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Mil Potrero Highway can be a fun ride when the road hasn’t been plowed, but your vehicle must be properly equipped for the drive. Four-wheel drive and snow tires with good tread are necessary.
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Acceptable snow tires will have a snowflake symbol on the tire sidewall, as shown in the middle above.
By Gary Meyer
What? They didn’t tell you it snows here before you moved to the mountain? No worries. Here are some tips to help equip your vehicle for safe winter driving.
Safe Driving Equipment
The first two things to check for safe driving are the drivetrain and tires.
Is your vehicle four-wheel-drive or two-wheel-drive? Most four-wheel-drive vehicles sold today are easily shifted into 4×4 mode from the driver’s seat without having to stumble around in the snow like in the old days.
Having traction at all four wheels helps avoid sliding if you’re not going too fast. Many all-wheel-drive cars will automatically send drive power to all wheels when needed, depending on road conditions.
There are differences between all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive we won’t cover in this article. Two-wheel-drive vehicles should not be used for driving in snow unless chains are installed on the drive wheels.
The best tires to use on our local roads in winter are metalstudded snow tires. According to CHP Officer Patrick Etchebarne, Fort Tejon CHP cruisers are equipped with studded rear tires during the winter months.
Consider purchasing an extra set of wheels for your car. I found inexpensive wheels for two separate cars at salvage yards in Santa Clarita.
Have metal-studded tires mounted on the extra four wheels and keep them in the garage. Each six months just swap wheels—an easy job for one person with a floor jack and a lug wrench—or take them to your local mechanic for a low-cost swap (about $20).
For lower elevations, nonstudded snow tires with four-wheel-drive are acceptable if the tires have a snowflake symbol on the sidewall.
Access to Roads
Officer Etchebarne explained that CHP officers working our local roads tend to be lenient in allowing residents to travel roads which have been closed due to snow and ice. “But,” he warned, “your vehicles need to be properly equipped.”
CHP officers working the northbound Interstate-5 traffic stop at Castaic are less willing to allow mountain residents onto the 30-mile stretch of freeway during snowy and icy conditions than are officers working the southbound traffic stop at Grapevine—which is only 10 miles from the Frazier Mountain Park Road exit.
Safe Driving is Slow Driving
When snow, ice or water are on the roads, you must slow down to avoid causing an accident. A three- or four-thousand-pound vehicle does not behave the same way on snow or ice as it does on pavement. Remember, where there is snow or ice, your tires are not touching the pavement.
If your vehicle begins to slide while driving on a curve, usually the rear-end of the vehicle will slide out in the opposite direction of the curve. For example, if you’re going around a left-hand curve, the car’s rear-end would slide out to the right.
If this happens, you should gently turn your steering wheel in the direction the car’s rearend is skidding—in this case, to the right—while backing off of the accelerator. Do not use the brakes when driving on ice.
Snow tires are available locally from Pine Mountain Auto Center (242-1358), MidValley Auto Repair (245-2886) and Dunn Right Auto Repair (245-3866).
This is part of the October 22, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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