Driving on roads in the winter can be a challenge to say the least. Ice, freezing rain, sleet, and snow either combined or separately can make for hazardous driving and extended trips. Since it’s difficult if not impossible to stay inside all winter you need to understand the hazards of driving during winter months and take the recommended precautions to arrive at your destination safely.
- Before taking any vehicle on the road in the winter have it tuned up (this should include changing and adjusting spark plugs, checking the air, fuel, and emissions filters, checking the ignition, wires, hoses, and fan belts).
- Have the brakes, tires, battery, and exhaust system checked/inspected.
- Check fluid levels and add antifreeze if necessary.
- Have your oil switched to “winter weight” if appropriate.
- Have safety equipment in your vehicle such as sand or kitty litter (for traction on slick surfaces), a shovel, snow/ice scraper/brush, booster/jumper cables, blankets, tire chains, and a flashlight.
Coping with winter’s visibility problems must begin before you even get behind the wheel and that includes giving yourself extra time to:
- Insure all windows are cleared to increase visibility to the fullest.
- Use your fingers to break off any accumulated ice on wiper blades.
- Be sure to remove snow/ice from all the lights, hood, and heater air inlet slits (usually located at the base of the front windshield).
- Do not drive with the heater in recirculation mode; doing so recirculates interior air that keeps increasing in humidity (from melting snow you have brought in the vehicle and from your own breath). This moisture rich air creates frost on the inside of the windows, many times faster than the defroster can clear it.
Hazardous Driving Conditions
When driving conditions are less than ideal it pays to be cautious:
- Drive slowly, test your brakes often and never tailgate.
- Turn on your headlights.
- Use low gears when traveling on slick surfaces (especially hills) to give added traction.
- Avoid quick and jerky movements while steering; moving the steering wheel quickly on a wet or slick roadway can cause a slide or spin.
- Avoid accelerating or braking quickly; try to imagine a raw egg between your foot and the brake pedal and having to be gentle so you don’t break it.
- Allow plenty of time to slow down or stop. Apply the brakes gently at first and then increase pedal pressure progressively as you begin to slow down.
- Give yourself double the distance you normally would if driving on wet or slick roadways (e.g. at least 1 car length distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you for every 10mph – 60mph would be at least 6 car lengths which doubles to 12 car lengths on wet/slick roads).
Another problem faced by winter drivers is skidding on slick or icy roadways:
- If your vehicle does skid do not brake!
- Instead of braking take your foot off the accelerator and turn your steering wheel in the direction that you want the front wheels to go.
- Use gentile, steady motions when turning the turning wheel.
- If you are not able to gain control of your vehicle attempt to steer into a snow bank to stop the vehicle.
If You Get Stuck
No matter how cautious you are a time may come when you get stuck in the snow:
• Do not spin your wheels, this will only dig you in deeper.
• Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
• Use a light touch on the gas pedal to ease your vehicle out.
• Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel, or salt in the path of the wheels and the underside of your car to provide traction.
• Try rocking the vehicle (check your Owner’s Manual first because this action may cause damage to the transmission on some vehicles). To rock the vehicle shift from forward to reverse and back again; each time you’re in gear give a light touch on the gas pedal until the vehicle starts going.
If You Become Stranded
Sometimes continuing to drive in a heavy snowstorm may lead to becoming stranded due to traffic, lack of visibility, or being stuck and unable to get out:
• Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
• To attract attention light two flares and place one at each end of the vehicle at a safe distance, and also hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
• If you are sure the vehicle’s exhaust pipe is not blocked run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
• To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the extra blankets you should be carrying to keep warm.
• Keep at least one window slightly open; heavy snow and ice can seal a vehicle shut.
• Eat hard candy to keep the mouth moist.
In the winter months remember to drive cautiously and follow the safety tips above. There are many people driving during the winter and most get to their destinations safe and sound!