The Manual’s Winter Driving Survival Guide
‘Tis the season for rising winds, falling snow, and treacherous roads. Every year, thousands of auto accidents occur as a direct result of winter weather. As a responsible citizen, the safest thing you can do is stay home until the snow melts. However, there are some places in the country where this is simply not practical (we’re looking at you, Alaska). The second best way to stay safe is to learn how to drive in snow like a boss.
Prepping Your Ride
Winter comes with several unique maintenance considerations. Keeping your vehicle in tip-top shape and being adequately prepared will vastly reduce your risk of winter emergencies.
- Schedule a maintenance checkup to make sure your vehicle’s systems and parts are in good shape and your fluids are at the right levels.
- Tires tend to lose pressure as the temperature drops. Be sure to keep your tires inflated to their recommended pressure, which can be found on the driver side door jamb.
- If your tire tread is worn to less than 1/8-inch, get new tires. If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, invest in winter tires.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. This will prevent the gas line from freezing and the additional weight will improve traction.
- Keep an eye on weather reports and heed winter weather warnings.
- Don’t rush yourself. Leave the house earlier than usual to allow time for scraping off ice and defrosting your windows. Let your car warm up for a few minutes before driving.
- If conditions are particularly bad, put snow chains on your tires.
NOTE: To find out how your vehicle responds to snowy conditions, practice snow driving in a large, empty parking lot. Better yet, consider taking winter driving lessons.
Related: Man School 101: Winterizing Your Car
Now for the tricky part. Before you get started, ask yourself once again whether you really, truly need to drive. Even if you’re a snow-driving badass, you’ll likely encounter many drivers who have no idea what they’re doing.
- The most important thing is to take your time. Drive well below the posted speed limit and accelerate much more slowly than you normally would.
- Stick with the lower gears to maximize traction.
- Be extra cautious when driving over bridges, overpasses, and shady patches — these areas are more likely to be frozen.
- Leave extra space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you — at least three times as much distance as you normally would.
- Maintain your momentum as best you can. Start braking early when you see a stoplight ahead.
- DO NOT pass plows or sand trucks — the road conditions in front of them are usually much worse.
- DO NOT use cruise control or overdrive.
NOTE: Just because your vehicle has all-wheel drive doesn’t mean it can blast down snowy roadways. Always underestimate your vehicle’s capabilities and drive cautiously.
Braking and Turning
Since you probably won’t be driving in a straight line, you should know how to brake and turn effectively in snowy and icy conditions.
- Give yourself plenty of room to stop — ideally three times more space than normal, and potentially more if you’re going downhill.
- You DO NOT need to pump anti-lock brakes. Instead, you should maintain a steady pressure.
- Again, the key is to take your time when turning. Slow down, take your foot off the brake, turn the wheel gently, then accelerate after the turn is complete.
- Look and steer where you want to go.
- If your vehicle starts to skid, ease off the brake and accelerator. Turn the wheel in the direction of the skid to straighten your front tires and regain control.
- DO NOT brake or turn suddenly.
NOTE: Build plenty of momentum when approaching a hill. Slow down near the top and continue downhill very slowly.
In Case of Emergency
Your expert driving skills should prevent you from getting stranded on the side of the road. Still, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for the worst.
- Consider packing a roadside emergency kit and keeping it in your vehicle at all times. Your kit should have jumper cables, a collapsible shovel (for digging snow away from your tires), road flares, a flashlight, a cell phone, extra batteries, water, non-perishable food, an emergency blanket, gloves, a warm hat, and hand warmers.
- You should pack a winch and strong cable in case you get stuck and nobody’s around. You could also have a passerby attach the cable to his vehicle and pull your car out of the snow.
- Keep a bag of sand in the trunk. The extra weight will improve traction while driving, and you can sprinkle sand on the road to help your stuck tires grip the ice.
- Put a piece of bright cloth in your side window. This will let passersby know that you need help.
- Stay in your vehicle and conserve your body heat. Don’t leave your vehicle on; instead, turn it on and off in intervals to save gas and keep the interior warm. Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow.
Learning how to drive in snow can help you stay active during the winter without seriously compromising your safety. Still, just because you know how to drive on ice doesn’t mean you should. As a kung fu master rarely resorts to using his skills in battle, so should you refrain from driving in poor conditions whenever possible. Good luck, and be safe!