Items I need to drive across the country
December 11, 2016 9:06 PM   Subscribe

What will I need for my car to drive from Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then to Arizona?

I'm going to drive to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Iowa on Jan. 16th 2017. After I get to Utah, I was going to rest a day or two and then drive to Arizona with one of my sisters (I will be driving my car the whole time). I'm going to be driving a 2009 Ford Fusion with most of my belongings (mainly clothes) with me. Since I'm only 17 years old and I will be by myself most of the trip, I was just wondering some items I would need to bring with me. My step-dad and mom keep telling me I'm not prepared at all for this trip, yet they're not telling me what things I need. My step dad said something about chains for my tires since I'll be driving in the heart of winter? Do I really need chains? If so, do I need to get 4 for all my tires or just two? Please let me know your thoughts! I need to make sure I have everything I need!
posted by MarilynC to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For chains you only need two. They're normally sold in pairs, and attach to your drive vehicle, for which is your Ford Fusion. Buy them now, and take the time to practice putting them on and taking them off, because if you do happen to come across a road condition where chains are required, it's going to SUCK trying to figure it out in the dark and in snow/icy weather.

Other thoughts:
Take your car to the mechanic for a check up and fix any issues (i.e. anti-freeze levels, wiper blades, tire check)

Small "survival kit" - Ice scraper, shovel, road flares, first aid kit, candles, matches, flashlight with battery, jumper cables, warm clothes, sleeping bag, jugs of water and extra food. You'll probably stay on major roads so you're unlikely to really truly be in a situation where you're completely stranded and will need every one of those things, but they will absolutely come in handy if you hit a freak snow storm and traffic is backed up.

If you intend to use your phone for GPS, check the route for signals strength to ensure you'll have service the whole way. It's a good precaution to pre-download the maps within the Google Maps app on your phone so if you lose cell service you'll still have guidance.

Basic safety rules with driving - if you feel tired or that you're dozing, take the time to pull off and take a quick nap and take advantage of rest breaks. Same if weather conditions feel unfamiliar. A 15 hour driving day by yourself will suck pretty hard - consider maybe splitting your drive into two 8 hour days and stopping at a motel for the night and also check in with your parents.
posted by Karaage at 9:22 PM on December 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

From where in Iowa? If you don't want to be specific, how far from an interstate?
posted by holgate at 9:23 PM on December 11, 2016

As for chains, check the weather service advisory it will say whether chains are recommended on your route. You can have chains put on anytime. Take an extra can of gas, and a big just of water. Snacks? Coffee? Cell phone charger? On preview what karaage says.

Where are you staying in Utah? You can't rent a hotel room if you're underage.

Otherwise...I totally drove way farther than that at about your age and you'll be fine. Be safe! Always err on the side of caution.

Bring some preloaded podcasts or audio books.

Duct tape a spare car key somewhere sort of hidden on the outside of your car. Nothing sucks more than waiting for a tow truck at a closed gas station in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Creepy and expensive!
posted by jrobin276 at 9:31 PM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Assuming you'll be driving along I-80, yes you'll need chains as they are required in certain conditions in Wyoming at a minimum and possibly other states. You should probably know how to put them on too (which is also going to be more difficult if you're alone as well). I don't know if there will be people you can pay to put them on for you at all, which they do near the CA/NV border. I think you only need chains for 2 tires if your car is 2WD. If your car happens to be 4WD, you probably only need snow tires instead of chains.

Make sure you car gets a good once over with a mechanic before you go for any obvious issues. Make sure you have snacks, water, blanket, roadside assistance membership, flashlight, cash, cellphone (w/ car charger). Aim to start driving just at dawn and stop just when it gets dark.

I have driven along this route a few times in December and dealt with bad storms by adjusting my route (driving from SLC down to Las Vegas to get to the SF Bay Area instead of driving straight across Nevada on 80). Having that flexibility is extremely helpful.
posted by disaster77 at 9:33 PM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

You'll be crossing mountain ranges - I've done the Denver to Salt Lake City drive several times, including in winter - and it can be challenging. Have you done much mountain driving before? Especially if there's snow? That and the really long drive for a younger driver in one day is what would worry me the most if I were your parents.

