Driving in winter weather can be difficult at best, and dangerous at worst. These tips will help make sure both you and your car are ready for a safe winter driving season.
1. Preparing Your Car for Winter Roads
Regular maintenance and tune-ups are an important part of safe driving all year long, but snow, ice, and freezing temperatures can be especially hard on your car.
Pay close attention to the following as you prepare your car for winter:
- Battery: Test your battery and replace it if needed. Cold weather drains battery power more quickly.
- Cooling System: Make sure it is working properly and make repairs as needed.
- Tires: Have winter tires put on before the snow flies. If you have all-season tires, check the tread and make sure it is 2/32 of an inch deep or more. Check tire pressure regularly.
- Windshield Wipers: Ice and snow wreak havoc on wiper blades. Replace worn blades at the beginning of the winter season, and make sure your wiper fluid is rated for -30 degrees.
- Lights: Make sure all lights are in working order, including headlights, taillights, and turn signals. Replace bulbs if needed.
It’s also a good idea to check brakes, belts, and hoses, and make sure your heat and defrost are in good working order.
2. Creating a Winter Safety Kit
In case of an emergency, you should always keep a winter safety kit in your car. In addition to a spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack, your safety kit should include, at a minimum:
- Jumper cables
- Tool kit or multipurpose utility tool
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Flares or emergency lights
- First aid kit, including personal medications
- Drinking-Water & Snacks, including high-energy, non-perishable foods like nuts, dried fruit, or candy bars
- Blanket and extra warm clothing
- Car charger for your cell phone
- Shovel and either sand or non-clumping cat litter (for traction)
You may also want to include a compass, reflective vest, fire extinguisher, paper & pen, and a map with your route marked on it. Make sure you have emergency contact information saved on your phone as well, including your insurance company and a towing company.
3. Avoiding a Crash & Tips for Safety
Winter roads are challenging for even the most experienced drivers. Here are a few tips to avoid accidents and stay as safe as possible on the road:
- Stay back – increase your following distance to 8-10 seconds.
- Accelerate/decelerate slowly.
- Avoid using cruise control in winter weather.
- Steer in the direction of a skid to avoid having to overcorrect when your car regains traction.
- Don’t crowd a snowplow or drive next to it. Snowplows stop often, make wide turns, and cross lanes. Snowplow drivers likely won’t see you if you are too close, so give them plenty of space.
- Don’t stop when driving uphill in the snow if possible, to avoid getting stuck.
- Allow extra time to reach your destination and take it slow. Let someone know your route & when you expect to arrive.
- When removing snow and ice from your car, don’t forget to clear off side mirrors, external camera lenses, and sensors.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full.
- Take some time to learn how your car handles in the snow and ice – every car is different.
If you do have an accident or become stranded, stay in your car. Turn on your flashers, and if you are in a remote area or there is poor visibility, use light flares or put reflective markers on your car, and turn on your interior dome light. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow. If you do need to leave the car, leave a note including what direction you are headed and what time you left.
In whiteout conditions, pull off the road to wait it out. In this situation, try to pull onto an exit or side road, rather than onto the shoulder. In low visibility, other drivers may not be able to see you on the shoulder.
Whether you are a seasoned winter driver or a novice, preparation is key to safe driving in the winter. Following these tips will help ensure safe winter roads for us all.