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Road Hazard: 5 Winter Driving Tips for White-Knuckle Drivers

winter driving tips like chains on Radial Tires

Winter has arrived and with it comes its fair share of hazardous driving. Because of this, you may find that you’re becoming a white-knuckled driver or at least someone who starts gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter. But fear not, you neither must live in fear nor become a hermit until spring arrives. Use the following winter driving tips and ease your mind regardless of the road conditions.

1. Prepare Your Car for Winter

No driver should take to the road in cold weather unless their vehicle is ready to face hazardous conditions. Keep up with your scheduled maintenance, including oil changes, coolant and other fluid replacement. Plus, check wiper blades, battery, filters and spark plugs.

It’s your tires, however, that do the main work for ensuring your car comes to a stop on slick roads. Your all-season radials may not be enough to get the job done. Switching to winter tires, or tires with chains, is best and may even be required in some states. Both choices can provide maximum grip, something your average set of radials won’t deliver.

Slippery winter road conditions make for a slow go.2. Understand ESC

If your vehicle is a 2012 model year or later, it comes equipped with electronic stability control (ESC). Consider ESC your friend, especially when road conditions are terrible. ESC works by employing speed sensors located on each wheel to brake the individual wheels automatically, enabling you to maintain control. At the same time, ESC typically reduces engine power. Although not mandated until 2012, ESC is found in numerous 2005–11 vehicles, as well; check your owner’s manual to determine if the system is in place. Be forewarned: ESC’s ability to stop your car is greatly reduced if your tires are worn, and it’s never a substitute for safe driving.

3. Handle With Care

ESC is not the only safety feature found in new cars. Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) have been around for years. If you find yourself in a skid, ABS-equipped cars are best controlled by slamming on the brakes and keeping your foot on the brake pedal as you steer around an impediment, such as another vehicle. No, this measure doesn’t guarantee you won’t crash, but it will give you a fighting chance to avoid an accident.

4. How to Manage a Skid

If ABS doesn’t stop your car, then you need to quickly take action in other ways. If your front tires skid, take your foot off the accelerator while maintaining control of the steering wheel. Your car should slow down and the skidding should slow with it. If your rear tires skid, your vehicle will move sharply to the left or to the right — what is known as fishtailing. Keep your foot off the accelerator and brake pedal, aim your vehicle in the direction you want to go and then resume acceleration once the front and rear wheels are aligned.

5. Just Stay in Place

There may be another reason why you’re a white-knuckled driver — you tend to take to the road when conditions are especially dangerous. If your area is in the midst of a significant snowfall or an icing event, then wait until the storm has passed and the road crews have finished their work. Your car may have winter tires or chains, but that doesn’t mean everyone else does. Follow the local news updates, and if you’re being advised to stay off the road, then do so.

Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on winter driving tips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr


Matthew C. Keegan View All

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.

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