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Winter Four Wheeling Driving Safety Tips - Winter Wheeling Safety

Posted in How To on March 1, 2009
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Whether you're heading out for a winter trail run with your wheeling buddies or driving into the hills with the family to gather your next Christmas tree-you must go prepared. Every year, four-wheel enthusiasts and weekend warriors strike out in search of adventure, only to find misfortune.

Just knowing the proper driving techniques in snow and ice isn't enough; those skills should be backed up with a well-stocked cold-weather survival kit. Snow wheeling should be fun and exciting. Preparing for it is easy and inexpensive. A little common sense goes a long way.

First on your winter-travel checklist should be a thorough vehicle inspection. Fluid levels should be topped off, and all belts and hoses need to be in tip-top shape. Keep this in mind when you are completing the winter maintenance on your rig.

A hike off a trail in the summer may be an enjoyable jaunt through nature, but in winter the same trail could be exceptionally dangerous, with the risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and worse. A foot or two of snow on a trail can completely impede a vehicle's progress by high-centering the rig, stopping the tires dead in their tracks. Snow bashing is fun, but it's hard on a vehicle. The frosty white stuff can freeze an engine and clog a radiator in a very short time. It's wise to keep an eye on the engine vital temperature levels. Snow chains work very well in deeper snow, since even the most aggressive tread pattern quickly loses traction there. Airing down can help the tires float over snow if chains aren't available.

Winter survival kits are easy and inexpensive to put together, or they can be purchased complete (but can be pricey). Most of the stuff in the kits can be purchased at the department store for less than $30. A good kit should have the necessities in it to sustain two people for at least two days. Nothing should be skimped on. The lives of yourself and your passengers could depend on it.

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Snow bashing means basically ramming the snow with your rig to make a few feet of progress, then backing up and doing it again. Care must be taken because this is an easy way to damage the vehicle's steering components, such as the tie rod and drag link, and other vulnerable parts. If you aren't familiar with the area, take it slow. Be wary that the snow hides obstacles like rocks and tree stumps. Front and rear lockers work well on snowy trails but can be fickle on icy sidehills and highways. The lead vehicle should intermittently switch positions with another vehicle, giving its motor, transmission, and transfer case time to cool down.

It's much safer to travel with other off-roaders in winter. If this driver were out alone with this vehicle, he would have spent hours extracting himself from this predicament, only to find himself in another. This section of the trail had a very slight downhill grade on the passenger side of the rig. With a lack of traction, the vehicle kept sliding closer to the creekbed below. Having a winch made this recovery easier, but the extraction also required the help of six guys to keep from sliding down the embankment. If you become stuck in the snow and sit in your vehicle with the engine running, make sure the exhaust pipe is clear so that the fumes aren't backing up into the vehicle.

Putting a complete cold-weather survival kit together only takes a few minutes. Most of the items can be found around the house. A basic kit should include: a first aid kit, a blanket, a signal mirror, candles, nylon cord, glowsticks, sunblock, lip balm, a whistle, protein bars or MREs, matches, a flashlight, water, a change of clothes, and flares. Other items that should already be in a well-equipped 4x4 are a GPS, a cell phone, a CB radio, a windshield scraper, a tarp, a ham radio (license required), and jumper cables. It's also worth spending the additional money for a quality first aid kit-a few cheap Band-Aids and a couple aspirin just don't cut it.

Safety & Survival
Hypothermia and severe frostbite can kill you. It's important to dress appropriately for harsh winter conditions. Hypothermia is a sudden drop in body temperature, and its signs are slurred speech, difficulty moving, and lack of coordination. If you experience these problems, add more layers of clothing. If you are wet, change your clothes. Frostbite basically means that your skin is frozen. As your skin's temperature drops, your blood vessels close, and your skin turns white. When it reaches an even lower temperature, the body will try and warm itself by opening up the blood vessels again. This will cause your skin to burn, itch, and turn red. If this happens, it is time for you to get out of the cold. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Eat carbohydrates, as this will help keep your core body temperature warm.

It's extremely important that you tell someone exactly where you are traveling and what time you think you will be back. Leave detailed info with a map. If you deviate from this course and can make a phone call, let someone know. If you are lost or broken down, stay with your vehicle. Most fatalities occur when the victims leave their rig in search of help.

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