There’s no way around it: driving in the winter can be terrible. Between the cold, the difficult driving and the greatly increased chance of an accident, it can be extremely stressful and dangerous. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. These 8 tips can help take some of the worry out of driving this season.
1. Go Slow
Enthusiasts talk about things like understeer and oversteer when they’re driving their cars at the limit on the track, but these limits are a lot lower when traction is limited by ice and snow. Adjust your driving style accordingly: make every motion of your car slow and deliberate whether turning, accelerating or braking. Look further ahead as you drive and plan maneuvers in advanced, especially braking: a panic stop can quickly turn into a skid.
2. Check Your Battery
As the temperature drops, the output of your car’s battery decreases and the thickness of the oil in the engine increases. Together, they make your car harder to start. Before you end up stranded, make sure your battery is up to the task.
There should be a warranty sticker on the top of the battery that indicates when it was purchased. If your battery is outside of the warranty period, it should be replaced.
If there are caps on the top of the battery, these need occasional maintenance. Over time, the heat from charging and discharging can evaporate the water inside, and it needs to be topped up occasionally. Adding distilled water up to the “fill” level will ensure the electrode plates are fully submerged, which can help them last longer.
3. Warm Your Car Up Correctly
Modern cars are designed to warm up through driving, not idling. Instead of letting the motor run for several minutes, start driving and go easy on the gas pedal until the temperature gauge starts moving. This lets both the engine and transmission warm up. If you want to speed up the time it takes to warm up your car, install a block heater.
4. Get a Set of Winter Tires
The “M+S” designation on most tires stands for “Mud and Snow,” but this only indicates tread depth, not tire design. Real winter tires use tall tread blocks to move through snow and a unique tread compound that stays pliable at low temperatures and has a surface that can wick away moisture for better contact. Not only do winter tires perform better than standard tires on snow and ice, they’re far more effective than tire chains and are a lot less noisy.
5. Switch to Winter Wipers and Wiper Fluid
Pay attention to the wiper fluid you’re using. During the fall, parts stores offload their “summer mix” washer fluid, which can freeze at lower temperatures. Skip the sale and get a full strength formulation designed for winter conditions.
Like snow tires, winter wiper blades use rubber compounds that stay flexible at low temperatures for better contact with the windshield. They also have rubber boots around the joints to keep the frame from freezing. Putting on a set can greatly improve visibility.
6. Put Together an Emergency Kit
You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you have the tools you need to get unstuck, and make your drive safer if you have what you need to stay comfortable while you wait for a tow truck or emergency services. Here are some things you should have on hand:
- A phone charger that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter
- A battery booster
- A shovel
- Road salt, kitty litter or sand
- A window scraper
- A small broom
- Snacks like protein bars, candy bars and trail mix
- Jumper cables
- Extra clothing and a blanket
- A first aid kit
- Emergency reflectors
If possible, store these items inside your vehicle: trunks can freeze over or get covered in snow if there’s an accident, making your kit inaccessible.
7. Keep Your Gas Tank at Least Half Full
Being stranded can mean long periods of idling, whether you’ve plowed into a snow bank, or you’re waiting for an accident to be cleared. The fuel can also add ballast to the rear of your vehicle, making it more stable.
If you do get stuck in the snow, remember to uncover the tailpipe. This lets the motor run freely and prevents buildup of deadly carbon monoxide around the vehicle.
8. Let People Know Where You Are
Before you set out, make sure someone knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. If you get stuck, put out the reflectors from your emergency kit. If it’s dark, turn on your car’s dome light. This will help first responders find your vehicle.
Many of you live and work in areas that are blanketed in snow during the winter. There’s just no way to completely avoid driving in these conditions. By following these tips, you can improve your chances of traveling without incident. But if your car happens to slip and slide, you know who to call to get you back on the road.