The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it. Don't go out until the snow plows and cindering trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination. If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions. It's helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you're familiar with how your car handles.

Before Heading for Snow Country:

  • Make sure your brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system are in top condition.
  • Check your antifreeze and be ready for colder temperatures.
  • You may need to add concentrated windshield washer fluid to the windshield washer fluid reservoir to prevent an icy windshield.
  • Check your tires. Make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition.
    Always carry chains. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order. You might want to take along a flashlight and chain repair links. Chains must be installed on the drive wheels. Make sure you know if your vehicle is front or rear wheel drive.
  • Other suggested items to carry in your car are an ice scraper or commercial de-icer, a broom for brushing snow off your car, a shovel to free you car if it is "snowed in", sand or burlap for traction if your wheels should become mired in snow and an old towel to clean your hands.
  • It is also a good idea to take along water, food, warm blankets and extra clothing. A lengthy delay will make you glad you have them.
  • Weather conditions may warrant detouring traffic from the main roadway. It is strongly suggested that drivers always keep an updated map containing the areas of travel.
  • If you have a cellular telephone, pre-load the Caltrans Highway Information Network (CHIN) phone numbers for convenient, updated road conditions.
  • Put an extra car key in you pocket. A number of motorists have locked themselves out of their cars when putting on chains and at ski areas.

Driving Tips:

  • Allow enough time. Trips to the mountains can take longer during winter that other times of the year, especially if you encounter storm conditions or icy roads. Get an early start and allow plenty of time to reach your destination.
  • Keep your gas tank full. It may be necessary to change routes or turn back during a bad storm or you may be caught in a traffic delay.
  • Keep windshield and windows clear. You may want to stop at a safe turnout to use a snow brush or scraper. Use the car defroster and a clean cloth to keep the windows free of fog.
  • Slow down. A highway speed of 65 miles per hour may be safe in dry weather, but an invitation for trouble on snow and ice. Snow and ice make stopping distances much longer, so keep your seat belt buckled and leave more distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. Bridge decks and shady spots can be icy when other areas are not. Remember to avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes.
  • Be more observant. Visibility is often limited in winter by weather conditions. Slow down and watch for other vehicles that have flashing lights, visibility may be so restricted during a storm that it is difficult to see the slow moving equipment.
  • When stalled, stay with your vehicle and try to conserve fuel while maintaining warmth. Be alert to any possible exhaust or monoxide problems.

Chain Requirements:

  • R1: Chains, traction devices or snow tires are required on the drive axle of all vehicles except four wheel/ all wheel drive vehicles.
  • R2: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four wheel/ all wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels.
    (NOTE: Four wheel/all wheel drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.)
  • R3: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.

Chain Controls:

  • You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, Mono County Sheriff's Department or California Highway Patrol and fined if you don't. You will usually have about a mile between "Chains Required" signs and the checkpoint to install your chains.
  • Control areas can change rapidly from place to place because of changing weather and road conditions.
  • The speed limit when chains are required is 25 or 30 miles an hour.
  • When you put on chains, wait until you can pull completely off the roadway to the right. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic.
  • Chain Installers: If you use the services of a chain installer, be sure to get a receipt and jot the installer's badge number on it. Remember, chain installers are independent business people, not Caltrans employees. Having the badge number may help with any misunderstandings later. Chain installers are NOT allowed to sell or rent chains.
  • When removing chains, drive beyond the signs reading "End of Chain Control" to a pull-off area where you can safely remove them.

Winterize Your Car

Driving in the winter means snow, sleet and ice that can lead to slower traffic, hazardous road conditions, hot tempers and unforeseen dangers. To help you make it safely through winter, here are some suggestions from the National Safety Council to make sure that you and your vehicle are prepared.

Weather
At any temperature -- 20° Fahrenheit below zero or 90° Fahrenheit above -- weather affects road and driving conditions and can pose serious problems. It is important to monitor forecasts on the Web, radio, TV, cable weather channel, or in the daily papers.

Your Car
Prepare your car for winter. Start with a checkup that includes:

  • Checking the ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts.
  • Changing and adjusting the spark plugs.
  • Checking the air, fuel and emission filters, and the PCV valve.
  • Inspecting the distributor.
  • Checking the battery.
  • Checking the tires for air, sidewall wear and tread depth.
  • Checking antifreeze levels and the freeze line.

Your car should have a tune-up (check the owner's manual for the recommended interval) to ensure better gas mileage, quicker starts and faster response on pick-up and passing power.

Necessary Equipment
An emergency situation on the road can arise at any time and you must be prepared. In addition to making sure you have the tune-up, a full tank of gas, and fresh anti-freeze, you should carry the following items in your trunk:

  • Properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod-type jack
  • Shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Tow and tire chains
  • Bag of salt or cat litter
  • Tool kit

Essential Supplies
Be prepared with a "survival kit" that should always remain in the car. Replenish after use. Essential supplies include:

  • Working flashlight and extra batteries
  • Reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth
  • Compass
  • First aid kit
  • Exterior windshield cleaner
  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container
  • Scissors and string/cord
  • Non-perishable, high-energy foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy.

In addition, if you are driving long distances under cold, snowy, and icy conditions, you should also carry supplies to keep you warm such as heavy woolen mittens, socks, a cap and blankets.

If You Become Stranded...

  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.

  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.

  • If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.

  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.

  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.

  • Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.

Sources: National Safety Council, California Department of  Transportation, National Weather Service