Extreme Winter Driving

By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach

Don’t get iced by winter! As winter sets in, the roads can become a treacherous place for a vehicle. Heavy rain, snow, sleet, black ice, and ice can create a whole new world on the road than what most are used to driving on. Driver’s Ed didn’t teach you how to drive in this weather. These tips are essential to know before you head out on those slippery roads.

The first and most important is to be proactive. Seventy percent of the cars on the road aren’t prepared for winter. If you have a 4-wheel drive and heated seats, that’s not enough.

Many vehicles are designed for all-season driving, but your job is to get that vehicle ready for the extreme weather you will experience. I recommend the following tasks:

Engine Oil Can Freeze
Have the oil changed according to your owner’s manual; consider changing to synthetic oil if you live in a cold climate. Pure synthetic oil doesn’t freeze. This type of oil works best to protect that expensive engine.

Check the Coolant or Antifreeze
Coolant should be flushed and refilled every two years in most vehicles unless you have a long-life coolant. This fluid is what helps your vehicle give you heat and not freeze the engine.

Check the Battery
Cold engines don’t like cold temperatures. If the engine starts slow, that is a hint that the battery needs to be replaced. Also, carry a set of jumper cables or a self-enclosed battery jumper—it’s easier and safer to use!

Be Certain the Heater and Defroster are Working Properly
Warmth is the key if you get stuck!

Keep the Gas Tank At Least Half-Full
This will decrease the chances of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing. Also, use fuel line antifreeze.

Check Tire Tread Depth and Tire Pressure
Winter tires will give you the best braking, handling, and safety in cold temps.  If you find yourself sliding around more than usual, check your pressures. For every 10 degrees of air pressure you will LOSE 1 to 2 pounds of pressure. This will give you poor handling, braking and wear out your tires quicker. Check tire pressures against the number inside your driver’s door for the correct tire pressure for your auto.

Put on Winter Wiper Blades
Winter wiper blades will keep the blade on the windshield and won’t freeze up. You need to see what you are doing. You can do-it-yourself or have a certified ASE auto technician do it for you.

Credit: Tony Webster

An Extreme Winter Prep Kit should include:

  • Jumper cables OR even BETTER – a battery starter
  • Ice scraper
  • Windshield de-icer fluid
  • Tire inflation product
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Aggressive snow brush
  • Blanket
  • Extra clothes (hats, winter jacket, scarf, gloves, and winter boots)
  • LED light source instead of flares (much safer)
  • Bottled water
  • Snacks (not sugary ones)
  • Necessary medications
  • First-aid kit
  • At least four hand warmers per person
  • Many extra blankets

Driving Tips

Few of us are educated and practiced driving in heavy rain, snow, or slippery road surfaces.

Adjust Your Speed to the Current Conditions
When driving in challenging conditions, slow down. By decreasing your speed, you will allow yourself more time to respond when a difficult situation occurs.

Anticipate Difficult Situations
Many studies have shown that 80 percent of all accidents could be prevented with only one more second to react. This one-second can be gained by looking far enough ahead of you to identify problems before you become a part of them.

Use Grip Effectively
When roads are slippery, always brake in a straight line before the curve in the road. Taking your foot off the brake before you steer into the corner allows you to use the full grip available for steering. Don’t accelerate until the steering wheel is straight.

Drive with your Head Lights On
Whenever daytime visibility is less than clear, turn on your headlights to be seen by other drivers. Remember this rule of thumb: Wipers on—Lights on. When traveling in snowy weather, remember to clear taillights, turn signal lights and headlamps regularly.

Anti-Lock Brakes Can’t Perform Miracles
ABS braking systems give you the ability to brake and steer. They are still limited by the grip available on the road and the type of tires on your vehicle. If you’re driving too fast into a corner and then try to brake, even ABS won’t keep you on the road.

When Driving at Night
Leave your headlamps on a low beam when driving in snow or fog. This will minimize the reflection and glare, improve visibility, and will help reduce eye fatigue.

Wear Quality Sunglasses
Good quality sunglasses help highlight changes in the terrain and road surface even in low visibility conditions. Polarized lenses are your best choice.

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host.  A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news, and safety issues.   

Lauren is the CEO of Automotive Aspects and the Editor-in-Chief of Car Coach Reports, a global automotive news outlet. She is an automotive contributor to national and local television news shows, including Fox News, Fox Business, CNN International, The Weather Channel, Inside Edition, Local Now News, Community Digital News, and more. Lauren also co-hosts a regular show on ABC.com with Paul Brian called “His Turn – Her Turn” and hosts regular radio segments on USA Radio – DayBreak. 

Lauren is honored to be inducted into the Women’s Transportation Hall of Fame and a Board Member of the Buffalo Motorcar Museum, and Juror / President for the North American Car, Utility & Truck of the Year Awards.  

Check her out on Twitter and Instagram @LaurenFix.

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