Being a good driver takes some time and it requires a certain level of expertise and caution, but learning how to drive in different weather conditions is another story. You need to pay close attention to your surroundings and to your vehicle so you can prevent accidents. Driving in the snow is particularly hard, but with these useful tips you’ll be able to pull it off safely and get where you want to go on time.
Before you go out on the road
Driving in the snow is something that requires a lot of preparation. Before you can even think of getting in your car and driving somewhere, you must make sure that your car, and you as a driver, can handle any unexpected situation.
Check your car’s overall condition
Make sure your car is in top condition to handle surprises and that it will respond correctly when in contact with snow or ice and low temperatures. Make sure the water tank for the wipers is full, check that the antifreeze liquid levels are proper, make sure to check that there’s no water inside the lights of the car and also have a good stash of fuel in your tank or in a container. This last point is particularly important because fuel consumption happens faster when you’re driving on ice.
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Change to snow tires or place snow chains on your tires
If you live in a city where snow happens often every year and it’s a big deal (heavy snow), or you’re traveling to a city where you know the roads are filled with ice or snow, it’s important that you take the time to look for special snow tires or at least an additional gear for them.
Snow tires are built with larger gaps in their design treads so the car’s traction against the surface is increased; they have a jagged gap of approximately 8.7 mm as opposed to regular tires that have a thin gap of 7.5mm.
If you don’t want to invest in tires, snow chains are like a garment that fits around your regular tire to increase traction and protect the tire itself. There’s also snow tire spikes, which are external devices you usually set on snow tires. It is not recommended to use tire spikes if you’re driving on snow because they can actually help you lose traction to the ground, but they work perfectly on bare ice to create the traction that barely exists between the tire and the icy ground.
Remove the snow or ice from all the car’s windows
A big part of driving safely through ice or snow is the ability to have good visibility while you’re on the road. Since snowstorms can make the environment “foggy” or white, it’s a big chance you won’t be able to see properly. So make sure to clear the snow from all the car’s windows and lightheads. Also check that your wipers function fully in case you get caught in the middle of heavy rain or a snowstorm and you need to remove snow from your windshield right away.
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Do a brake test on your driveway before leaving
Since most of us aren’t physicists, we can’t tell for sure what the traction gear will be when we hit the road in our cars while it is snowing. You might want to do a little brake test on your vehicle right before you go out with your family.
Drive around slowly in the driveway or on your street, stepping lightly on the brakes so you can test how fast or slow they respond. That way you’ll get an idea of how your car is currently reacting to the road at the moment. If you feel your car slip away, you might want to reconsider your trip. In spite of running this test, we always recommend avoiding sudden or quick steps on the gas or brake pedals, since they’ll make your car lose control.
Be sure to have emergency supplies
Since we never really know what’s going to happen for sure, it’s important that you carry with you an emergency kit that contains many items that might be of use later on. Pack warm clothing and accessories like hats, gloves, blankets and socks. Also stock up on water, simple food, a flashlight, a first aid kit and even salt for snow and ingredients to start small fires in case of emergency.
When parking you should pick a sunny, sheltered, flat and preferably dry place, so you won’t struggle when you start up the car. Pick parking spots that are far away from buildings, telephone poles or other vehicles so that, if your car slides, you won’t crash into something.
Related: How to Change a Flat Tire by Yourself
While driving in the snow
If you’ve done all of your preparation, you’re now ready to head out the door and get in your car to start your trip. Here’s when things get tricky but you shouldn’t be scared and you must be alert at all times.
Reduce speed before applying the brakes
Since brakes are the most common to fail or respond poorly when driving on snowy or icy ground, we recommend you use the brakes only as a last result. The most effective way to drive is to place your car into “Snow Mode” so it’s more suitable for the ground. However, if your car doesn’t have a snow mode, you can try to reduce speed by shifting gears gradually to reduce your speed before you have to step on the brakes for turning or stopping the car. This calls for very smooth and careful driving.
Drive at a slow speed
As mentioned before, a slow speed is imperative for driving safely in the snow. Never increase your speed to a point where you won’t be able to control your car later – about 25 miles/hr, keep yourself in the very first gears and, if driving an automatic transmission, make sure to never fully stop the car, instead press on the gas pump lightly but constantly.
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Extend your safety distance with all cars that surround you
Cars tend to move around more to the front and back and to the sides when driving through ice or snow. Since you won’t be able to prevent this from happening, the best you can do is put more distance than usual between yourself and other cars, so that if you lose control you won’t impact against other drivers and put others at risk.
Always drive with your lights on
Poor visibility is very common while driving on snowy days or through snowstorms. To improve this situation, turn all of your lights on – even your flashing lights if necessary – and also make sure that your car is very visible from as far away as possible. You can consider placing a bright-colored flag on your car so others see you from afar and be aware of their distance.
Keep the heating on to avoid fogging on the windows that could affect your vision
Bad visibility not only happens because of snowstorms outside the car. The change in temperature between the outside and the inside of the cabin can make the windows of the vehicle “fog” and prevent you from seeing a thing.
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Pay attention when driving up and down hills or roads
When you’re driving uphill or on an inclined plane, go in a low gear and avoid shifting gears since they’ll make you lose precious time and make the car unstable. On the other hand, when you’re driving downhill, you should stick to Neutral gear and avoid pressing on the brakes for as long as you can. Remember shifting down gears is always a better idea than using the brakes. Leave a greater distance than usual between you and the cars in front of you, and if you have the chance, use some snow tires to get better traction.
As a last bit of advice for you to drive safely on the snow, we strongly recommend that you remain calm. The technical aspects of your car are almost as important as your alert state of mind. Do not make any rush movements like stepping on the brakes harshly or turning aggressively, never try to go faster than every car that surrounds you, and be aware that, as long as you follow our tips, you’ll get to your destination safely and on time!