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Winter Driving Tips: How to Drive Safely Through Winter

Last Update: January 2019

We can (and will) offer you a slew of winter driving tips, but the most important one is preparation. It seems like a no-brainer, but the key to any successful endeavor is being prepared. When going out in the winter you should always be prepared for cold,  snow, and ice. How do you do that? Assemble a  winter car kit if you don’t already have one.

It’s very important that you’ve prepared your car for winter. Having a good set of snow tires is one of the first places to start. You’ll also want to check on some other key areas of your car. Your battery, cooling system, wipers, lights, brakes, and fuel system all need to be in proper working order to help you get through winter. Check out our post about Winter Car Prep for more information.

Now that you and your car are ready to go, let’s (carefully) hit the road.

Stay Safe on the Road with these quick Winter Driving Tips

Slow Down

One of the biggest contributing factors to car accidents in normal driving conditions is speed. Naturally, it becomes an even bigger factor in the cold, snow and ice that go hand-in-hand with winter driving. Following a snowfall, you might find that your car accelerates just fine, but that doesn’t mean that your car will stop just fine. Even with the best snow tires money can buy, your car will still take much further to stop in snow and ice. Therefore, take it slow and leave plenty of distance between you and other cars. You should double your following distance from 4-5 seconds to 9-10 seconds. It’s also a good idea to allow yourself twice as much distance to stop.

Sometimes getting good traction is counterintuitive

Generally, traction control systems help maximize grip and keep you going in the intended direction. There are times, however, when you need some wheel spin to get out of ruts. If your car is stuck in the snow, keeping the traction control on will get you nowhere. To rock the car back and forth you should turn the traction control off. Once successfully unstuck you can then turn the traction control back on.

Use your transmission to your advantage

Cars with manual transmissions are slightly better equipped for winter driving. If you’re having a hard time moving or your wheels are spinning, shifting to a higher gear often helps gain traction to get you going. For planned stops, gradually downshifting as you apply the brakes can often slow you down quicker. You can get more vigorous with downshifting to avoid an impending accident. In accident-avoidance scenarios, try to be gentle on the transmission—brakes are always cheaper than transmission parts.

Look where you want to go

This tip really applies to all driving situations. You should always look where you want to go. By doing so you’ll find that your body and mind sync and generally move you in that direction. If you look at the parked car there’s a greater chance that you’ll hit it. Keep your eyes on the road ahead and, even if you’re spinning a bit or fishtailing, you’ll be more likely to end up there.

Be light with your inputs

Any quick change to brakes, throttle, or steering can unsettle your car. Mashing the throttle will likely spin your wheels, where slamming on the brakes will likely lock them up. Yanking the steering wheel could cause a spinout. The key to winter driving is slow, deliberate, and progressive movements. You should gently add throttle, brakes, or steering input when driving in snow and ice.

Rush hour traffic during a heavy snowfall on the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge.

Take Caution on bridges

Bridge decks can be some of the most dangerous spots for winter driving. The flow of cold air above and below the surface causes a buildup of ice and makes them very slippery. Furthermore, they’re generally bound by concrete walls on either side, which can result in a game of automotive pinball if one ever loses control. Take it slow on bridge decks and don’t make any quick changes to throttle, steering, or brakes.

Turn off the cruise control

Using cruise control in snowy and icy conditions is just plain dangerous. If and when the car accelerates to attain the set speed it could do so abruptly and unexpectedly. Abrupt changes in speed or direction can easily unsettle a car and therefore should be avoided at all costs. Turn off cruise control and keep your foot near the pedals.

As with anything, winter driving becomes more natural with more practice. It’ll be scary the first few times you have to drive in the snow, but you’ll learn to adapt.

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