Winter driving is not for the faint of heart. That’s why it’s always best to stay home when snow and ice make driving potentially hazardous. But for those times when you must venture out regardless of the road conditions, these tips will help ensure that you return safely.
Before you leave
- Make sure your gas tank or EV battery is at least half full. If you get stuck in traffic or heavy snow, you may need more fuel than normal to get home or to stay warm.
- Equip your vehicle with an emergency kit. It should include a blanket, flashlight, ice scraper, small snow shovel, cell phone battery charger, water and snacks. Also include an abrasive substance, such as salt or sand, to place under the tires if you’re stuck.
- Maintain your vehicle. Tires and batteries are especially susceptible to the ills of winter weather (tire tread is worn if it’s less than 1/16-inch deep). Windshield wipers should be in good condition, along with plenty of wiper fluid for clearing the ice and slush.
- Remove snow and ice from your vehicle. For greater visibility, clear off your windows, headlights and brake lights, roof and tailpipe. Keep in mind that it’s illegal in some areas not to clear the snow from the roof of your vehicle as it could fall off and create a hazard for other drivers. A snow-clogged tailpipe could allow deadly carbon monoxide gas to build up inside your vehicle.
On the road
- Take it slow. Not only will you need extra time to stop on snowy, icy roads, but it’s important to accelerate slowly as well. This is the best way to gain traction and avoid skids. As a general rule of thumb, following distances should increase from three to six car lengths on dry pavement to at least 10 car lengths in wintry conditions.
- Brake wisely. Chances are, your vehicle has anti-lock brakes (ABS). These were designed to keep you from skidding when the brakes are firmly applied. With ABS, it’s not necessary to pump your brakes. Instead, when the car feels like it’s vibrating, that’s a sign that the anti-lock braking system is in control and that it’s pumping for you. Don’t have anti-lock brakes? Then start pumping.
- Avoid spinning your wheels. This only melts the ice and snow beneath your tires, making the surface even more slippery. Instead, accelerate just enough to make the car move. Proceed up hills at a slow, steady pace because stopping and starting on a snowy incline is one of the most challenging situations to maneuver.
- Travel a safe distance behind snow plows. Snow plows make wide turns, move slowly and may kick de-icing materials or slush into your field of vision. Don’t get too close or drive beside them.
- Drive with your lights on. This increases visibility in dreary weather and ensures that other drivers can see you as well.
Don’t wait for wet, icy conditions to get ready for winter driving. Prepare your vehicle and review these safety tips before the snow flies.