Driving in the winter is a necessary skill that, unfortunately, many people fail to master. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, then you know what the first major blizzard of the season brings: a rash of slide-offs and fender benders. However, a little preparation and exercising some caution can go a long way when it comes to braving the snowy roads.
Don’t let yourself get caught by surprise this winter–here’s a handy list of winter driving do’s and don’ts, so you can drive confidently and safely, no matter the weather.
Winter Driving “Do’s”
A big part of driving in the winter is preparation. Here are some things you should do before the first snowflake falls:
- Do have a mechanic perform a “winter check” of your car. They’ll check things like your brakes, coolant, and more, to make sure your car is set for winter.
- Do look under the hood of your car for cracked or frayed belts
- Do get repairs (that you’re aware of) and regular maintenance tasks taken care of before winter
- Do test your battery to see if it has a good charge. Multimeters or dedicated car battery testers are inexpensive and sold widely at auto parts stores.
- Do replace your battery if necessary. A battery that is just barely holding a charge will be less likely to give you enough starting power in cold weather than in warm weather.
- Do get snow tires for your car–or at least all-season tires.
- Do be aware that all-season tires are a poor substitute for snow tires, although they’re better in snow than summer tires (which are like driving on ice skates)
- Do check your tire pressure (it will go down in cold weather)
- Do make sure you have a set of chains for your tires in your trunk
- Do top off your windshield wiper fluid
- Do consider switching your wiper fluid out for a specially-formulated winter blend
- Do check your windshield wiper blades for damage or tears. Properly functioning wiper blades will be crucial for maintaining visibility when it’s snowing (and when semi trailers are kicking up slush into your windshield)
- Do make sure your car’s lights are all functioning
- Do make sure you have an ice scraper in your car
- Do make sure you have jumper cables
- Do keep your gas tank at least half full. The reason for this is that fuel lines can freeze if there’s less gas in your tank.
It’s a good idea to keep a “winter emergency kit” in your car, especially if you plan on taking a long trip. Getting stranded in a remote area during the winter is exponentially more dangerous than in warmer weather. Here are some things to include:
- Do pack a flashlight with extra batteries
- Do pack reflectors or flares
- Do pack a warm blanket
- Do pack a small snow shovel and some sand, salt, or kitty litter to help if your car gets stuck
- Do pack a basic tool kit
- Do pack an emergency survival kit, including medical supplies, warm clothing, and some non-perishable food items
- Do pack a cell phone
- Do tell someone where you’re going and arrange to “check in” with them at predetermined intervals if you’re heading out on a long trip
It’s likely that you’ll have to drive in snowy conditions this winter. Here are some “do’s” for when you’re behind the wheel in a snowstorm:
- Do stay home if possible
- Do plan ahead and combine errands into as few trips as possible
- Do check weather reports
- Do dress appropriately for the weather. You might wind up in it.
- Do warm up your car by driving slowly for the first mile or so. Warming up your car by idling it in your driveway is actually hard on your engine
- Do accelerate slower in icy and snowy conditions
- Do brake slower
- Do turn slower
- Do everything slower when roads are icy or snowy
- Do give yourself more distance to brake
- Do anticipate traffic lights and turns
- Do try to pick up some momentum before driving up a hill
- Do increase your following distance from other cars. It’s recommended to at least double your following distance on snowy and icy roads than you would allow in normal driving conditions
- Do stay calm and take your time
- Do give yourself an “out.” Avoid getting boxed in by other vehicles
- Do practice your winter driving techniques in an empty parking lot. Do carve a lot of donuts in that parking lot. Do acquaint yourself with how it feels to, safely, lose control of your vehicle, so you will know how to regain control in the best way possible. Each car handles a little different in the snow, so be aware of the subtleties between driving in a truck or a small car.
- Do keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians
Winter Driving “Don’ts”
To avoid being “that guy” out on the roads during a snowstorm, here are some winter driving don’ts:
- Don’t warm up your car in your garage or other enclosed space (the carbon monoxide will kill you)
- Don’t warm up your car by idling it for several minutes. Just drive slowly at first
- Don’t tailgate. It takes twice as long to come to a complete stop in snowy conditions
- Don’t slam on the brakes. It’s better to pull off to the side, if possible, when a car in front of you stops or slows down abruptly.
- Don’t stop if possible. It’s harder to get going from a complete stop then it is when your car is “rolling.”
- Don’t stop going up a hill–you won’t be able to get going forward again (and you might just end up sliding back down the hill)
- Don’t try to accelerate too much up a hill–it will mostly likely make your tires spin
- Don’t brave the roads in bald, worn down, or summer tires
- Don’t let your car idle for longer than a minute in cold temperatures–it’s hard on your engine
- Don’t take sharp turns
- Don’t pump your brakes (if you have an anti-lock brake system, which virtually all modern cars do)
- Don’t use your parking brake when driving. It will only cause you to go into a spin.
- Don’t drive with cruise control. The reason for this is that even minor bursts of acceleration or deceleration can cause your tires to lose traction
- Don’t over-correct if you start to spin out. If possible, try to “steer into the skid” so you’re not turning the wheel abruptly and losing control
- Don’t hit the breaks if you start to lose control. It’s actually easier to regain traction by accelerating a little.
- Don’t assume other drivers know how to drive in the snow
Winter Driving Resources
We’ve gleaned many of the above Do’s and Don’ts from our own experience and expertise at Low Book Sales, as well as the following resources, where you’ll also find additional information on safe winter driving:
- AAA’s winter driving tips
- Tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- OSHA’s safe winter driving tips