If you're sure you want to do this, besides the good advice upthread: Make sure you have excellent tires with lots of tread left. Stick to main roads. If it's dark, don't stop at rest stops - wait for lit gas stations. Make sure you have AAA and get the more expensive version - if you slide off into a ditch in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, you'll need the extra tow truck help. Have a spare cell phone battery and car charger. Make sure you have a good pair of sunglasses. Watch your gas gauge carefully - there are long stretches there with no services. Good luck!
posted by umwhat at 9:36 PM on December 11, 2016

Do not leave your stuff in your car. Have your important stuff on your body if you leave the car... Laptop, phone, wallet, etc. And have everything else in a covered trunk. Cars get broken into all the time and even an empty gross gym bag can look attractive to a thief. Same goes with a phone charger or GPS cable. It implies that the device may be in the car.
posted by k8t at 9:40 PM on December 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I will be staying in Utah with one of my sisters since I am unable to get a hotel room. After a day or two she will be accompanying me to Arizona. Also, I'm 100% sure about this drive. There is no other option that will work for my plans. I also haven't driven in mountains or in the snow. Even though I'm 17, I only just got a car in March of 2016.
posted by MarilynC at 10:02 PM on December 11, 2016

What follows is overkill, but is probably close to what your parents have in mind. Minimally, I would bring 1L of emergency water, a heavy coat, my cell phone and AAA. It is much better to be over prepared rather than under prepared, particularly if this is your first long solo trip.

If you can convince a responsible friend to join you on the trip, I would try to bring them along too.

1. Route plan and weather plan. Try to stay on major interstates for as much of the trip as possible. This is the most boring way to drive, but also the safest. Don't take short cuts through the mountains. A week before the trip, start checking the weather reports along your route. Check for updates every day. Update your plans and supplies accordingly.

2. Emergency plans. What can go wrong on the trip? List out everything you can think of, and then list out solutions. Most of the solutions will be "call AAA and stay warm while waiting".

Emergency Gear:

3. Tire chains, a hand shovel, and a tarp. It will be cold and wet where you need to put on and take off the chains. Tarps are cheap and useful, so just bring one along. A large garbage bag or sheet of plastic will also work. If you spin your wheels into a divot, digging out with a shovel is far easier than with your hands.

4. Warm clothes that would allow you to stand outside in ~20F weather for an hour: Warm coat, warm pants, hat, gloves, scarf. And a rain poncho, if your outer coat isn't waterproof. If you get stuck someplace, you may need to wait an hour or more for rescue. Your warm car is a good place to stay, but it will cool quickly with the engine off.

5. 2L of emergency water, emergency snacks or energy bars. Reserve these supplies for emergencies so that you can stay hydrated and well fed if you get stuck.

6. Cell phone, 12V USB adapter, 120v USB adapter, charging cable. If you stick to interstates, you should have cell coverage throughout your trip. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, a cell phone is the easiest way to call for help.

7. AAA membership or similar towing option on your insurance

8. Paid up insurance.

9. Roadside flares. If your car breaks down in the middle of the freeway, these will help prevent other cars from piling into you.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:05 PM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, I'm 100% sure about this drive. There is no other option that will work for my plans. I also haven't driven in mountains or in the snow.
Do everything you can to get some experience in mountains and snow between now and then. Find a parking lot near you now that is large, well-lit, and doesn't have those low cement parking barriers all over the place. When it snows, drive there with a parent and practice losing and recovering control. Learn what ABS feels like. Learn what traction control feels like, if your car has it. Learn to tell what it feels like when your car is sliding, and when it regains traction again. Learn what happens when you quickly stab the brakes on snow. Learn to accelerate and brake slowly and gently. Learn to pay attention to what your car is telling you via sound and vibration.

It is good to be 100% certain about your trip, but also dangerous. If a huge snow storm dumps two feet of snow in front of you, will you be able to check into a hotel and wait it out, or do you need to turn back immediately? You always have options, even if they ruin your plans.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:20 PM on December 11, 2016

