Depending on your geographic location, winter driving can mean something vastly different from someone who lives in a different region than you. And whether you need cross country skis to get from the parking lot to the front door 100 days out of the year, or if a dusting of snow shuts down your entire city, getting you and your vehicle prepared for winter is important. While these driving tips are targeted more at snowy regions, it is still best to make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for the winter months to help keep you and other motorists safe on the road.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Many new vehicles come with a tool kit and sometimes a first aid kit. Always check after purchasing a new or used vehicle to ensure you have all the things you’d need in a roadside emergency. At very minimum, year-round you should always have the following in your trunk:
- Jumper Cables
- First Aid Kit
- Snacks and Water
- Tool Kit
- Tire Gauge
Check out a more comprehensive list here.
After the first frost, it is time to break out the Winter Survival Kit. Be sure to include the following:
- Coat, hat, and gloves
- Reflective Triangle, flares, or LED flashers
- Ice Scrapers
- Snow Shovel
- Spare Phone Charger
- Emergency Candle and Lighter
- Sand, salt, or kitty litter
Now is also a good time to replace your windshield wipers, check your battery connections, put on snow tires if you have them or check the condition of your tires, and get an oil change and top off all fluids, including anti-freeze.
Check out: Vehicle Care Tips for Winter
Know What Conditions You’ll Be Driving In
Always check the weather before you travel. Blizzard conditions can shut down highways and interstates, which could leave you stranded with few options for lodging. Signing up for weather alerts by text and email can make this easy. If you aren’t comfortable driving in poor conditions, don’t. If you do brave it, make sure you have your route planned out and let someone know your route, your departure time, and anticipated arrival. Give yourself plenty of time to travel and reach your destination safely.
Once you have enthusiastically ice skated to your car, ensure that the vehicle is clear of ice and snow. You will want to make sure that the headlights, hood, windshield and windows, mirrors, roof, and brake lights are clear. Keep in mind that while you may think you only need a few places to peek out of when driving, a snow-covered car camouflages in a blizzard. Ice chunks can be blown off your vehicle and damage other commuters, and lessened visibility in addition to poorly cleared windows greatly increases your risk of getting into an accident. If you want to invest in a tool that makes this easy, a telescoping snow broom with ice scraper (it’s a gamechanger) runs around $15 and is available at most hardware stores or places like Walmart or Target.
Here are some great tips on keeping your windshield clear.
Once your car is clear, make sure that snow hasn’t accumulated in front or behind the vehicle, trapping you in. Clear a path that allows you to safely navigate out of your parking space or driveway. If you haven’t started your vehicle yet, hop in and check your gas. A full gas tank adds weight to your car plus makes sure you have enough fuel to keep you warm and get you home if you get stuck in traffic or in the snow. Buckle up, switch on your headlights, and you’re ready to roll.
Driving in Snow and Ice
Don’t rush. It’s usually preferable to arrive to work late than to arrive at the hospital by being taxied via ambulance. When accelerating, do so slowly. Slower acceleration will give you better traction and can even help you regain traction. Make sure you have plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, and always pump your brakes on ice if they lock up. Also, avoid jerking the wheel or trying to overcorrect. If your car does begin to slide out of control, don’t panic. “Keep your wits about you” and continue to pump the breaks or slow down to a “roll” to keep you from getting stuck and/or rear-ended by another vehicle. On hills, let inertia help you accelerate slowly up to the crest, and carefully drive downhill slowly.
When approaching snow plows, keep your distance. The cleared road behind a snow plow is safer to drive on than the mess in front of it. While it may be an inconvenience to drive slower than you might have liked, enjoy the cleared road ahead of you. Keep in mind that snow and ice can be kicked up, and some plows and trucks drop gravel or an agent that melts ice. Give yourself some room so it doesn’t obstruct your view or get deicer on the finish of your car.
One other thing to keep in mind is that the same road you drove on earlier in the day can look and feel very different later in the day, pending the weather. Get to know how your vehicle handles in slush, snow, and ice. Don’t drive in poor conditions if you’re tired, have been drinking (let a sober Uber driver get you home safely from the office Christmas party – leave the lampshade at the office), and don’t text or use your mobile device while driving. You want to save the battery for an emergency, and of course, it’s very unsafe to text and drive!
If you do get stuck in the ditch or on the side of the road, you can create traction using the sand or salt in your winter kit. If you are in too deep or the weather is too severe, call for assistance and stay with your vehicle if it poses no risk to you or other commuters. Never try to walk for help in severe winter weather. Emergency rescuers are more likely to find you if you stay with your vehicle, and it provides shelter from the elements. Make sure that your tailpipe is clear before continuing to run your vehicle, as carbon monoxide will build up if it is left obstructed. A good rule is to bundle up and run the vehicle for 10 minutes each hour with your window cracked.
Now that you know what it takes, take our quiz to find out your winter weather driving personality, and let us know your winter weather driving personality type in the comments below!