highway closure or end up off the road waiting to be rescued, some of these essentials could save your life. Non-perishable food and water is also suggested.

If you have any questions about whether your car is ready for winter, head into a local mechanic for it to be checked out and tuned up if necessary.

And remember -- take it slow and easy when driving during winter weather, don't slam on your brakes, and never follow any other vehicles too closely. Stay safe out there!

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