It's unavoidable at times. A little too much gas around the corner, a patch of ice, an extra-heavy snowfall, and before you can say "gotta get those snow tires" you're in the ditch. Here are a few strategies to get you through a jam that is, unfortunately, one of the not-so-pleasant aspects of the great Canadian winter.
According to Wayne Salatino, Road Service Supervisor at CAA in Thunder Bay, no one wants to end up in a snowbank but "if it does happen, it is best to be prepared," he says. "That means making a list and checking it twice to ensure the car and driver have everything they need to get safely out of a snowbank." Transport Canada recommends that every car carry a winter emergency kit.
Carry the following in case you're stranded far from home:
• extra antifreeze and windshield-washer fluid
• a flashlight and extra batteries
• hand crank
• candle (to keep you warm)
• hazard markers or warning triangles (available at safety supply stores)
• a small or child-sized shovel
• extra hats and mitts
• chocolate or granola bars
• sand in a bag or in a bucket
• water bottle (if you have to shovel, you need to stay hydrated)
• cell phone (to call family, roadside assistance service or tow truck)
To get better traction during the winter, Transport Canada recommends that cars be outfitted with a matching set of all-season or snow tires that meet Canadian standards. Why snow tires? Because their tread grips instead of slides. In 1999, Transport Canada announced the introduction of a new industry standard to help Canadian consumers identify and buy snow tires that provide a higher level of traction for Canada's harsh winters. This standard is being implemented by North America's tire manufacturers, and is being monitored by Transport Canada. The tires are marked with a mountain and snowflake symbol.
Even with snow tires and safe driving strategies you can still end up in a snowbank. That's when a membership in a roadside assistance program pays off. For a small annual fee you can call a company and they will send a tow truck to get you. With the cost of towing a car at approximately $50/hour, a membership can be nearly paid off if you only make one call per year.
If stuck, get out of your vehicle to assess the situation. Before spinning the tires, put sand underneath the drive wheels. As most vehicles have front-wheel drive, put sand under the FRONT wheels. It provides more traction. Use the small shovel in your trunk and safe shoveling techniques (listed below) to dig out the bumper.
It is important to stay in shape because one never knows when one might be pressed into action. "If you're in shape, you will be better able to avoid injury that may come when you try to push your car out of a snowbank," says Carlo Sunila, a registered massage therapist in Thunder Bay. Carlo often sees people who shovel too hard. He recommends strength training, a method of applying resistance to exercising muscles in order to make them stronger and to build up endurance for shoveling. As with any exercise program, check with your physician before you start a strength training routine or ask your physician if pushing or shoveling is a definite no-no for you especially if you have heart or back problems.
Start with a simple strength training program and be consistent. A home program done 3 to 5 times a week, including push ups, squats, sit ups, resistabands or stretch cords, and free weights for the upper body could be beneficial when you're pressed into action.
Even if you are in good shape, you still need to use safe shoveling techniques. Keep the following tips in mind if you have to dig out your car:
• Warm up your muscles by marching in place and doing a few stretches. The range of motion used in shoveling puts a lot of stress on your body, which increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.
• If you experience any of these symptoms stop shoveling immediately:
• Heavy sweating
• Shortness of breath, or
• Pain anywhere
• Always breathe during your shovel lifts, exhale when unloading the snow. Never hold your breath.
• Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a big issue in cold winter months too.
• Dress in several layers. You can remove layers if you begin to overheat.
• A smaller shovel blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body.
• Shovel slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart. Pace yourself and take breaks.
• Protect your back from injury by lifting snow correctly. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side; this twisting motion stresses your back. If you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow where you will be depositing the snow.
If your car is still stuck after shoveling, rocking can help but switching from "drive" to "neutral" can be hard on your car's automatic transmission. If going forward out of a snowbank, move into drive and do not floor the gas pedal.
In winter, adjust your driving to road and weather conditions and other motorists.