Before Old Man Winter rears his ugly head, it’s important to review winter driving tips to get prepared for whatever he decides to throw your way— freezing rain, sleet, ice, snow or a mixture of them all. For many parts of the country, winter and hazardous driving go hand in hand.
Here are some winter driving tips to help you stay safe.
Get Your Car Ready
In the weeks leading up to winter, take the time to winterize your vehicle. Get it serviced if needed, and top off all fluids, including your windshield wiper fluid. Choose wiper fluid with de-icer to make fast work of getting the ice off your window before you head out each day or after being parked for a few hours.
Clean any dirt or grime from your vehicle’s windows, headlights and taillights, and any sensors or cameras, such as back-up cameras.
Make sure your tires have plenty of tread (important for grip and braking) and make plans for switching to your winter snow tires if you have them. Keep an eye on tire pressure; cold weather can result in a loss of tire pressure—and this can cause tires to blow out while driving or go flat and leave you stranded.
Test your battery to ensure it’s ready for the winter, since older batteries may fail in cold weather. Likewise, test your coolant system and add antifreeze if necessary, and check your wipers, replacing blades as needed.
Adjust Your Speed
When roads turn icy or snowy, the most important winter driving tip is to slow down. Every movement you make behind the wheel, whether you’re stopping, accelerating or making a turn, requires more time during inclement weather because the road surface can be unpredictable. Allow for extra braking time and distances and avoid using cruise control. Be particularly mindful of bridges and overpasses, since they freeze and become slick earlier than the pavement leading up to them, catching drivers off guard.
Allow Extra Stopping Time
It is likely that your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes. Unlike older braking systems, you can press the ABS pedal as hard as you can in an emergency and let the brakes slow your car down. Nevertheless, AAA recommends allowing twice the stopping distance you’d normally allow and give vehicles in front of you a range of eight to 10 seconds rather than the ordinary three to four seconds.
Also, even if your vehicle has AWD or 4WD, don’t depend on such a system to provide you with all of the traction you need for stopping. While AWD and 4WD vehicles have better traction for snow and ice than rear- or front-wheel drive models, they won’t provide that much help if you run into black ice.
Avoid Stopping When Possible
A crucial winter driving tip is to avoid stopping on snow or ice whenever it’s not necessary. Do your best to keep your speed steady when taking turns, approaching traffic lights, or going uphill or downhill. AAA recommends slowing down before you reach a stop light so that you can roll on through it without stopping by giving it time to change to “green.” When going uphill, AAA says that giving your car more gas to bolster momentum will leave your tires spinning. Instead, be sure you have the momentum before you reach the hill without accelerating at the bottom; reduce power as you reach the top. Whatever you do, don’t stop when you’re going uphill; you may not get the inertia again to make it up once you come to a complete stop.
Invest in Snow Tires
If you live in an area with snowy winters, it can be to invest in a good set of snow tires. Their treads are deeper and they have biting edges that allow them to cut through snow and ice to give your vehicle better traction and gripping power. Some winter tires are made from a special rubber compound that allow for superior grip with ice. These types of tires help you stop and accelerate more quickly and allow more control for turns. Some winter tires also have metal studs in them to provide yet another layer of grip.
However, don’t put too much confidence in snow tires’ ability to make you a good driver on icy and snowy roads. Even the best tires on the market aren’t of much use if you turn abruptly, brake when you shouldn’t, or accelerate aggressively.
Prepare for Emergencies
In extremely cold weather, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. In addition to servicing your car, be sure to keep your tank full of gas in case you get stranded and need to run it to stay warm while help arrives.
Carry emergency essentials with you, including a few blankets, water, a flashlight, road flares and a charger for your phone. Some experts recommend carrying a small amount of cat litter to sprinkle beneath your tires to help with traction if you get stuck.
Be weather aware. Staying abreast of expected conditions ensures that you are ready for whatever comes your way. Pay attention to forecasts, and plan accordingly.
Using Good Judgement
In truly severe weather, authorities sometimes shut down the roads altogether except for emergency vehicles. Even if this is not the case, one of the best winter driving tips is to use good judgment to determine if you should be out when the roads are inhospitable.
You may consider yourself a good driver in winter weather, but you can never be sure about the other guy who’s sharing the road with you or unforeseen conditions and incidents.
Sometimes staying home is the best thing you can do to stay safe, so always ask yourself whether the risk to yourself and others on the road is worth the reward you’ll get for leaving home in the first place. Err on the side of caution and remember that it’s always better to be safe at home than stuck in a ditch for no good reason.