Winter driving can be scary. Why are my hands and face so cold? Why aren’t my brakes working? What’s this white stuff all over everything? Hopefully we can help answer these questions for you to keep you looking more like this...
and less like this:
Unless you absolutely must be somewhere when there’s snow on the roads, it’s better just to stay at home until the streets are plowed, salted, and ready to drive on. This rings especially true if you live in a part of the country that doesn’t see much snow. You could be a pro New England snow-driving expert, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is too.
- Check Your Tires
It might be easy to ignore your tire’s health during the other 3 seasons of the year, but during winter your tires could mean the difference between a safe arrival and a quick trip to the emergency room.
Tire pressure drops by 1 pound every 10ºF, so even if your tires are just peachy during the summer they could be drastically under-filled during winter. Check your tire pressure often and follow the recommended pressure listed in your car’s user manual or on the tire themselves.
As for winter tires, if you can afford to purchase 4 winter tires and you live where it snows often, then by all means get some from your local tire store. They’re proven to help traction in snow and wintry conditions. However, if you can’t afford all four winter tires, then just stick to four all-season tires. Having two winter and two non-winter tires can cause unwanted sliding and difficulty turning. This is especially true if you drive an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
Also make sure your tread is up to snuff. For good snow traction, at least a 6/32-inch tread is required. If you don’t have a tread-depth gauge to measure that, have a mechanic or someone at the tire store check it for you. Most new tires start at 10/32-inch tread.
- Go Slow
This sounds like dumb advice, but it should remain your most prevalent thought while driving in the snow. When you turn, brake and turn slowly. When you stop at a light, brake sooner than you think you should, and do so gently. Even with all the right tires and winter driving equipment, poor driving can put you in a ditch as quickly as anything else.
Just imagine you have a boiling hot cup of coffee in your lap with no lid and any sudden stops or turns would scald your thighs to the bone.
- Learn to Skid Properly
If you do find yourself in a skid, knowing what to do next can be a real challenge. Much like me through most of high school, your instincts may deceive you.
If you’re stuck in a front-wheel skid, slowly release the accelerator, keep your foot off the brake, and leave your hands right where they are. Don’t try to adjust the steering wheels in any certain direction. Just stop accelerating (or braking) and wait for the car to stop.
If you’re in a rear-wheel skid, things are a little more complicated. You may have been taught at some point to steer into the skid. Don’t do this. It’s confusing and doesn’t always work. Instead, look in the direction you want to go, and then slowly turn the wheel in that direction.
As you start to regain traction, gently apply pressure to either the accelerator (if it’s a rear-wheel skid) or the brake (if it’s a front-wheel skid). This should redistribute the weight to either the front or the back of your car, allowing you to gain even more traction.
- Prepare Yourself
In the worst-case scenario (stranded in the cold with a dead or broken car) you’ll want to have the necessary preparations to avoid freezing to death. Consider the following preparations:
- Keep at least half a tank of gas in your car at all times. You never know when you’ll need to keep the car running and the heater going as you wait for a tow truck.
- Keep a warm blanket in your trunk/backseat and/or snow boots, in case you need to trek through the snow. An extra warm hat and a pair of gloves could help too.
- Have a substantial snow brush/ice scraper. You may be tempted to go cheap on this, but a good, long snow brush can make a big difference.
Winter driving can be very dangerous, but hopefully with a little extra effort and preparation you can survive until spring.