It happens sometimes that you’re planning on driving somewhere and a snow storm hits or the roads are icy. Maybe you can wait until conditions improve, but at some point you must drive on snowy or icy roads. There are ways to make your journey safer no matter what kind of vehicle you drive and what the road conditions are. We outline some of those scenarios here. Overall the most important tip that can be followed is not to drive if the road conditions are bad unless you absolutely need to. If you choose to, be sure to allow plenty of time for the drive so you aren’t tempted to speed.
Tips for Driving in Snow (and on Ice)
The road conditions will depend on many factors. These include how much snow has fallen, whether the roads have been plowed, salted or sanded, and whether the temperatures are above or below freezing. Regardless, care should be taken until you assess how your vehicle handles in the conditions.
- Test the road conditions by driving slowly and braking on a straight, empty stretch of road.
- Leave an 8 to 10 second gap between your car and the one in front of you rather than the normal 3 to 4 second gap.
- Do not use cruise control. This can cause your vehicle to go into a skid if road conditions change.
- Don’t stop unless you need to. Instead, slow gradually and come to a rolling stop at stop lights and other intersections.
- Use the correct tires and put them on properly. The type of tires depends on what kind of conditions you are driving in. Be sure to put on four winter tires or snow tires because only putting them on the front or back of the vehicle can cause you to spin out. If you live in a place with a lot of snowfall, then winter tires are the way to go. If you live in a city or a place where the roads are quickly cleared, you will be fine with a set of good quality all-season tires.
- Be sure to check the tread depth of the tires. You are looking for at least 6/32 inch tread depth.
- Electronic Stability Control is a good thing to look for when buying a vehicle. It can help save you if your car goes into a skid or otherwise loses control.
- Don’t rely on all-wheel drive or 4-wheel-drive when the roads are covered in snow or slippery. AWD will give you extra traction and help you get out of deep snow. It might also keep you from spinning out.
- Keep you vehicle filled with at least a half tank of gas at all times. This can be a lifesaver if you get stuck and need to stay warm.
- If you start to skid, you might panic. But no matter if the front and back ends of your vehicle are going in different directions, you should continue steering in the direction you would like to travel in. In a front wheel skid, if you are accelerating, then take your foot off the accelerator and the vehicle will likely right itself. For a rear wheel skid, do the opposite and put your foot lightly on the accelerator. Both of these move the weight from one part of the car to the other, correcting an imbalance.
How to Drive Downhill on Snow or Ice
It’s happened to everyone: The roads are slippery and you start driving down a hill just as the light at the bottom changes to red and there are already cars waiting that you would rather not crash into. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to avoid a fender bender.
Braking: Brake slowly before you get to the crest of the hill. Braking on an icy slope can cause the wheels to lock up. If you are driving a manual transmission car, take your foot off the gas and downshift before you hit the top of the incline.
Turning: If you need to turn, don’t brake at the same time. This can cause your tires to lose their grip on the road. Accelerating while turning is also not a good idea for the same reason, and you can lose control of your steering. Braking, turning, or accelerating should all be done one at a time.
What to Do if You Slide: Keep steering in the direction you were going since turning or jerking the wheel can cause you to lose complete control.
Driving Down a Hill with Packed Snow: If you have antilock brakes, drive down the hill applying steady, light pressure to the brakes. If you don’t have ABS, just slowly and steadily pump the brakes on the way down.
How to Drive in Deep Snow
There are several factors that determine whether it’s worth driving in the snow, or just staying somewhere until conditions improve. If you must drive, be sure that you have enough gas and that your vehicle is in good working order before you go. It’s also a good idea to keep water, non-perishable snacks, warm clothes and blankets in your vehicle in case you get stalled somewhere.
- Stay in your lane and try not to pass unless absolutely necessary. Snow, ice, rocks or other debris being thrown from the vehicle you’re passing can damage your vehicle or obscure what little view you have.
- Fresh snow is much better to drive in because it has more traction. After a while, freshly fallen snow gets packed down and becomes smooth and icy.
- Braking distances should be doubled, and the same goes for the space you leave between your car and the one in front of you. Also note that having a vehicle with 4-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive is great for getting moving in snowy conditions, but does nothing to help you stop when the roads are slippery.
- Tire traction is reduced where there’s snow on the ground. If it’s reduced by half, then your speed should also be reduced by half.
If you are driving in deep snow, there is a chance your vehicle might become stuck. You should carry a couple of vital things in your vehicle if you plan to travel in the snow, like snow chains, a bag of cat litter or sand, and a small shovel. Some manpower may get you loose, if you can find a couple of people to push your vehicle. You might also try letting a bit of air out of your tires, although this is a last resort if you have exhausted all other options.