Tooling up for Winter: Essential must-haves to keep you safe at home and on the road

Another phrase for cold winter weather is “the polar-vortex”, which refers to forecasts calling for record-breaking cold. Regardless of the time of year, when you hear your local weatherman start using this term, you know the temps are about to drop. Nothing is worse than finding yourself unprepared in the middle of a snowstorm or extreme temperature drop. Prior to the first snowfall, you should break out your cold weather gear and tools. If you are a new home owner or are new to driving your car in the Northeast and New England region, there are some basics you should have on hand to make life easier and safer.

Before the snow flies, dig out your cold weather gear and clothing you have stored away for summer. Heavy jackets, warm hats and gloves are the basic uniform for cold days. You should invest in a good pair of insulated winter boots to keep your feet warm, with large, knobby soles to help keep your footing. Also, be sure to get plenty of snow melting compound to keep doorways, stairs and sidewalks clear of ice. Along those lines, be sure to replace any old welcome mats with waterproof floor mats. For inside the house, a helpful tip is to assign a convenient place near the main entrance for all the winter foot ware to be stored. No one wants mud and melted snow water tracked throughout the house.

Tool number one

A good snow shovel is a crucial tool. Shovels come in all shapes and sizes so you can pick one that best suits your size and strength. They are also available with bent ergonomic shaped shafts and handle grips. Snow shovels are great for removing snow from decks and porches, walkways, stairs and anywhere else a snow blower can’t fit.

A close relative of the snow shovel is the roof rake. If you live in a heavy snow region or you have relatively flat roof angles, it is a good idea to invest in a roof rake. Available in several types, most have telescoping handles so you can increase the length of the reach to deal with all snow removal chores.

Tip: Make shoveling snow easier

Wet snow makes for awesome snowballs, but while shoveling the driveway, the wet, heavy snow can make the job very difficult causing the snow to stick to the shovel. Pam to the rescue! Spritz your shovel with the non-stick cooking spray, and you’ll have a much better time. And remember, always lift with your legs!

Snow Blowers

Especially in the colder regions of the country, snow blowers are a sound investment for any home owner. Just like the shovels, snow blowers come in several sizes. You can find small electric snow sweepers that are great for small paved areas like in front of your garage door, or you can use a big heavy duty type for long driveways. Again, check at the home center and see what they have and what they recommend. Once you have a snow blower, read the instructions several times until you know how it operates. If you feel a little nervous ask an experienced friend to show you how it works.

When using a snow blower there are a few basics rules you should follow. These include, doing a pre-check before starting it up by checking the fuel levels and checking the condition of all the control levers and adjustable items like the auger blades, skids and the chute. Always start the snow blower in a ventilated area ideally outside of the garage.

Most are self-propelled, having a drive lever you engage to make it move. Before engaging the augers, check the direction of the chute and make sure where you are going to blow the snow is clear (blowing snow into the street isn’t always a smart idea either). You’ll also want to know how the wind is blowing, plan ahead to minimize your work. Once you get your snow blower running, try to keep both hands on the machine as much as possible. This affords you quicker access to the controls and helps you steady yourself on slippery surfaces. Finally, go slow and steady, removing the snow from your driveway is not a race. Maintain a steady pace and be aware of your surroundings.

Safety Tip: Clean-out devices. To keep yourself from reaching with your hands into the impeller to clear away any jams that may occur, most modern snow blowers now come with a stick to deal with any blockages. These clean-out devices are usually mounted on the chassis for easy access.

Drive with confidence

Cold weather is particularly hard on your car. Any experienced New England driver knows to check and maintain some important items. Well before the snow starts flying, be sure your antifreeze level and the engine coolant mixture are good to go. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to overheat your engine in the snowy months. Just head down to the local quickie oil change joint and ask them to check and adjust your radiator coolant. Additionally, it’s a good idea to flush your coolant system every few years to avoid buildup of particulates.  Next use a winter-grade no-freeze windshield wiper fluid in your reservoir and always keep it, as well as your gas tank, as close to full as possible. During extremely cold weather, add some dry-gas to your tank every three or four fill ups. This will greatly reduce the chances of any water that gets into the gas tank from finding its way to the fuel lines and freezing.

Vehicle Checklist

  • Check and maintain Antifreeze and Radiator levels
  • Check condition and operation of your Windshield Wiper blades
  • Check Heater and Defroster
  • Check Brakes and Brake Fluid Level
  • Check Emergency Flashers (Hazard lights)
  • Check Tire Pressure and Tread condition
  • Keep Fuel Level full or near full
  • Check Oil level
  • Check Battery charge and condition of Terminals

Trunk Keepers

Some of the essentials you should keep handy in your trunk for the winter months are: a flashlight and spare batteries, a basic tool kit for doing minor repairs, some work gloves, a first aid kit, a long handle snow brush/windshield scraper, and a folding shovel. At the very least you should have a sharp folding knife and a Multi-Tool stashed in your glove compartment. Also having a good set of jumper cables (an all-year-long item) is perhaps the most important thing to carry with you especially during the winter. The cold definitely affects your battery and if it’s on the weak side, sooner or later, you’ll probably need a jump. Be sure to get yourself a good quality set of jumper cables. If you’re carrying that old worn out, greasy set from your grandfather, give it a toss and treat yourself to a new set.

If you are a road warrior and make regular trips out in the sticks, consider carrying a blanket and some extra clothing. This is really important should you have to change a tire when it is raining or snowing or both. Cold wet clothes will cause real problems. The potential of being stranded with just a few basic items in your vehicle can be a very sobering experience, and while food is important, having extra water is even more important.

I like to carry a bag or two of sand in my trunk for a couple of reasons. First, for a rear-wheel drive car, they add weight to the rear of the car for added traction, and should you find yourself sliding off the road and stuck in the snow and ice, you can use your folding shove to spread it in front of and around your tires to help you get out of a tight spot.

Traveling Light

Finally, two items you should always have with you regardless of the time of year, is a fully charged cell phone, with a spare charge cord, and a AAA card in your wallet. Whenever traveling, be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be there. Get in the habit of checking in with your family members. Everyone will be glad you did, especially if you’re running late in bad weather. The AAA card, I think, belongs in every car owner’s wallet. I guarantee it will pay for itself the very first time you need to use it whether it’s for some gas (delivered right to you on the side of the road), or for a tow if needed. Check out their website or call 1-800-AAA-HELP (800-222-4357).