It’s that time of year when every week seems to bring another winter storm that dumps anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of snow as it passes through. Unless the government has declared a state of emergency and advised drivers to stay off the roads, you may still need to head into work or run errands while the roads are snowy. Here’s how to drive in snow and keep yourself safe in the process:
Prepare Your Car
Forget taking to the road if your car isn’t prepared. A winter-ready vehicle should be outfitted with winter tires or chains and in excellent running condition. This means your battery, cooling system, belts, hoses, brakes and exhaust system are tuned up. Follow your car’s maintenance schedule to ensure that all components are up to date.
Pack an Emergency Kit
Even a maintained car can break down or get stuck in the snow. For this reason, you should bring a fully charged cellphone and a backup battery, just in case.
Beyond that, your winter emergency car kit should include a windshield scraper with broom attachment, a shovel, booster cables, road salt or kitty litter for traction, emergency flares and reflectors, a tow chain or a rope, and a flashlight with extra batteries. If your trip will take you along a remote stretch of road, consider bringing water, a sleeping bag, extra clothing, dried food and any necessary medications. Share your route plans with someone at your destination — if you don’t arrive within a reasonable time frame, this individual can call for help.
Take It Easy
You’ll need to take it slow when traveling on snow-covered or icy roads. Specifically, accelerate gradually and decelerate deliberately. You should also reduce your speed accordingly — the posted speed limit may be 45 mph, but you should go slower if precipitation is falling, the roads are snowy or traffic is heavy. Leave more room between you and the car in front of you, as braking on wet pavement requires more time than it does on dry pavement.
Cars equipped with anti-lock brakes are typically easier to stop in the snow. Nevertheless, give yourself plenty of time to stop before a traffic light or stop sign. Also, try not to stop unless necessary — you may not be able to get going again otherwise, explains AAA.
How to Handle Hills
If your drive takes you across hilly terrain, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, ascend hills with ease, and don’t floor the accelerator. If you press down suddenly on the pedal, your car may swerve, hitting a curb or another vehicle. Second, avoid stopping as you climb a hill. If you stop, you probably won’t be able to resume moving forward and you’ll become stuck.
If You Get Stuck
If you do get stuck in snow, don’t panic. Use your transmission to help you get moving again by shifting into low gear. If your car comes with traction control, turn it off. Rocking your vehicle back and forth may also extract your car from a ditch.
If you’re still stuck, put the transmission in park and use your shovel to dig a path. Use kitty litter, sand or road salt to provide traction. Point your car straight ahead to reduce pressure on your wheels. If all else fails, you’ll need to call for roadside assistance.
Check out all the steering and suspension parts
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.