Safe driving is all about vision: seeing and being seen. That can be an issue in winter, when bad weather and shorter daylight hours make driving more difficult. Here’re a few items – and some handy tips – for keeping everything clear.
Upgrade your wiper blades
Use lock de-icing solutions
Turn your headlights on
Avoid using hot water!
Get a snow brush
Switch to winter tires earlier
Scrape the ice off your windshield
Try out wiper covers
Use your defrosters
Clean up those headlamps
Cover your windshield
Replace burned-out bulbs
Anticipate black ice
Fill your tank
Brake before you hit the snow
Get a checkup
- Upgrade your...
- Use lock de-icing...
- Turn your...
- Avoid using hot...
- Get a snow brush
- Switch to winter...
- Scrape the ice...
- Try out wiper covers
- Use your defrosters
- Clean up those...
- Washer fluid
- Cover your...
- Anticipate black ice
- Fill your tank
- Brake before you...
- Get a checkup
Good wiper blades are essential for visibility, but most people don’t change them often enough. You need new blades any time they leave streaks, don’t clean across their entire sweep, are ripped or torn, or if they chatter across the windshield. Winter wiper blades, such as the Reflex Ice Winter Wiper Blade, use a special rubber formulation that keeps them supple in weather as cold as -40C, and they’re shaped to reduce ice and snow buildup.
If your doors or trunk have to be unlocked by inserting the key, you may want to keep a bottle of de-icer handy. If water gets into the lock and freezes, a squirt of de-icer will help you to get in. (Hint: Don’t store the bottle in the glovebox!) To keep doors from freezing shut, put a thin smear of white grease—available at the auto parts counter—on the rubber seals around the door frame.
Your car can disappear from other drivers’ views in snow or rain. Even though your daytime running lights are illuminating the front, you could be invisible from behind. Turn on your headlight switch – which also turns on your taillights – any time the weather is anything but clear, especially since it may not be dark enough for automatic headlights to activate, if you have them. Any time you’re having trouble seeing other drivers, turn on your lights.
It’s tempting to try a shortcut, but never pour warm or hot water onto an icy windshield in the hopes that it will melt the ice. Instead, it can crack the glass. And don’t try squirting hot water into a frozen lock. It might open the lock right away, but it will quickly freeze and make everything worse.
Always clean off all the snow on your car before driving away. It’s unsafe (as well as illegal) to drive with your windows covered, and you need to be able to see all the way around your vehicle. Sweep off your headlights and taillights, so other drivers can see you. Brush snow off the roof, hood, and trunk, too. If it’s powdery snow, it’ll blow onto your windows and obstruct your vision, and if it’s heavy and wet, you’ll waste fuel carrying it around. Use a soft snow brush to avoid scratching the paint.
Winter-specific tires are far superior to all-season tires in cold weather. They’re not just for snow, either. Any time the temperature falls below 7C, their specially-formulated rubber does a better job of gripping the pavement—and that contact with the road is essential for safety. [A good rule of thumb? If you can see your breath in the air, think about the tires your car wears! —Ed.] Winter tires also have tread designs that help channel away slush, preventing hydroplaning, a dangerous situation where your tires “float” on top of puddles and leave you without control.
Your height, the size of your vehicle, and your strength will determine the best scraper for you. You may need either a short-handled one, a telescoping one, or the one attached to your snow brush handle. Scrape the ice off all your windows to ensure safe visibility. The little “peep-holes” made by your defrosters won’t be enough.
If your wiper blades freeze to the glass when the car is parked, it’s easy to tear the rubber when you pull them away. If you turn on the wipers when they’re frozen, it can even damage the wiper motor. Wiper covers can prevent this, and also reduce the time you’ll spend cleaning snow off the blades in the morning. [Alternatively, pouring windshield de-icer fluid on them will help, too —Ed.]
On cold days, especially if you’ve had to scrape your windshield, turn your defrosters on high to keep the glass clear. Turn them on any time your windshield or side windows fog up. On some vehicles, the heated mirrors only come on when the rear defogger is activated. Check your owner’s manual to see if you’re using them properly. Sometimes, your windshield will develop a thin interior layer of condensation that you may mistake for foggy weather. If it’s hard to see, try turning on the defrosters.
The clear plastic lenses on your headlamps can go cloudy with age, which reduces their efficiency. Do-it-yourself kits are easy to use and can make a considerable difference. Kits come in levels, from simple polishing to full restoration, so use the one that’s appropriate for the amount of clouding you have in your lights.
You’ll go through a lot of it in winter. If you live in an area that uses road salt, it’s especially important on sunny days when the road is wet, and the salt spray dries instantly on your windshield and blocks your view. Always carry a spare jug for top-ups, and use a winter-specific type with a built-in de-icer formulated to help prevent it from freezing when it hits the cold windshield. [Reflex Ice’s Winter Washer Fluid with De-Icer can help in that regard all the way to -49C —Ed.]
Some people cover their windshields with newspapers to prevent ice forming on the glass, but a windshield cover is much easier to use and does a better job. Put it on when you park the car, and when you’re ready to head back out, slide it off along with all the ice and snow, with no need to scrape the glass.
They’re not just for the beach! The sun’s lower position in winter, along with the glare off the snow, can be blinding. Keep a set in the car, so they’re handy whenever you need them.
Burned-out headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals can make your car a hazard for other drivers. Check them regularly and promptly replace any that are out, including those in the centrally-mounted third brake light. Burned-out headlights are often a factor in head-on collisions, since oncoming drivers can’t judge how wide your vehicle is and where you are on the road. [Xenon bulbs are brighter and look better, too! —Ed.]
“Black ice” is a thin sheet of ice on the road that’s difficult to see until you’re right on top of it (it’s called that because the black asphalt is visible through it). The key to getting over it safely is to avoid changing your speed or direction once you’re on it. Instead, anticipate it, and slow down before you get to a suspicious area. It’s often found under bridges or in the shade, where the sun can’t melt it. On warmer days, watch for melting ice or snow on the shoulder, where water may trickle onto the road and freeze.
Good-quality gasoline contains gas-line antifreeze, so it’s usually not necessary to add extra to your fuel, but you should always keep your tank at least half-full to help prevent condensation. Foul weather can also easily turn short trips into long ones. If your tank contains just enough to make it there under normal conditions, you could end up running out of fuel if unexpected traffic ties you up.
Never hit your brakes when you drive onto a snowy section or go through a snowdrift. That’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll slide out of control. Instead, slow down on the dry pavement before you come to the snow, and then keep a steady speed as you go through. You should always look far ahead—right to the horizon, if you can—whenever you’re driving, so you can see and react to these types of problems long before you reach them.
The summer heat has been hard on your vehicle, and winter’s cold isn’t going to be any more forgiving. This is a good time to visit a shop and have your car thoroughly examined. The technician should check the brakes; make sure the antifreeze has sufficient strength; check all belts and hoses; check the strength of the battery; look for any fluid leaks; and change the oil if it’s due. Summer breakdowns are bad enough, but throw in the cold and the snow, and winter ones can be even worse.