You will need to make a decision at big springs Nebraska based on front range weather. interstate 80 Cheyenne or interstate 76 Denver. Wyoming is windy wide and a boring drive but 80 mph fast. Horrible to drive in typical winter storms.
Colorado is mountain towns packed with young people, US 36 to US 40 is astoundingly beautiful when it is clear, 40 to SLC via Heber City or I 70 to US 50 price Utah
If it is stormy go interstate 70 from Denver , If it is clear enjoy your drive.
Plenty of water, flashlight and a camera to document your trip .
posted by hortense at 10:25 PM on December 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I was 20, I drove from Chicago to Los Angeles solo in a pickup with all my worldly possessions. It was a lot harder than I expected – partially because my nervous energy meant that even though I overnighted in hotels, I got next to no sleep. The mountain driving really threw me for a loop, especially when it got dark, so like b1tr0t said, if you can get some practice before your big trip, please do. Also – learn from my mistake – don't push yourself. Go at a pace that makes sense. Honestly, if you have any friends who would be willing to ride with you, it will be much, much safer than trying to do it all alone. It may even be worth the price of buying them a one-way airline ticket back.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:31 PM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you use any kind of fire inside the car... well, don't really, unless it is an ABSOLUTE emergency... not only are you likely to set the car on fire, but the smoke and CO2 will be a problem, and fires burn oxygen. Know what the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are, and what to do. This is, again, emergency information, but.

Google says the drive is at least 1000 miles, which will take at least 13 hours. (Omaha to SLC) This is NOT TRUE. I'd add on at least two hours for traffic, freeway construction, food and gas and pee stops. Since you are a novice, I recommend against eating while driving. So if you leave at 8 am, I'd assume a 11 or 12 arrival, best case. This is based on my driving across the South and Southeast. I have no idea what mountains add. I have no idea how to handle mountains, snow, or ice.

Cedar rapids or Mason City to slc is listed at 17 hours, which really isn't a single day drive, in my opinion. I'd make serious consideration to splitting a trip of more than 600-900 miles. In this case, I'd want to sleep before tackling mountains.

Does the gas gauge in your car work? The trip odometer? Seriously, keep an eye on your gas. If it gets to a third of a tank left, give serious consideration to when the next station is.

I personally had good experiences at rest stops. Well, the large well lit ones anyway. Some had security. Some are small, poorly lit, and even more in the middle of nowhere than an average rest stop. I wouldn't say to be afraid of rest stops or avoid them, per se, but be aware that you are much more in the demographic where bad things can happen than I was. And yeah, there are sometimes weird people at rest stops and even gas stations. Situational awareness is important.

I got about $10 of gas per hundred miles traveled.

Don't bet on having cell reception 24/7.

Make sure you spare tire is in good shape! Do you know how to put it on? Are you sure? In the dark? How long can you drive on a spare tire? Is it a donut or a real tire? Does it need chains?

Whatever the purpose of the trip is, it IS NOT more important than your safety. I'm not trying to needlessly scare you, but there are real risks. Weather and road conditions especially. Know your limits, and when to get help or turn around or detour.
posted by Jacen at 1:11 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jacen has it right. What you need is a place to break this trip into two. 12-14 hours drive might be OK. I've done some drives like that. Last time was in the west but summer time. It still wasn't fun dealing with mountains after 8 hours on the road. Your itinerary puts potentially the worst conditions at the end of a very long day. Sounds like getting a hotel room en route isn't an option, but I'd think very carefully about what is. Overnighting in a car isn't that safe, and it will not be comfortable in the winter. Not a good way to expect the sleep you need for Day Two. Is this even potentially a job for Metafilter? Any Mefites along the way who might put you up? If so, just because they are Mefites, don't neglect to establish good clear communication with third parties so that others know where you are staying and who with. Make it a Meetup!
posted by Gotanda at 2:46 AM on December 12, 2016

Phone charger that plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car
posted by gt2 at 3:17 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wanted to emphasize the tires. If the tires are worn, then the best thing you can do is invest in good all-season tires. I did that for my 18-year-old beater and it helped tremendously with getting to work this past winter.

Also, new windshield wiper blades and a gallon of wiper fluid in the trunk. You will go through a lot of it.

Last, a broom head is a super handy thing for clearing lots of fresh snow off the car. You absolutely need to clean all snow from the roof and trunk and hood areas before you start driving, so chunks of it don't go flying toward other vehicles while at speed.

Good luck!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:05 AM on December 12, 2016

If you're in the snow, running the car on idle, make sure you uncover the tail pipe.

Also have fun! This sounds like an amazing adventure!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:39 AM on December 12, 2016

Okay, no snow driving experience yet does make your plan riskier. On the off chance there isn't a lot of snow yet in Iowa before you leave, some tips on winter driving: go slow. Anticipate turns and stops and acceleration way before you actually do it and don't make any sudden movements. If you start to slide, look and steer to where you want to go. Just because big SUVs are going the speed limit on a snow packed road doesn't mean you should. Follow the cars in front of you and drive on their tracks. Have an ice scraper and scrape your windows off before you leave. Don't count on your heater to melt it all. Sunlight on snow at high elevation is blinding. So polarized sunglasses if you can.

