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What Colorado drivers should keep in their cars this winter

Experts offer supply and driving tips


Whether you’re hitting the slopes, traveling around the state, or just going across town, local officials want to help you gear up to reach your destination safely in winter driving conditions.

Proper vehicle maintenance and a well-stocked supply bin will help avoid or minimize weather-related emergencies, experts said.

Skyler McKinley from AAA Colorado recommended drivers take enough blankets, jackets, hats and gloves for each passenger, and pack sufficient water and snacks. And stock an emergency kit just in case, he added.

“Ahead of storms, we typically advise folks to keep an emergency kit in their car,” McKinley said. “The kit should have tire chains, abrasive material such as sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, a flashlight with extra batteries, an ice scraper, rags or paper towels, flares or other warning devices, booster cables and a first aid kit.”

Jayson Luber, a forecaster and traffic anchor at Denver7 admits to checking out others’ tires in parking lots and sometimes noticing cars with the tread on their tires gone.

“Obviously, we haven’t seen much winter weather around here,” Luber said of the unseasonably warm temperatures. “Really, the best advice starts with having good tires. They don’t have to be snow tires or studded tires, but they should have good tread. I have all-season tires on my sedan and they get me through just about any Denver snowstorm just fine.”

In addition to checking tire tread, Colorado Department of Transportation officials suggest on the agency’s website that drivers should check a range of vehicle functions to make sure they’re in safe operating condition:

  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Heater/defroster
  • Wiper blades
  • Radiator/antifreeze
  • Lights
  • Fuel system and maintain a full tank of gas
  • Ignition
  • Exhaust system
  • Battery
  • Brakes

Ice, snow and cold conditions can be hard on even the most prepared vehicles, CDOT noted.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 24% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement and 15% happen during snowfall or sleet. More than 1,300 people are killed, and more than 116,800 people injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement each year, the agency reported.

Communication can be critical if a vehicle is involved in a crash or gets snowed in, officials cautioned, so charging batteries should include phones and mobile chargers.

“The other major piece of advice, especially when traveling in the mountains, is try not to travel on less than a quarter tank of gas,” Denver7’s Luber said. “That advice is different for owners of electric vehicles where you have to be keenly aware of your charge level and know where you are able to charge your car.

“There are places in the mountains to charge, but not as many as in metro Denver,” he cautioned. “It is also good advice along the Front Range if we get a major snow: Have gas or a full charge just in case you are in your car longer than you expected to be.”

Luber also advises that electric vehicles may handle a differently than internal combustion cars. The increased torque on electric vehicles is something to be aware of when starting from a stop in some snow. The greater torque means greater acceleration.

Regardless of the type of vehicle, keep it well stocked, officials said.

CDOT breaks down winter needs into essential and secondary items. Must-have items in a supply kit are:

  • Sturdy scraper/snow brush/snow shovel to clear snow
  • Flashlight with extra batteries or crank-powered flashlight
  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Gallon jug of water
  • First aid kit and essential medications
  • Tire chains and tow strap
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares/reflectors to signal for help and warn other motorists
  • Battery or crank-powered radio to listen to emergency broadcasts

Secondarily, CDOT recommends having an extra set of clothes, including a coat, hat, mittens, boots, chemical hand warmers, non-perishable snacks like granola bars, non-clumping kitty litter/sand for traction and a deck of cards or board games for entertainment.

AAA Colorado adds to the list of things to have in a vehicle, including:

  • A waterproof bag to hold everything, preferably with a reflector or reflective strip
  • Three reflective warning triangles and a reflective vest
  • A small toolkit including a two-in-one screwdriver, pliers and wrench
  • Tire changing tools: jack, lug wrench, flat board and wheel chock
  • Empty gas can
  • A small shovel to dig away snow from the wheels
  • Rain poncho
  • A small fire extinguisher can be helpful, but if your car is on fire, the best option is to get out quickly and call the fire department

“There are people who will recommend having food or water in the car. It isn’t a bad idea,” Luber said. “Having water or other non-alcoholic drinks in the vehicle are probably more important than having food. I always start off a trip with a bottle of water.”