When the weather goes from sunny, clear and dry to wet and slick, or worse, frozen, driving becomes equivalent to an Olympic sport. If you’re accustomed to the hazards of bad winter driving, it becomes second nature to take certain precautions and figuratively switch gears to a different style of driving. For those who are unfamiliar with these tricks, some of them may come as a surprise, but read on and you’ll be prepared with the wisdom of a thousand slippery skids and snowbank dig outs.
Prep Your Vehicle
If you are visiting unfamiliar wintry territory, it may seem excessive to invest in these items before you set off, but you’ll be sorry if you are caught off guard by bad conditions!
- Ice Scraper– Anyone in the Southwest use one of these? Use it on every window, including the rear passenger windows. Visibility is reduced enough in poor conditions, so you don’t want ice or snow caked on your windows making it worse.
- Mini-Shovel– These usually come with a telescoping handle and will fit easily in your trunk. Lifesavers if you need to clear the road or dig out a stuck tire
- Safety Flare– If you end up off the road, this may be the only way help will locate you in a storm
- Water Bottle– Hopefully you won’t be stuck for long, but you can never be too careful
- Blanket– It’s dangerous to leave your engine running if there is enough snow falling to block your exhaust, so you may have to bundle up!
- Flashlight- Don’t be left in the dark! Keeping a spare set of batteries isn’t a bad idea either.
Make the extra effort to give yourself ample time to reach your destination. Rushing is not going to be an option on slippery roads, and will only lead to elevated stress if you are late. Leaving five minutes early really does make a difference.
Do we really have to include this point? It seems like a no-brainer, yet people still manage to careen off roads at high speeds during every winter storm. Sometimes they are equipped with “all-wheel drive” and feel invincible, sometimes there isn’t precipitation to warn them that the road is frozen and slippery, but whatever the case, if you are in a wintery setting and the roads aren’t guaranteed dry, use caution and reduce speed.
Stay off the Brakes
You heard right, but we’ll repeat this for emphasis: Stay off the brakes. Slow and steady definitely wins this race in winter driving conditions. Braking can cause skidding, spinning out of control and even collisions. Use lower gears to reduce speed when approaching other cars, intersections, or going down hills. Manual shift cars are excellent in this scenario, as they offer the driver more control of the car, but don’t be afraid to downshift even in an automatic. If conditions absolutely require it, do your best to gently tap the brakes. This will prevent them locking and sending you into a skid or fishtail.
Don’t Over Compensate
So you used the brakes anyway, or slipped on an icy patch and now you are skidding. Maybe you’re sliding into another lane, into oncoming traffic, or into an intersection. It’s okay—we’ll get you through it. The trick is to immediately take your foot off the gas. Do Not Slam On The Brakes. See previous point. Hopefully at this point you’re already driving at a safe (slow) speed, so you have time to make adjustments and avoid an accident. Straighten out the wheel, making sure not to over compensate. The vehicle will right itself. Don’t force the wheel in the other direction, or you’ll just continue skidding in the other direction. Down shift if you can, and if absolutely necessary aim for a snowbank.
Rock it Out
So, now you’re stuck in a snowbank. It happens to the best of us! This is where your shovel may come in handy. Even if you’re just stuck in a driveway or parking space, the same rules apply. Us snow pros call it “Rocking it Out,” which simply means alternating forward and reverse, (hopefully you’re achieving a little movement in either direction, and it will increase as you continue to “rock”), until you’ve gained enough momentum to get un-stuck. A push in the right direction by a helpful assistant comes in really handy at this point.
Our last piece of advice can be applied throughout this harrowing winter storm experience. Stay calm, always. In the worst conditions, hopefully you won’t be on the road at all, and we always recommend pulling off to safety if you feel overwhelmed or unsafe. But when you do find yourself out in the fray, keep these tips in mind and you’ll get far.
Bonus Pro Tips
Follow the tracks of the car in front of you, they are likely to be less slippery.
- “Black Ice” is most certainly a thing, and it’s invisible. It forms as a thin glaze over patches of road that look dry and very deceiving.
- Just because the temp is 40+ and the precipitation looks like rain, doesn’t mean the ground isn’t frozen!
- Beware of bridges–they freeze before the road!
Remember to drive safe this winter, and in the event that you are in an accident, come to the pros at Fix Auto for your auto-body needs!