And watch the weather closely. In the mountains, storms can become much more severe and hit sooner than forecast. If you can, learn the basics about cold fronts and learn to look at radar maps to supplement the weather forecasts (this is probably overkill, but what I do.) if there's a big storm, or even a medium storm, coming, delay your trip by a day or two. And check the forecast for several cities on your route, especially at high elevation. Cities an hour from each other can get inches of snow of difference.

Do you have a credit card? (Probably not? If you're seventeen?) if you break down somewhere, will you have enough money on hand for repairs?
posted by umwhat at 5:55 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you were my kid and you had never driven in snow, on ice, or on mountains I would not let you go or I would offer to go with you. Ice is the scariest because you often can't see it. Don't get distracted by loud music or absorbing podcasts if there's any chance of icy conditions.
posted by mareli at 6:05 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not all hotels will rent you a room when you are underaged, which might make it challenging if you have car trouble or get caught by bad weather.

But as long as you take your time, don't drive when you are getting fatigued, and don't text while you are driving, you are probably fine.

Check each state's official highway conditions website (here is Wyomings, for example) a couple of days before and the morning before you leave, so you can adjust your route if necessary based on the weather. And carry tire chains and know how to use them by yourself.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:26 AM on December 12, 2016

A $50-60 car-starting battery charger that can also charge your cell phone multiple times in a pinch is cheap and light and vital these days. If you get stranded it could save your life.

I have an Anker model that works fine, but wrap duct tape around the alligator clip handles because the springs in them pop out really easily and fall into your engine bay. Sucks in the dark.

Learn to use it to charge your battery before you leave. Charge it fully before you leave. Mine has been a godsend several times.

As a dad I have to say I would be nervous too if you were my kid, having done many cross country drives in winter conditions and seen many hairy situations en route.

Paternalistic I know (see "as a dad" above) -- but listen to your folks and do not push too hard. Drive only in daylight hours. Pay attention to weather reports on an hourly basis for what is up ahead. Get a real, trusted, mechanic to inspect your car fully before you leave and do anything that's due soon (especially brakes and fluids and hoses and belts). If you will need tires soon get them now and get really good ones. Never go cheap on tires. Learn to change a tire before you leave. Carry a full sized spare if possible (have them mount your best current tire on a steel rim). . Carry enough food and water and Mylar blankets to get stranded for a day at least. Less than a year of driving and no experience with mountains and snowy interstates means that if you hit real weather you should be prepared to wait it out in a diner or truck stop or motel. Do not get into situations you've never experienced before while alone on the road.

Also get a very powerful flashlight with flashing red on one end. Excellent gloves for if you have to go outside your car to change a tire etc. I normally think AAA is a huge ripoff (against mefi consensus I know) but not in this case (for most purposes towing coverage under your car insurance policy is a far better deal.) Get it.

Never let your fuel tank run below 1/4 tank in the desert/mountain west. Fill it whenever you can if you're below 1/2. You'll be carrying stuff and driving at higher speeds than you maybbe used to, which will give you worse gas mileage (exacerbated by cold). So be aware of that and watch your fuel gauge like a hawk. Get a digital tire gauge ($20) and check your pressure levels (which should be 2-4 lbs higher after hours of highway driving, so make a point to check them cold in the morning when you start out each day). ,

Learn to check your oil, brake, and washer fluid and carry a quart of the right oil for topping it up, and a gallon of winter washer fluid (I like Prestone). You will definitely be topping that up.

Know how much oil your car normally uses. Should be little to none over that distance.

Make sure you headlights and fogs are properly aimed and adjusted. Carry a spare headlight bulb (cheap on Amazon).

Slow. Steady. Keep with traffic. Long following distances. If you get sleepy or tranced out at all, it's time to pull over and rest or eat. Keep a thermos of coffee with you but don't rely on coffee to stay awake if you're sleepy. Just stop.

Yes carry chains and learn how to put them on. Also a small folding car shovel ($15-20) in case you have to dig out.

Safety --first last always. Do not get overconfident. Winter in the west can be deadly.

