Harsh weather means drivers should be ready for anything

For area residents, driving in harsh winter conditions is a simply a part of life.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a winter driving checklist and review defensive driving tips.

Earlier this month, motorists throughout McHenry County received a one-two punch of a snowstorm.

Between 4 to 6 inches of snow blanketed much of the area Feb. 7, a day that began with freezing rain. The wintry mix brought hazardous driving conditions, causing several traffic accidents throughout the evening commute.

The Crystal Lake Police Department responded to several calls from motorists who skidded into ditches, Officer Kimberley Shipbaugh said.

“People are not giving enough space, not enough room to stop,” she said. “ ... They’re driving like it’s dry and sunny out.”

A mix of snow and freezing rain is expected to fall on McHenry County beginning tonight and into Friday. When it’s done, 3 to 5 inches of snow is expected as well as less than a tenth of an inch of ice, according to the National Weather Service.

In the city’s latest newsletter, the Crystal Lake Police Department lists guidelines for driving in harsh weather conditions.

The suggestions boil down to preparation, alertness and caution: plan ahead, don’t rush, and “triple the usual distance between your car and the one ahead.”

But if your car starts to skid, steer into the skid.

“If the back of your car is skidding to the left, for example, turn the steering wheel to the left,” the department advises.

And don’t pump the brakes. If the brakes lock, ease off the brake pedal for a moment. For those driving vehicles with an anti-lock braking system, “be sure to press the brake pedal and hold.”

And regardless of the weather, driving while being distracted poses serious hazards all year, Shipbaugh said.

“Whether it’s texting and driving, people still do it year-round,” she said. “General phone use requires you to multitask. Add snow and ice on the roads and it [compounds the dangers] of distracted driving.”

Winterize the car

Even with the official spring season arriving in a month, there’s no telling when springlike weather, especially in this region, will settle.

Cold weather itself can cause problems for cars, especially without proper “winterizing” maintenance and check-ups.

Regular maintenance and car care goes a long way to keep vehicles in their best shape for the worst road conditions, said Cory Wolf, a sales associate at Auto Tech Centers in Crystal Lake.

Sergio Salgado, assistant manager at Algonquin Lube Express, sees customers who come to the shop every late fall to winterize their cars and those who come in “that morning because their battery died.”

“When you’re stuck [in that situation] in the wintertime, it’s especially a bad time,” Salgado said.

Standard services off the winter checklist include an oil change, a check on the antifreeze level, a test on heater and defroster output, tire inspections and a battery test.

“The cold weather tends to do a lot of damage to the battery,” Salgado said. “We check for lowered tire pressure because it gets lower with the cold air, so keeping the pressure right helps also to not lose the gas mileage.”

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