Thursday, January 26, 2012

For Safety's Sake #8: The Times, they are "A'Chain-Gin"

Of all the resolutions you’ve made in the last several weeks, I hope that taking stock of and rehabbing your personal safety equipment was among them.

You’re certainly correct in mentioning this year’s deviation from our usual Maine winter weather, but, hey, it’s only late January, folks. There’s bound to be some nastiness waiting in the wings, and I’m not just talking about the wings on that plow that took out your mailbox four times last winter.

I’m not going to do product reviews, as such, but do want to talk about some things that are out there that will make your life a little easier, and, of course, safer.

Winter treads on your car, well, that pretty much goes without saying. If you don’t have all-wheel drive, and even if you do, you might want to think back to the days when we all wrestled with tire chains. Not a pleasant memory, is it?

Not only have the times changed, the chains have changed too. If you’ve followed that last sentence, let’s continue.

First of all, remember that tire chains are intended for use on ice and snow only, not on dry pavement.

There are a variety of tire chain options. Be sure you choose those that are appropriate for both your vehicle and the conditions you’ll be facing.

If you need traction for a very short distance just to get out of a tight spot in a parking lot or driveway, or over a limited patch of snow or ice, you might consider what are called “emergency chains”. They are easily installed (be sure to follow instructions carefully) and inexpensive. Probably less than $20. Note that you must not exceed 5 mph when using these emergency chains.

There are several other types of tire chains on the market today.

Because of relatively low clearance on many cars, there is not much room in the wheel wells for thick chains. Improper size can cause damage to brake lines and impair steering.

While online prices may seem attractive, it’s probably best to stick with a local dealer who can give you advice and actually see your vehicle.

Keep in mind that the highway department’s salt will cause corrosion. As soon as possible after removing the chains, wash off the salty brine, dry them thoroughly, then spray on a drying agent such as WD-40, and store them in a bag or the case they came in, preferably not plastic. This will protect them and keep other items in your vehicle safe.

Here’s what we’ve got:

Conventional link chains. Least expensive. Most difficult to install. Very effective. Must lay the chains out on the ground and drive over them, then “hug the tire” and reach around to the back to fasten them. Messy and not much fun. Cost for these is about $30-50 a pair. Have a tarp and gloves ready for this chore.

Diamond-pattern link chains. These are a bit easier to install, offer the greatest traction, but are fairly pricey at around $75-150 a pair.

Steel cable. Not link chains. Thinner and easier yet to install. Dealers claim they do not offer as much traction as the others. Cost is $30-75 a pair.

It’s your choice.

Keep some tube sand or kitty litter in your car for weight and traction and for chucking a few scoopfuls under those tires when you need extra help.

Windshield washer fluid should be checked regularly and topped off, if needed. These sloppy, slushy, salty, semi-frozen roads use up a lot of it. Don’t forget to check your headlights and taillights frequently and clean them off to increase your visibility. If you don’t have anything else on hand to do it with, grab a handful of snow. It will do in a pinch.

Pull those worn wiper blades off and replace them, and don’t forget to tip them out while you’re inside if winter precipitation is expected. It’s easier and faster to clean a windshield that doesn’t have wipers frozen to it.

Once you’ve gotten where you’re going, navigating over ice or snow to get to the house is your next concern.

You probably carry some sort of traction devices for your feet other than boots. You do have boots in the car, don’t you?

Ranging in price from around $4 to $50, what you fasten onto your shoes or boots can have many names and configurations. There are ice cleats and other products made under names such as Spike & Coil, Due North, Stabilicers, Yaktrax, and Get-a-Grip.

These can save you time and the unpleasant repercussions of a nasty fall. If you are feeling particularly generous, carry some extra ones for your clients.

A word of caution: Remember to remove them when you get inside. Some, not all, of them declare themselves to be safe for wearing inside, saying they won’t damage floors. Don’t do it. Take them off. Roll them up, stick them in your pocket or set them by the door, but TAKE THEM OFF. It’s not the floors I’m worried about so much. Just last week I was in the waiting room in a local hospital when a woman came in for an outpatient procedure, stepped off the doormat onto the tile floor by the reception desk and did a split Cathy Rigby would have envied. I know I’ve dated myself with that reference, but, suffice it to say, it was painful to watch and, I’m sure, much more painful to endure. That colonoscopy suddenly became the least of her concerns.

While your body heat creates a melted cushion for the Yaktrax (or whichever brand of these you use) to grab onto, there is no such effect once you’re inside and on a tile or wood floor.

If you routinely show foreclosed or unplowed properties and find yourself faced with an expanse of snow and ice to traverse between you and the door you’d better be prepared with some cross country skis, snowshoes, or, at the very least, some ski poles.

You also don’t know what’s under that snow; so be extra careful and have something, (if nothing else, a long-handled ice scraper) to probe the depths for hazards before you step.

Of course, you carry a snow shovel in your vehicle.

For good measure, throw some of those hand and foot warmers in your toolbox, along with extra gloves and socks, and, of course, don’t forget the candy canes!

Stay warm and safe.

Submitted by Mary Kuykendall. Mary is a REALTOR in Bangor and the Greater Bangor Association's 2011 REALTOR of the Year. (Credit: Picture of Tidy Cats cat litter)

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