There are predators on the interstates. As a woman alone be very aware of your surroundings, never engage in road rage or respond to it, remove bumper stickers from your car. Don't stop in deserted places unless it's an emergency.

It can also be beautiful and you will gain a lot of driving skill. Be careful please! Good luck.
posted by spitbull at 6:41 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also put on new, top quality heavy duty wiper blades!

And carry several hundred bucks in cash, well hidden.
posted by spitbull at 6:47 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sorry to pepper the thread but one more crucial tip: never sleep in your car with the engine running, especially in snow conditions or if you get stuck in snow. People die every winter from doing that as the snow can clog your exhaust quickly if it's falling hard or you are sunk in.

And a gallon of antifreeze in the trunk and learn to check that level too. Needless to say if you overheat do not open a hot radiator!!
posted by spitbull at 6:55 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

one more obvious thing: if your 2009 Fusion has its original battery, it's time to change it anyway. Get a cold-rated high quality battery.

Prepping a 7 year old car (unless it's already very well maintained and up to date on all scheduled maintenance) for this sort of drive starts to approach or exceed plane ticket prices unless you've already done a lot of this stuff.

Can you get a more experienced friend to come along and pay for their flight home from SLC? Your car will still need to be prepared but it makes a world of safety difference to have company, and to share driving duties.
posted by spitbull at 7:16 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

You want roadside assistance. Buy it now. Get AAA and get their top tier level. It's pricy but it's a little peace of mind, and if you need it, it will pay for itself on the first use. The big thing about having roadside is not just that you have help if you need it, it's that you don't have to figure out who to call. If you break down in the middle of Wyoming, you're not going to be able to figure out which towing company to call out of the available choices. AAA takes care of that for you. Also, do you have full coverage insurance on your car? I would make sure I know what the coverages are, because in case of an accident, severe vandalism or your car being stolen, good coverage may help you get through this as far as trip interruption coverage.

Out west, carry water. Lots of it. Carry at least two gallons. Know where your gas stops are going to be, because sometimes they're pretty far apart. I believe there is a stretch of I-70 in Utah that goes over 100 miles with no services. Even if there are gas stations, they may be closed, so if you're below half don't skip a chance to fuel up. DO NOT USE PAY AT THE PUMP. Skimmers have become a huge problem at gas pumps, and also using the pay at the pump readers can put holds on your account that can keep you from having money available. Go inside and pay a fixed amount.

Make sure you carry food with you. Obviously you want to have it handy if you get stuck. You also want to have it handy so that you're not spending a ton of money at restaurants. While I wouldn't expect you to skip restaurants completely, they can get very expensive very quickly.

Lastly, check in with someone every time you stop for fuel. Let them know exactly where you are. If you end up in an accident or lost or something, this gives a starting point where to look for you. Remember that your cell phone coverage is not guaranteed, especially out west. I live in Arizona and I'm used to having dead zones on my coverage in the boonies. (And by the way, buy a map book.)
posted by azpenguin at 7:22 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Any time I do any long car ride I throw in a roll of paper towels and some window cleaner. Nothing tires you out more than a smeared bug right in your line of site. I clean my window thoroughly inside and out before each leg of the trip and pull over every now and then to clean the bugs off. Towels and a good cleaner work much better than the filthy water and squeegee at most gas stations.
posted by bondcliff at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2016

Paper maps - there is an amazingly large swath of the country that has NO cell service and once you get into the mountains, GPS may be blocked. Extra cell phone battery. Drinks in cans and glass bottles will explode when frozen, by the way, so carry water/beverages in plastic water bottles and don't fill them all the way to the top. Food - maximize your space/calories by taking protein bars, not junk.

Cat litter (must be NON clumping kind) or sand to give you traction when you're stuck, and weigh down the car. Winter tires will make a HUGE difference. Get the best you can afford. Get wiper fluid intended for cold weather. I believe there is synthetic oil intended for this too, but either way, get your oil changed before you go.

Driving down mountains in the snow is very different than driving on flat land in the snow. Mountain passes will have emergency escape ramps if you are going too fast and can't control your car. Learn how to use ABS brakes, assuming you have those. (Don't pump them.) Go slow! Slower than you think you should, don't worry about pissing off the guy behind you. Slow waaay down, especially for turns. Always have your headlighits on and make sure those and your turn signals are not covered in snow/dirt/dust.

