‘Tis the season for falling temperatures, icy buildup 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 that 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.
First, few tips from an expert. Rick Riccart president of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, OH knows a thing or two about staying safe on roadways that are anything but, and he says it all starts with the parts of the car that touch the road. “The first thing is tires. Traction is a big part of safe winter driving — not just getting traction accelerating but also when you’re breaking. It all goes back to tread depth and making contact with the road. Ensure that your tires aren’t overworn and monitor your tire’s tread depth.”
Now let’s talk about the rest of your vehicle.
Prepping Your Ride
Winter comes with several unique maintenance considerations. Keeping your vehicle in tip-top shape for the winter will vastly reduce your risk of winter emergencies. Before the season swings into high gear, make sure to do the following:
- Schedule a maintenance checkup to ensure your vehicle’s systems are in good shape and all fluids are at the right levels.
- Keep an eye on your tires, as freezing temperatures can deplete them of air. Routinely inflate them so they’re in accordance with the pressure recommendations on the driver side door jamb.
- Speaking of tires, consider investing in winter tires if you live in an area with heavy snowfall. We even compiled a list of some of our favorite winter tires!
- Maintain at least a half tank of gas at all times. This will prevent the gas line from freezing and the additional weight will improve traction. And “top off your fluids and ensure your wipers are high-quality and working properly,” says Rick Ricart. “Wipers move more than just water — they help move ice and unwanted road grime.”
- Monitor weather reports and heed all 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 (learn how to do that here).
- Finally, Ricart says: “While you’re on the road, give extra room between you and those on the road. You can check all the boxes above but not everyone else will. Don’t let them ruin your day – give them room on the road.”
Note: Find out how your vehicle responds to snowy conditions. We suggest practicing snow driving in a large, empty parking lot. Better yet, consider taking winter driving lessons.
Now for the tricky part. Before driving, ask yourself once again whether you really, truly need to. Even if you’re a snow-driving badass, you’ll likely encounter many drivers who have no idea what they’re doing, so it’s important to keep these tips in mind:
- 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.
- Like we mentioned before, give yourself plenty of room to stop — ideally three times more space than normal, and potentially more if you’re going downhill.
- Do not pump your anti-lock brakes. Instead, maintain a steady pressure.
- Take your time when turning. Slow down, take your foot off the brake, turn the wheel gently, then accelerate after the turn is complete.
- 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 with some crucial must-haves:
- Keep a roadside emergency kit in your vehicle at all times. It should include jumper cables, a collapsible shovel, road flares, a flashlight, a cell phone, extra batteries, water, non-perishable food, an emergency blanket, gloves, a warm hat, and hand warmers.
- 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 their vehicle and pull your car out of the snow.
- Stow 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.
Note: If you become stranded, stay in your vehicle to 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.
Get the Gear
Now that you know how to drive in the snow, let’s get you set up with the gear you’ll need to do it.
Konig Snow Chains
These simple snow chains from Thule are the perfect no-fuss accessories for bad weather. Built with durable, hardened manganese nickel alloy steel, they’ll plow through the snow and provide excellent traction on the road.
Black Diamond Snow Shovel
The shovel from Black Diamond is the perfect tool to keep in your car for a particularly snowy situation. The fixed-length anodized shaft is fully removable and the blade is constructed with aluminum, making it a lightweight and sturdy essential.
Snow Joe Ice Scraper
This handy scraper is a small yet powerful tool perfect for scraping off your windshield after a frost. The 4.8-inch brass blade cuts through ice in a single swipe and stows comfortably in your glove compartment.
AAA Severe Weather Road Kit
This AAA-approved pack was curated for cold conditions and includes the usual first-aid kit and flashlight as well as a survival blanket, hand warmers, a fire starter, a few fleece accessories, a small folding shovel, and an ice-scraper.
- How to Winterize Your Car and Other Helpful Winter Tips
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