10 Ways to Drive Safely This Holiday Season with Proper Brake Maintenance
Many of us will be driving to visit friends and family this holiday season. And while family trips and holidays are always a time to relax, driving can prove dangerous for those who must make these trips during harsh weather.
So, what do we do? Just not go? We don’t think so. Instead, let’s talk about some basic tips for driving this holiday season, and the importance of car and brake maintenance before the bad weather hits.
Driving Tips for the Holiday Season
First, consider these best practices for driving this winter:
- Make sure that your tires have enough tread to grip the road. Low tread makes it so that your tires won’t maintain traction—especially in rain, ice or snow.
- Clean your mirrors, windows, and windshield, and makes sure that your cleaning system has de-icing fluid.
- Replace your windshield wipers if necessary.
- Make sure your radiator and cooling system are filled with an anti-freeze mixture.
- Drive slowly and carefully over potentially wet or icy roads. Some roads will not appear icy at first, so it is best to adjust your speed to road conditions, no matter what the speed limit.
- Always have a tow rope, ice scraper, jumper cables, and a full and road-worthy spare tire (and all your tire-changing tools). Skids, power loss, and ice are all common during cold months, so don’t get caught.
- Check your lights to make sure that they are visible in low-visibility conditions. and always carry spare bulbs.
- Keep a good emergency kit stowed away for emergencies, including warm footwear, blankets, flashlights, and a first-aid kit.
- Carry some salt or sand in case your car gets stuck on some ice and needs help moving forward.
- Check and maintain your brakes and ABS system so that it is properly working.
Number 10 is probably one of the more important of these, because brakes and braking can get tricky during inclement weather. It is paramount that you have healthy brakes and understand how your braking system works in cold or icy conditions.
What’s the Difference Between Brakes and ABS?
You may have seen the “ABS” light or symbol somewhere on your dashboard. ABS stands for Anti-Lock Braking System, which is a common feature on many cars meant to help cars brake during bad weather.
It works like this:
When you push on your brake pedal, pressure is placed on the brake fluid connected to the system, which closes a set of calipers (with one end on each side of the rotor your tire is mounted on). When the pressure from the fluid pushes on the calipers, it pushes the brake pads against the rotors, which then slow and eventually stop the vehicle.
Following that, it seems reasonable to assume that bad weather conditions that involve rain, snow, or ice can cause problems in these brake systems. A common problem in braking is when your brakes lock up during sudden stops, which stops the wheels from turning and makes it harder to control the car.
That is where ABS comes in. ABS include sensors on your wheels that can detect when your brakes lock up. If a brakes lock, the ABS system pulses the brakes so that the wheels can continue to rotate, providing better control over the car.
Regular Brake Care During the Holiday Season
However, you can’t count on the ABS system to help you out of every tight situation. The best prevention for brake issues is preventative care. Fortunately, there are a few simple and easy things your mechanic can do to keep your brakes working properly.
- Make sure that you have new or maintained brake pads and calipers. Don’t get caught on the road with bad parts, because they won’t stand up to the driving conditions.
- Check for any brake fluid leaks and ensure that your brake system has the appropriate brake fluid levels.
Taking Care of Your Car vs. Professional Help
Some of us know cars, and that’s great. There are a few checks and tasks on this list that are very easy to take care of. Replacing wiper blades and fluid is a relatively simple task, and more advanced car owners can change their own oil and filters (with proper collection and disposal practices).
But if you are not one of these advanced users, or if you don’t know how to inspect your vehicle’s chassis, belts, and engine, then you are much better off finding a professional to help you out.
There are two approaches to this:
- Use a quick drive-in garage for basic care. Speedy oil-changing businesses are a dime a dozen, and many will include basic examinations with an oil change (usually lights, filters, and basic hose and belt checks—if not more). This is an OK solution for your quick maintenance needs, including fluid top-offs, filter changes, and the like.
- Find a reputable mechanic. Once you get into an actual vehicle maintenance checklist, you want to have someone you trust on hand. A skilled mechanic can perform the more advanced 6-month to yearly checks to make sure that your car is in as best shape it can be.
Even if you decide to do some of your own work, you should have a mechanic on hand who can give you expert and frank advice without trying to push unneeded repairs on you.
Keep Car Repair and Maintenance Costs Low
You might avoid the suggested schedule above because it costs too much. But let’s be real here: getting your oil changed four times a year is much less than the cost of a locked engine. Getting your brakes checked yearly is much, much less than an accident caused by faulty brake pads or a leaking brake line.
And if you don’t want to think about the worst-case scenarios, at least recognize that these maintenance procedures keep your car performing at its highest level, saving money on gas overall.
So, if you haven’t yet, talk with your mechanic about a regular schedule, and learn some basics about checking fluids and tires so that you know when your car needs a little care.
To recap, proper holiday brake upkeep involves the following steps:
- Find a mechanic you trust to provide a brake check prior to bad weather. Make sure your brakes and all associated parts are up-to-date and in working order.
- Pay attention to your brake performance. If you have “squishy” brakes, or brakes that stick, then take your car into your mechanic immediately for maintenance.
- Understand how your car runs in bad driving conditions. During a rain or snow, find an empty parking lot and slowly drive and brake to see how your brakes respond.
If you follow all the emergency prep for driving in poor conditions, and especially if you maintain your brakes during bad weather, you should find holiday driving much easier and less stressful.