Good for you for doing this! I did a similar length trip at a young age (albeit not in winter) and it was one of the highlights of my life.
posted by AFABulous at 7:26 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good stuff above, forgive if this was already mentioned but:

- Pair of gloves that gives you some dexterity, like deerskin. Putting on chains in the snow with regular human hands ain't fun, plus they get numb and stop working!

- I usually travel with a rock pick, manly for fossil hunting, but it's also my tongue-in-cheek "defense" against mythical highway hillbillies looking for trouble.

- Harry Potter audiobooks by Jim Dale. I listened to these in terrifying snowy forest service roads, Hagrid kept me calm.
posted by Drosera at 7:47 AM on December 12, 2016

Consider whether you want to put your trip on something like Craigslist rideshare and see if there is someone else that could join you. You (and your family) will have to decide if it is safer to avoid strangers or to have someone else with you on the road.
posted by CathyG at 9:22 AM on December 12, 2016

A general safety tip I've been pushing on family lately: a Lifestraw water purifying device is like $12, weighs a couple of ounces, and fits in the glove box. There is no reason not to carry one.

Also, on the AAA issue, most large insurance companies provide excellent roadside assistance and travel interruption coverage for less than AAA with way more benefits, a 24/7 national toll free number, and the same database of verified and certified service providers nationwide as AAA. It can't hurt to call your agent and find out what you have if you have comprehensive on the car, price the best coverage they offer, and compare to AAA.

Ford itself offers 24/7 roadside even if you are out of warranty for a fixed per-incident charge, as I read the web description, and surely has the same provider database. In rural interstate areas any trustworthy AAA shop is also going to be used to dealing with major manufacturer, rental agency, and insurance company coverage. Might as well have Ford and Insurance Company roadside assistance numbers handy anyway in your phone. In really bad conditions with a lot of wrecks you can sometimes wait a long damn time in cold and dark misery for the wrecker to arrive.

I'm biased against aaa by a bad experience with them, a sense that they gouge people, and good ones with my insurance and car manufacturer's roadside assistance.

posted by spitbull at 9:30 AM on December 12, 2016

Here's info on Ford's roadside program, including number. They tow you to the nearest Ford shop.

Guess what's the most popular brand of vehicle in the rural west? All those shiny new F350s have Ford roadside coverage.
posted by spitbull at 9:52 AM on December 12, 2016

if you have a passport and/or extra credit cards, leave them at home/with a trusted friend and have your parents/friend send them overnight mail if your wallet gets stolen.

Oh... and in case you're a marijuana user, do NOT have any in the car even if you're passing through states where it's legal (e.g. Colorado). This obviously applies to other drugs, and alcohol/cigarettes since you're under the legal age for those. I don't know about the legality of minors carrying guns, but find out the regulations in every relevant state before you do that. A traffic stop for speeding could go really, really badly for you.
posted by AFABulous at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2016

Additionally, if you aren't already a coffee drinker, be cautious about drinking a lot of coffee on the trip. Caffeine can make you jittery and overreact, if you aren't used to it.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2016

Lots of good recommendations above, but (and I know you don't want to hear this)... you should not try to drive from Iowa to SLC straight through by yourself in winter when you have no experience in winter or mountain driving (or, I assume, long distance driving at all). Even if you did have some experience, it's just too long a trip solo. Maybe in summer when you could nap in a rest stop for a few hours if you need to (and you very likely would), but not in winter. Especially not when you'll likely end up driving through the mountains at night. When it's dumping snow. And the roads are snow/ice covered. And you're wasted from already driving 10-15 hours or more. You have no idea how difficult and dangerous that would be.

Seriously, don't try it. Either find someone to split the driving with or find a way to break up the trip with a motel somewhere in eastern Wyoming or both. And time it so those last whatever-hours of mountain-ish driving are during daylight. This could be a great trip, but please make it a safe one.
posted by ClingClang at 12:01 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Know how to put on your hazard blinkers. I use mine in low visibility, or if I'm going slower than the speed limit (usually due to pounding rain). I'd also say to put them on if you are doing roadside emergency maintenance
posted by Jacen at 1:17 PM on December 12, 2016

A lot of people have mentioned knowing how to change a tire. But - speaking from experience - knowing how to change a tire and being able to are not the same. If you've never gotten a tire off your car and think you might need to, be sure you can do it. You might need something to pry it off, as well as a good lug nut wrench. And be sure you have a working jack.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2016

