With winter storms slamming much of the nation this season, it is important that drivers take some steps to ensure safe travel. If at all possible, avoid driving in snowy, icy, or other dangerous weather conditions; however, if you must drive, be sure to follow some of the below tips:
- Remove snow from the hood, roof, and trunk of the car. Flying snow and ice, especially when breaking sharply, endangers you and other drivers.
- Allow sufficient time before driving to ensure all of the vehicle’s windows and mirrors are clear of snow and ice.
- Ensure the license plates and all lights—breaking, reverse, headlights, tail, turning, day-running, fog, parking, dome, door—are working appropriately and that all external lights have been cleared of snow, frost, or ice so that the lights’ intensity is not minimized and oncoming traffic and traffic behind you clearly see your vehicle.
- If possible, place a windshield cover on the windshield prior to snowfall.
- Install heavy-duty snow and ice wipers, which are made to ensure moisture does not accumulate and freeze moving parts. Ensure the windshield wipers are in good shape and working appropriately.
- Check the vehicle’s fluid levels and ensure that they are full, including oil, gas, and windshield wiper fluid. Ensure the windshield wiper fluid is made to withstand freezing temperatures; frozen wiper fluid may lead to cracked pipes. Ensure the gas tank is appropriately full. More gas means more weight and improved traction. A near empty gas tank is prone to condensation, which may freeze fuel lines.
- If possible, park your vehicle in a garage or enclosed parking lot before and during a storm.
- Before temperatures begin to drop for the season, have the vehicle’s battery checked to ensure it is not weak or failing.
- Properly warm the vehicle before taking off. An appropriately warmed vehicle is a more efficient vehicle. Never warm a vehicle in an enclosed space.
- Plan your route so that you minimize the likelihood of becoming lost and stay on major roads, which are the most likely to have been cleared and sanded.
- Ensure tires have sufficient tread, at least 3mm. Without appropriate tread, tires will not grip when driving on snow or ice.
- Some vehicles are not outfitted with all-weather tires; however, snow tires may be a worthwhile investment as they are manufactured with a deeper tread and should be put on the vehicle when the temperature begins to drop.
- Do not mix radial tires with other types of tires.
- Ensure tires are appropriately inflated to the manufacturer-suggested inflation levels. A 10-degree drop in temperature is equivalent to a 1-pound loss in pressure, per wheel.
- Check the spare tire. Ensure the tire is filled to the appropriate capacity and is in the trunk with your vehicle’s jack.
- Remove snow tires when the season begins to change. At 45 degrees, have the tires removed to protect the rubber used in winter tires, which wear out more rapidly on dry roads.
- Be sure windshield washer fluid is labeled to handle below-freezing temperatures, which will ensure that the washer fluid does not freeze in colder temperatures and render the wipers useless.
- Use lukewarm water or de-icer to remove frost from the vehicle’s exterior. Hot or boiling water is not suggested. Pouring hot or boiling water on a windshield may lead to a cracked windshield.
- Ensure the windshield wiper control is in the “off” position before starting the vehicle. A wiper that is frozen to the windshield and is engaged when the vehicle is started may lead to a blown wiper control fuse.
Keep a kit in the vehicle that contains:
- Bright colored cloth
- Cash and change
- Charged battery booster, cellphone car charger cable
- De-icer, lock de-icer (keep this on your person and not in the vehicle), oil based lubricant
- Demisting pad
- Flashlight and spare batteries, wind-up flashlight
- Food and water
- Fully charged mobile phone
- Glow sticks, flares, glow-in-the-dark warning signs.
- Ice scraper, snow brush
- Jumper cables
- Non-clumping kitty litter, a square of carpet, recovery track, sand, or salt for placement under wheels when stuck in the snow, ice, mud, or sand
- Paper towels
- Spare medication
- Spare tire, aerosol spare tire filler
- Spare windshield washer fluid meant for cold temperatures
- Thermal blanket; spare gloves, hat, and scarf; flannel, hooded sweatshirt; portable camping hand warmers
- Wear your seatbelt.
- Do not drive when fatigued and always remain aware of your surroundings.
- Turn on the headlights when snow begins to fall.
- Operate the brake and gas pedal; the steering wheel; and the gears, if driving a vehicle with a standard transmission, gently and slowly.
- Don’t stop unless necessary. If possible and safe to do so, slow down to a roll until the traffic light changes. When breaking, keep the heel of your foot on the floor; use the ball of your foot to apply firm and steady pressure on the pedal.
- Never stop when driving up a hill. Never power up a hill as this may lead to a wheel spin. Instead, attempt to achieve a bit of inertia before reaching the hill while on a flat road and allow the inertia to bring you to the top. When the crest of the hill is reached, reduce speed and descend as slowly as is safe and possible.
- Accelerate gently. If driving a standard transmission vehicle, use low revs and move to higher gears as soon as possible. To reduce wheel slip, moving from a parked position in second gear is often recommended.
- Drive at a reduced speed and ensure sufficient time for stopping and steering.
- Break gently and smoothly, even when driving an all wheel drive (AWD) vehicle.
- Use small, slow motions. Drive as if there is an egg under the gas pedal.
- Leave extra space—10 times the normal recommended space or 20 seconds—between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
- When braking in a straight line in a vehicle with anti-lock brakes the pedal will pulse. Maintain the same pressure—the anti-lock brakes are working appropriately.
- Avoid driving in compressed wheel tracks when driving on a road that has not been salted or sanded. Compressed snow is often icier and more slippery than freshly fallen snow.
- When driving during the day, wear sunglasses to reduce sun glare that bounces off of the snow.
- If your vehicle is equipped with stability control, ensure that feature remains on for the duration of the winter. If stuck in the snow, however, it may help to turn the stability control off to determine if the motion that is returned enables release. This will not work in deep snow.
- Use the appropriate lights. Do not use fog lamps unless visibility is poor as improper use of these lights might impair other drivers’ visibility. Do not use high beams (brights) unless needed and use them in the same way as when there is no snow.
- Reduce the radio’s volume so that you can hear the sound of the snow crunching under the tires and better determine when you have hit a patch of slick snow or ice.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on wet, icy, sandy, snowy, or slippery surfaces.
- Avoid using the parking brake in cold, rainy, and snowy weather, if possible.
If a skid occurs, steer gently into the skid. For example, if the vehicle’s tail end is skidding to the right, steer into the right; do not remove your hands from the steering wheel and do not slam on the brakes.
- If your vehicle becomes disabled or stuck, stay with the vehicle as it provides shelter.
- Run the engine for warmth, as needed; however, periodically remove snow from the tail pipe to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Do not attempt to walk in dangerous weather and do not attempt to over-exert yourself by pushing the vehicle or digging the vehicle out of the snow
- To signal distress, tie a bright colored cloth to the antenna or at the top of a rolled up window.
- In dark situations, keep the dome light on, if possible. The dome light uses a small amount of electricity and will help rescuers locate you.