Help me not skid off the road
January 18, 2007 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Moving from Seattle back to San Francisco this weekend - weather looks interesting to drive in! Any advice for a California (non-winter) driver during these icy times?

I've rented a 16' Penske truck and "car carrier" trailer for the move, planned for this Monday, Jan. 22.

I'll be buying tire chains for both vehicles as well, considering the Northwest weather lately (see and you'll get a feel for my nervousness) -- I know I should wait until winter passes to make this trek, but unfortunately I cannot.

Anyone have advice on towing a car in a moving truck (never done it), putting chains on in the snow (never), reliable weather condition advisory resources for a specific route (Hwy 5, I'll have ye olde Crackberry with me to check websites at rest stops), etc...?

Slow and steady is how I'll be taking this one, and the weather is supposed to warm up a bit after the weekend (according to the weather sites' predictions), so I'm not too completely freaked out -- just feeling a bit under-educated for this type of trek.

Thanks all, much appreciated.
posted by icetaco to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
here in langlois, oregon (between bandon and port orford) the unusual snow we had last week is all gone, you won't need chains on 101. you should be ok on the coast.
posted by bruce at 8:28 PM on January 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks Bruce -- Ah, I should have stated my route: 5 all the way down (inland), unless there's advice against it?
posted by icetaco at 8:32 PM on January 18, 2007

if you go into a skid on ice, don't slam on your brakes, it will make your car spin around. letting off the gas and coasting to a stop is the best plan. also, steer into the direction that your rear wheels are sliding, it will help you gain control of your vehicle again.
posted by rubberkey at 9:21 PM on January 18, 2007

drive slowly. 50 will do. these vehicles handle a lot different from your average car in difficult situations and they suck on ice, especially when light.

breaking: push, release, push, release the pedal. that's what ABS does but I don't know if those trucks have it. they say you should put weight into the trunk of rear-drive vehicles but considering that you are probably loading a lot anyway, you shouldn't have to worry too much about that anyway. make sure to check the tire profile, this will make an enormous difference.

in germany, there was a law that said you had to stick a 1DM coin, which is slightly larger than a quarter, into the profile of a tire and if more than half showed, you had a violation. cops were known to enforce this on autobahn onramps and having been in a severe accident at 210km/h, I can tell you the profile of your tire makes a lot of difference. refuse a vehicle that looks unsafe. walk around, check the tires. you are paying a lot for this thing and should not accept anything less than the best for it.

oh yeah: consider taking the PCH. it's beautiful where it runs close to the coast. stop at hearst castle. say hello to jalama beach, overnight in monterrey. the five is boring next to it, you won't see anything. my feeling is the PCH will be clear.
posted by krautland at 9:36 PM on January 18, 2007

on 5, you have to go over the siskiyous in southern oregon, check first to make sure it's open, should be ok now but an hour of snow can close it.
posted by bruce at 10:04 PM on January 18, 2007

If you hit snow, you will get the hang of it quickly enough as long as you take it slow. The biggest problem is on the mountain roads you sometimes have long hills and lots of curves, and these are your enemy. If there is even a bit of snow on the ground you cannot touch the brake while you're turning; if you do you will skid straight ahead off the road. This means that you need to get your speed down well before the curve. All those '30mph curve ahead signs' are meant for these conditions - take them seriously. Brake on the straightaways (gently). When in doubt go slow.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:53 PM on January 18, 2007

Putting chains on a loaded truck and trailer is tough, by yourself. Make sure you can do this (and get them off), in the parking lot, before heading out on the road, where conditions are nearly bound to be worse when you have to do it to proceed. Driving a 16' truck, with a trailer, with both vehicles chained, is going to be excruciating. Your maximum speed is going to be something like 25 or 30 mph, and if you drive into clear pavement, you'll wear the chains very quickly, especially if they are light duty cable type "chains". In mountainous terrain, I've seen trucks stop and chain up/de-chain 3 times in 15 miles, and these guys were running heavy forged link chain sets. If you break or throw a chain, there is a good possibility that you'll damage a tire, or the vehicle, so make sure you have insurance cover. Even on packed snow, there will be noticeable vibration and jarring to your load, and you'll need to double check tires on the vehicles frequently, as well as rigging on your tow. Stuff just works loose on a snow chained rig, due to vibration.

"... I know I should wait until winter passes to make this trek, but unfortunately I cannot. "

This is the most concerning part of your question, because it's exactly that kind of attitude that can get you into real trouble. And it's wrong, of course. If you broke a leg and arm tomorrow, you'd have no choice but to deal with the move differently, so you would. You'd hire professionals, you'd sell more stuff, you'd leave the car until later, etc., or you'd postpone the move, because you'd have to. A broken leg and arm would make it clear to you that you needed to re-evaluate your plan, and make more reasonable choices.

If you've never driven a truck towing a trailer, and now "plan" to do so, if needs be, through snow and weather where mandatory chains may be required, you're getting so far out of what should be your "reasonable" zone, that you need to begin thinking more clearly. As if you'd just broken an arm and a leg.
posted by paulsc at 1:02 AM on January 19, 2007

Hearst Castle's great, but it's not on the way from Seattle to San Francisco. And PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) colloquially refers to California State Highway 1 and US101, but technically it's only in California.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:40 AM on January 19, 2007

In snow, on a multi-lane road, it's always tempting to go faster as other cars whiz past you. Resist this temptation with ever ounce of your being. Try to stay on the portion of the road that has already been plowed or salted (or has grooves from other cars). Then, don't let your tires out of the grooves as that tends to be the moment you'll loose control.
posted by drezdn at 6:27 AM on January 19, 2007

Uh, yeah, seconding the Pacific Coast Highway/Hwy 1 warning. Whoever suggested that clearly wants you dead.

There aren't too many places to get into trouble on I-5, but the Siskiyou Pass (southern Oregon) is definitely the exception. Pull over at the town before the pass (Ashland) and check the weather report. If it's bad, stay there overnight and head out in the morning.

Take it slow and you'll be fine. I-5 is a major highway. DO NOT take any "shortcuts" or scenic routes, fer gosh sakes.
posted by Aquaman at 9:48 AM on January 19, 2007

Be prepared to pull off the road if necessary. I saw that video, and that kind of ice is just impassible. It happens occasionally in Maine, and there can be multi-vehicle pileups.

So, make sure you have sleeping bags, warm weather clothing, incl. hat, gloves, etc., water, candy, flashlight, and a few candles in a safe holder. Extra radio + batteries, cell phone fully charged, and don't let the gas get below 1/2 tank. A bag of sand or kitty litter is handy, as is a small shovel, even the gardening trowel. The candles are for comfort and are optional. Even in your car, you can have a fire.
posted by theora55 at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everybody; there's some good advice here. I'm off!
posted by icetaco at 7:42 AM on January 20, 2007

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