No one—with the possible exception of Scandinavian rally drivers—really enjoys driving in snowy, icy winter conditions. Even if you are supremely confident in your abilities and those of your vehicle, dealing with poor visibility and variable road conditions during the winter storm season can be stressful. And that's before factoring in all the other folks on the road who aren’t as confident as you are! We hope you’ll find the following tips helpful as you venture out into the elements this winter. Be safe and enjoy the drive!
Be sure your car is ready for winter.
Of course, you’ll want to check your battery and anti-freeze, along with all belts, hoses and fluid levels. Because maintaining good visibility is such a vital part of safe winter driving, you'll also want to fill your washer reservoir with freeze-proof fluid and make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape.
A good set of tires can make a huge difference in maintaining a safe level of traction and control. If you live in an area that typically receives a large amount of snow each winter, investing in a set of snow tires is a good idea. For those in milder climes, where snow is a possibility but not a certainty, a set of all-weather tires is usually enough.
No matter what type of tire you choose this winter, the tire is only as good as the tread. Less tread on the tire means less grip on the road, and while that's never a good thing, it's especially dangerous in snow and ice. An imprecise, yet quick, way to check tread depth is to use a penny. Turn it so that Lincoln's head is facing you and the top of his head is pointed toward the tread. Insert the penny into a tread groove. If the tread is not deep enough to touch Honest Abe's hair (1/16"), it's time to replace your tires.
For sudden storms, we recommend AutoSocks. Designed in Norway, these handy traction aids store compactly, so it’s easy to keep them in your car for emergencies. Just slip one AutoSock over each drive wheel (on AWD vehicles, use on fronts) and move forward to center it on the tire. High-tech hydroscopic cloth fibers displace the watery film between icy roads and your tires, giving you better traction. They also ride smoothly and quietly up to a maximum speed of 30 mph and work on ABS-equipped cars.
For the ultimate in safety and security on snow and ice, we recommend a set of Z-Chain Traction Cables. We stock three different types of Z-Chains and all four provide superior traction on ice, snow and mud. A vast improvement over old-fashioned tire chains, Z-Chains are lightweight, remarkably easy to install and compact enough to store in your trunk or cargo area. In tough winter conditions, we won't leave home without them and neither should you.
Be prepared for the drive
Step one is getting out of the house and over to the car. To help with this leg of the trip, we recommend Bare Ground Anti-Snow De-Icer. This environmentally-friendly spray-on compound is much better than ordinary salt, and can keep up to 1-2" of snow and ice from accumulating on driveways and sidewalks. Spray it on before the storm and you'll save lots of shoveling time after the storm.
Even if your walkway's clear, it's still important to have the proper footwear for wintry conditions. You won’t want to start your day sliding around on ice or getting snow in your shoes. For those snowy, slushy mornings, we recommend lightweight, comfortable NEOS Overshoes. The Villager is perfect for rainy, slushy conditions, while the Voyager Stabilicer’s cleated sole provides great traction in snow and ice. For a more portable solution, Stabil-Icers slip over any shoes or boots and give you great traction with heavy-duty wire coils.
Before you pull out of the driveway, clear any snow and ice from all windows, lights and mirrors. While you're doing that, warm the engine and make sure the interior windows are clear of fog before you hit the road. And don’t forget to clean off the roof. If you've ever been momentarily blinded by a mattress-sized sheet of show falling off the vehicle ahead, you won't want to put someone else through the experience. Our ingenious Snow Broom has a telescopic handle to help reach the parts of your hood and roof that are hard to reach while at the same time utilizing a soft foam pad that won't scratch your paint. Use the Snow Broom to just push the snow off of your vehicle. Removing snow from your vehicle never got easier.
Planning your route is an important part of any journey, but it's even more important during bad weather. Make sure you’ve allotted enough time for the trip and leave early if necessary, because delays are likely. If it's a long trip, be familiar with the directions and make sure others know your route and ETA.
Be alert behind the wheel
Driving in winter weather is always challenging, but a few simple tips can help you stay safe on the road:
- Braking on slippery surfaces takes longer, so maintain a safe distance between yourself and other traffic. Brake gently and early.
- Slow and smooth are the watchwords for driving in snow and ice. Turn slowly and start smoothly. Even at low speeds, sudden, jerky wheel movements can lead to spins and accidents.
- As the signs say, "Bridges and overpasses may freeze before roadway." Keep a sharp eye out for black ice. Even when the rest of the road is clear and safe, your vehicle can suddenly lose traction on those dark, shiny spots. Slow down, stay calm and keep your foot off the brakes.
- Learn how to handle a skidding vehicle. Practice (slowly) in an empty parking lot if necessary. You'll learn not to fight the car and to always steer into the skid.
- And, of course, always wear your seatbelt and make sure children are strapped into proper car seats.
Be prepared for emergencies
If you find yourself stopped or stalled on the road, you'll be glad your trunk or cargo area is stocked with the things you need for winter driving emergencies. The basics? AutoSport offers a variety of compact, durable flashlights, easy-to-use jump starters, high-visibility warning devices and warm blankets. You'll also want to have a bag of abrasive material like sand or kitty litter in case you get stuck, plus a first-aid kit, candles and waterproof matches. For long trips, add non-perishable food (energy bars, candy, granola bars) and water, plus any necessary medication.
If trouble strikes, stay warm and stay with your car. Don't panic and don't overexert yourself trying to get back on the road. Wet clothes can lead to a dangerous loss of body heat. If you have a cell phone, stay in your vehicle and call for help. Our cell phone charger can help you stay connected even if your battery is running low.
Use bright-colored emergency markers, your emergency flashers and your dome light to help other motorists and emergency vehicles see your stranded vehicle. If you run your engine, be sure the exhaust pipe is unobstructed and run the car just enough to stay warm. Don't idle for long periods of time with the windows up or in any enclosed location.
Those small candles in your emergency kit can, when used safely with a proper holder, provide a surprising amount of warmth.
We hope all your winter travel will be safe, smooth and worry-free. And remember, spring really isn’t that far away!