Look for a motel along the route. Have your parents call and talk to the manager. They may have to fax some paperwork back-and-forth and put down their credit card but you can sometimes a and a room arranged this way. You may have to call around a bit but it would definitely be worth it.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:10 PM on December 12, 2016

jrobin276: "Take an extra can of gas"

A gas can is a pain in the ass and even in a sedan will invariably make the inside of the car smell like gas or worse if it leaks. The best way to carry extra gas is in the tank Ford provides. Watch your distances to services and fill up whenever you hit half way. Thats one of the rules of winter driving: Always have half a tank of gas.

b1tr0t: " If you get stuck someplace, you may need to wait an hour or more for rescue."

If you get stuck some where in the rural west you might end up waiting 12-24 hours for help if severe weather rolls in. The road can close around you. And you need to be prepared to spend at least over night in your car if the authorities close the road ahead of you. Winter clothing; blankets or sleeping bag; and plenty of water and comfort food (I like trail mix). Winter driving 101: be prepared to spend hours in your car without working heat. An emergency plan that requires you to run your car isn't realistic.

Have some wet wipes in your jacket pocket in case nature calls while you are waiting on the side of a road someplace.

Jacen: "So if you leave at 8 am, I'd assume a 11 or 12 arrival, best case. "

IMO when planning a long drive like this it is best to leave early as you can in the morning. That way more of your time spent driving in the dark is over roads and in conditions at least vaguely familiar. Be all gassed up and packed the day before so you can roll out of bed/shower and on the the road.

computech_apolloniajames: "If the tires are worn, then the best thing you can do is invest in good all-season tires."

If you are travelling someplace where they have chain up areas in January you need Winter tires not all seasons. I don't have experience in the states but it is the law in many Canadian provinces that you have mountain snowflake rated tires on highways in the winter regardless of conditions.

azpenguin: "Lastly, check in with someone every time you stop for fuel."

I like to text my progress because it creates a record of place/time.

This can be a lot of fun. I drove from the interior of BC to Santa Barbara stopping over in Oregon for Christmas when I was 18 in an older then your car that ran an alternative fuel to boot (mind you male and travelling with a buddy but pre cell phones). It was a hoot if nerve wracking at times. Cars are much better now. Tires are so much better it's hard to believe. Cell phones (when they work) are phenomenal aids to winter driving.

Regarding chains: Though I carry them when required (often regulation for medium duty and up trucks) I prefer to have enough slack in my schedule to just wait for better weather than put chains on. Maybe things are different in the States but here by the time you need to chain up things have deteriorated to the point that it is better not to drive at all. That's another winter driving rule: try to honestly assess whether the prudent course of action is to stay put.

PS: while finding a hotel can be challenging; hostels are used to dealing with younger travellers (and they tend to be cheap if spartan).
posted by Mitheral at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you do decide to break up your trip and a hotel won't accept you even if your parents call, have them try Airbnb. A nice family would probably be more receptive to having you stay in their home.

And don't forget to come back and let us know how your trip went.
posted by Joleta at 8:04 PM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hey, everyone! I'm just coming back to let y'all know how my trip went. My brother lives close to where my sister lives, the one I'm living with in Arizona currently. I ended up buying him a cheap one way ticket to Minnesota because my mom didn't want me driving by myself. My brother's roommate bought himself a plane ticket, so I picked both of them up on January 16th at 6 am from the airport. From there I drove about 5 hours away from Salt Lake City, Utah. My brothers roommate has a license, so he drove the rest of the way to Utah and a few hours away from Arizona. We didn't encounter any problems at all. This trip was smooth sailing. I didn't end up needing my tire chains. It was a bit frustrating since I spent a lot of time getting used to them. The weather was nice although a little windy, nothing too crazy. Barely any snow. Overall, we all had a good time and it was a fun trip. Don't think I'll do it again, mainly because that trip was really long. Thank you to everyone who gave me advice and pointers. I really appreciate it!
posted by MarilynC at 9:23 PM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

This trip was smooth sailing. I didn't end up needing my tire chains. It was a bit frustrating since I spent a lot of time getting used to them.
Please be careful with this line of thinking. Instead, think of those tire chains as cheap insurance that you are fortunate to have not needed. The next time you take a similar trip, you may find that you really do need them.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:39 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

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