Featured Articles

Winter’s Coming: Six Tips For Snow And Ice Driving

Posted in driving, Environment, General, Roads, Safety by Kurt Ernst | October 30th, 2010 | 7 Responses |

The calendar hasn’t been flipped to November yet, but if you live where it gets cold, winter is just around the corner. Some places have already seen their first snowfall of the year, a reminder that five months of harsh weather is coming. Why, you may ask, is a guy who lives in Florida writing about winter driving? It’s simple: for 16 years, I lived in states like Colorado, Minnesota and New jersey, all of which get winters that range from “bad” to “horrific”. In Minnesota, for example, the best you can hope for is snow, since the alternative is black ice. That’s pretty much a guarantee from November through March, so you get used to driving under the worst possible circumstances.

Below are five things I’ve learned along the way to help you and your fellow motorists stay safe. Some are obvious, others may not be, but all of them will give you some kind of benefit. If you’re lucky enough to live where snow is as common as frogs falling from the sky, feel free to laugh as you read what other motorists have to deal with. It may get cold in northern Florida, but you don’t have to shovel cold.

If You Get Snow, You Need Winter Tires

Dunlop Wintersport M3 tires, my personal favorite.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people avoid buying winter tires. Maybe it’s because they have too much (undue) confidence in their all-season radial tires, or perhaps it’s because they’ve bought into the myth of front wheel drive or all wheel drive traction. In most cases, it’s probably a question of money; the $300 you’d spend on winter tires buys a couple of really nice dinners, or maybe it buys you an intake or exhaust.

That’s a false economy when you consider the cost of an accident on icy roads. Sure, your insurance will pay for damage, but only after you pay your deductible (which is probably more than a good set of winter tires cost). What if you get sued by the guy you hit? How about time missed at work or medical bills? All of these are a lot more expensive than a set of winter tires.

Modern winter tires are specifically built to provide the best possible traction in snow, ice and low temperatures. All season radials aren’t, since winter driving is only a small percentage of what they’re tasked with. Trust me on this: dedicated winter tires make a huge difference, and are well worth the investment.

Take The Time To Clean Snow And Ice Off Your Car

What could possibly go wrong?

Over the years, I’ve probably witnessed a dozen accidents caused by ice sliding off one vehicle and hitting another. I’ve seen windshields shatter from ice off another car, so it’s not just semi trucks that are a problem. Every year there are a few fatal accidents caused by ice as well, so it never ceases to amaze me how few drivers take the time to clean off their cars.

If you have snow accumulated on the roof of your car, take a soft bristled broom and sweep it off. Don’t let it refreeze and build up, because that’s where problems start. Most northern states have laws on the books requiring you to clean your car, but they’re about as enforced as cell phone laws; besides, this should be common sense. A few minutes with of effort could save a lot of grief, and just think about how pissed you’d be if another driver’s carelessness cost you a new windshield. Or killed someone close to you.

Four Wheel Drive / All Wheel Drive Doesn’t Mean Unlimited Traction

For years, I marked the official start of winter by the first SUV I saw in a ditch or up against the guardrail. Their drivers never learned that 4wd or AWD may help get you moving when conditions are slippery, but they don’t necessarily help you stop quicker or turn any quicker. Even on a four-wheel-drive vehicle, traction is largely determined by tires, and I’d take a rear-drive car with good snows over an AWD truck with all season radials.

Also remember that SUVs generally have a high center of gravity and very little weight over the rear wheels, which makes them particularly evil-handling on loose surfaces. Learn to drive your truck on gravel or sand, and then you’ll have a fairly good idea of how it will behave in snow. Don’t be that guy that makes other drivers say, “Hey, winter is officially here.”

If Your Stuck, Traction Control May Be Working Against You

Generally speaking, modern traction control systems are a great driver aid. They reduce wheelspin, which in turn can reduce understeer or oversteer, helping to keep us going in the direction we intend. On the downside, there are times when you want wheelspin, like when you’re trying to fight your way up a steep, icy road or climb out of a snowed-in parking space. If you find yourself stuck, try turning off the traction control.

Make Sure You’ve Got Alcohol Based Windshield Wiper Fluid In Your Reservoir

It's hard to spray this through a washer nozzle.

If you live in snow country, you probably use your windshield washer all the time in winter months. It helps to clean an icy windshield, it takes care of road salt and makes light work of built up snow. Chances are good you don’t use it nearly as much in the summer months, which is why you filled it with water when you ran out of washer fluid last June. Congratulations: your washer fluid reservoir is now a block of ice, rendering it utterly useless. On the plus side, all the Legionairre’s disease bacteria you’ve been cultivating has probably been killed off.

Roads Freeze At Temps Above 32 Degrees

Yes they do...

If you keep an eye on the outside temperature display in your car, remember this: roads can freeze at temperatures above the freezing point. Particularly susceptible areas include bridges (where air can circulate above and blow the road surface, lowering its temperature), underpasses and shaded areas. Is the road wet or is that black ice? You may not know until you’re trying to stop or turn on it, so give yourself a little extra distance to react, even if the temps aren’t below freezing.

If there’s one thing to remember about winter driving, it’s this: don’t be an asshat. Give other drivers a little more room, especially when conditions are bad. Signal other drivers that traffic is slowing down by tapping your brakes (thus flashing your brake lights), which gives them a bit more notice. Slow to a reasonable speed when cornering, and try to anticipate where roads will be icy. In short, pay attention behind the wheel and you’ll get through winter with as little drama as possible.

Our Best Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 Responses

  1. Miles Smallwood says:

    I find it disappointing that the most important rule for driving on slick surfaces is always ignored. Namely do nothing suddenly. Brake smoothly start into corners gently. No sudden movements will do more for keeping traction than anything you can do. Once traction is lost it can be very difficult to regain.

  2. eddie_454 says:

    great advice! i think alot of people dont get snows is most winter tire package deals are with steelies and people dont like the look.but its worth it as you say to get all snow tires they convinced me on tirerack.com.those M3 tires are amazing had them on my crown vic last year along with trac-loc and abs never got stuck!

  3. zeroSignal says:

    It’s also very important in winter to know the difference between Your and You’re.

  4. Kurt says:

    zeroSignal, it was a typo. In case you missed it, I had no trouble differentiating between your (indicating a possession of you) and you’re (a contraction of you are) throughout the rest of the article, but thanks for the fourth grade grammar reminder.

  5. Barry says:

    Thanks for the tips– I’m guilty of forgetting to turn off traction when I’ve been stuck. It’s a pain. And I agree Miles. If you take your sweet time, it’s amazing what you avoid… and if you do slide, don’t panic. I actually read a good post on this earlier if you wanna read it. Thanks again for the tips!

  6. Mat says:

    I find letting a bit of air out the front tires help with braking and don’t carry heavy loads

  7. […] Winter’s Coming: Six Tips For Snow And Ice Driving (ridelust.com) […]