Driving in the frostier months makes many people nervous, but there’s no need to fear getting behind the wheel if you remember these basic winter driving tips.
In The Driveway/Parking Lot
- On a snowy day or exceptionally frosty morning, before you even begin driving, be sure that you have cleaned all snow and ice from your vehicle, including the roof, trunk, hood, lights and windows. Turn your car on and let the heat run for a minute or two before using the defroster to prevent moisture from fogging the windshield.
- Clear a path of several feet in front of your wheels when digging your car out of the snow. Read these tips for how to get a stuck car out of snow and ice.
- When pulling your car out, apply gentle pressure to the accelerator; if you spin your wheels, you’ll likely end up digging yourself deeper into the snow. If you still can’t get your car out of the parking space, consider placing pieces of cardboard or – as a last ditch effort, your car’s floor mats – under the wheels for traction. Keep in mind that this procedure will likely ruin your floor mats. Then, rock your car gently forward and backward in a low gear with minimum pressure on the accelerator.
On The Road
- Once you are driving, keep an eight to 10-second following distance between yourself and the car in front of you. This will give you more distance in case you need to suddenly stop on a road slick with snow or ice.
- If you are driving on the highway, stay in the lane that has been most recently cleared. Try to avoid changing lanes too often and do not use cruise control when driving on wet surfaces.
- When driving over a hill, reduce your speed when you reach the crest and travel down the hill as slowly as possible. If you have to use your brakes while descending the hill, do so with gentle and slow application.
It can be difficult to steer your vehicle when the road is icy and slick and you could find yourself skidding if you accelerate, brake hard or make jerky movements with the steering wheel. So, when driving on icy roads, make smooth, careful and precise movements with the wheel.
Give yourself more time to brake when driving on slippery roads. Shaded spots, bridges, overpasses and intersections are typically areas where ice is likely to form first or be the slickest. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, the best way to stop is by keeping your foot on the floor and using the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the break pedal. If your heel leaves the floor, the wheels could lock, so be sure not to let that happen. If you have an anti-lock braking system, do not remove your foot from the brake.
A skid occurs when you apply the brakes too hard, causing one or more of the wheels to lock, or if you press the accelerator and spin the drive wheels. You can also skid if you hit a slippery surface while traveling too fast on a curve.
If you begin to skid, do not panic. If your rear wheels lose traction, you should continue to look at your path of travel down the road, steer in the direction in which you want the front of the vehicle to go, avoid slamming on the brakes and, when the wheels stop skidding, continue to steer to avoid a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction.
If your front wheels skid, follow the first three steps of rear-wheel skidding, then wait for the front wheels to grip the road again. As soon as traction returns, the vehicle will start to steer again. When the front wheels regain their grip, steer the wheels gently in the direction you want to be traveling.
More Winter Driving Tips
- Winterize your car. In addition to checking basic maintenance needs such as the condition of your battery, lights and windshield wipers, be sure that your car’s emergency kit is well stocked. For the winter, it’s smart to keep a small shovel, ice scraper/snow brush and gloves on hand.
- It’s smart to avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy or snowy weather because it can get frozen and fail to release.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid potentially long gas lines.
- Make sure that your tires are properly inflated as chillier temperatures can affect tire pressure.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage, where dangerous fumes can quickly build up to lethal levels.
- When the weather is really bad and it’s not necessary for you to leave, stay home. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can.
Be safe out there!