Everyone tells you how to drive in winter. We’re going to be different: we’re all about what we don’t want you to do. Pay attention, because we want you to be safe out there.
Don’t brake when you hit snow or ice.
We see it all the time on roads with alternating bare and snowy (or icy) patches. Drivers keep up a steady clip on the dry asphalt, but as soon as they hit the snowdrift and their tires bog down or start to slide, they hit the brakes.
That’s the best way to earn you a quick introduction to the ditch. Your vehicle will slide, and depending on how fast you’re going – mixed with the element of surprise when things go sideways – you run a very real risk of losing control. Instead, slow down before you get to the rough stuff.
Let off the throttle, or tap the brakes if necessary, while your tires are on dry pavement. Then continue at a steady speed through the snow.
Don’t panic if you hit black ice.
Yeah, that’s easy to say if you’re not the one sliding on it, but there are ways to deal with so-called “black ice.” It refers to a layer of ice that’s thin enough for you to see the black asphalt through it.
The first trick to black ice is anticipating it – not always easy, but it can be done. It’s most common when it’s raining but the temperature is close to the freezing point. It can also form after it’s been warm enough for snow to melt, but then the temperature drops and the wet roads freeze.
Watch ahead for dark or glossy areas on dry pavement. Be especially careful in shaded areas or under bridges, where the sun can’t warm up the asphalt, and slow down before you reach these. If you do hit black ice, take your foot off the throttle, but do not touch the brakes. Keep the steering wheel as straight as possible until you’re off the ice.
Don’t forget your lights.
It can be difficult for others to see your vehicle on a snowy day, especially if it’s white or silver. Always turn your lights on when it’s snowing or raining.
Even if your automatic headlights come on, your taillights might still stay off, and it will be hard for drivers behind to see you, or judge how far away you are.
Don’t forget your turn signals.
Turn signals are always important, but when the roads are slippery, activate them well ahead of your turn – much sooner than you normally would. This will help warn drivers behind you, who will (we hope!) slow down and leave more space for you to slow down and turn.
Don’t forget to clean snow off your car.
Snow brushes are cheap, crashes are expensive. Don’t just stop with the windshield. Clean the entire rear window, all the side windows, and all the lights – especially since newer LED bulbs don’t generate enough heat to melt snow.
Clear off the rest of your ride as well, including the roof, because snow can blow off when you’re driving and cover up all the glass you just cleaned. In most jurisdictions, you can actually get a ticket if you don’t brush off the snow.
Don’t forget that your vehicle has a defroster.
It isn’t just snow that can obstruct your vision. It’s hard to see out of fogged-up windows, and that includes the side ones, which you need for peripheral vision and shoulder checks.
If your windows get hazy, put the defroster on high.
Don’t neglect your washer fluid.
We usually only remember to add washer fluid when nothing comes out the squirters – and who wants to do that on the side of the road? If you’ve been using your washers a lot, top them up before you run out.
Carry a spare jug at all times. Fill them up any time you’re going out on a long drive, especially when it’s sunny but the roads are wet. When traffic flings salt spray on your warm windshield, it dries instantly, and you’ll go through a lot of washer fluid.
Don’t mess with snowplows.
They’re slow, they’re annoying, and they’re always in front when you need to get somewhere. And you know what? Deal with it.
Plow drivers don’t have an easy job. The snow blades limit their visibility, and they have to deal with idiots who rush around them and cut them off.
Our advice: sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Plows follow a pre-set route, including on the highway, and it’s likely your salt-spreading obstruction will get off at the next exit. And until it does, you’re also driving on that freshly-scraped portion of road, which is the safest place to be.
For more on those, please read us here: It’s winter! What’s that stuff on the road?
Don’t forget your winter tires.
You knew we’d say this, right? And we’re tired of hearing, “It’s all a scam, you never heard about them if it didn’t snow a lot.” The reality is that today’s winter tires really are winter tires, not just snow tires.
Their compound is made to grip cold, dry pavement for shorter stopping distances and better handling, as well as get you through snow. And here’s our final don’t: don’t forget to be safe no matter what season it is.