Let’s Take a Moment to Talk About Snow Driving

By: Bridget Clerkin November 28, 2018
Driving in snow can be scary—but not when you’re prepared for what the weather might bring.
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Cars have been around for at least 100 years. Snow has been around for much, much longer. And yet, many of us still struggle with combining the two.

Take the Northeast, for example.

The area is no stranger to blustery winters and extreme weather, but that long history still wasn’t enough to save it from disaster recently. A rogue, early-season snowstorm turned the roads topsy-turvey, stranded thousands of people, caused hundreds of traffic accidents, and even led to seven roadway fatalities.

The storm was one of the five biggest to hit the region in November, and while some things—like its unfortunate early timing—can’t be helped, the way we handle such events on an individual level can.

In the wake of the most recent Snowpocalypse, experts ranging from AAA to the DMV released their best tips on how to handle the seasonal shift on the road. Keep reading for some of the best ways to safely guide your sleigh, even when the weather outside is frightful.

Take It Slow

When it comes to handling slick winter roads, channel the mantra of the tortoise: slow and steady wins the race.

A slower pace allows you far greater control over your several thousand-pound machine as it cruises along slippery stretches. Accelerating, stopping, and turning will all take longer in these conditions, and moving at a safe speed helps ensure you can handle the tasks.

Highway overpasses and bridges tend to freeze faster than regular roads, so take care when coming across these structures.

Make sure you’re going slow enough to maintain traction with the road, and that you leave plenty of room to slow down at a stop light or behind another car. Cruise control is not a helpful tool during these times, and speed limits, for the most part, can be ignored: focus more on the speed at which you can handle things rather than the number posted on the sign. (That is not, to say, speed up. Remember: tortoise, not hare.)

Highway overpasses and bridges tend to freeze faster than regular roads, so take care when coming across these structures.

And if you do encounter snow patches on your route, keep rolling.

The amount of inertia needed to kick a car into motion after it has come to a stop is much greater than that needed to keep it moving—but applying that extra power on a snowy or slippery surface oftentimes leads to nothing but spinning wheels.

When approaching a red light or climbing uphill, experts recommend keeping up a small and slow momentum, rather than powering through or slamming on the brakes.

And while we’re on the topic of decelerating…

Learn Your Brakes


There are many different systems out there, although most new cars come equipped with anti-lock brakes.

That means pushing all the way down on the pedal in the case of an emergency will set into motion a hydraulic system designed to keep any of your tires from seizing up in the snow—and help you keep rolling to a safe stop.

The system can feel violent, with most anti-lock brake schemes sending pulsating shudders through the car. But that’s how it does its job. You should not, under any circumstances, pump the brake of a car equipped with anti-lock brakes.

If you’re cruising in a vintage ride or a hand-me-down from several generations ago, you may not be as lucky. Traditional braking systems don’t have the same traction-courting system, and you will, in this case, have to pump the brakes and possibly maneuver the car to keep from skidding when making a hard stop.

Either way, driving slowly can help reduce the need for utilizing this tactic. Some experts advise that when driving in winter, you should act as if you don’t have brakes at all, since you don’t know how well your car will react when or if you do need to use them.

And according to AAA, stopping on ice requires at least twice the distance as stopping on a dry surface. As such, when following another car, you should give the vehicle ahead of you at least an 8- to 10-second window.

Learn Your Car

Aside from your braking system, it would behoove you to learn a few more things about your vehicle before the winter months.

Making sure your tires are properly inflated is an easy way to increase safety on the road, as well as ensuring you aren’t using radial tires with other tire types.

If you live in a place where snow is frequent—or terrain is especially steep—you may also want to look into snow tires or chains for the season.

If you live in a place where snow is frequent—or terrain is especially steep—you may also want to look into snow tires or chains for the season.

It could also be helpful to learn if your car is all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Employing this system on slick roads can be effective. But remember, it isn’t a failsafe: driving slowly and reasonably is still the best route to safety.

And when the snow starts falling, don’t forget to check the exhaust. Traveling along areas clogged with icy spikes and road salt can lay a lot of damage on the exhaust system, which could cause you big trouble down the line.

If enough snow falls that you have to actually dig your vehicle out, you should also pay particular care to clearing out the tailpipe. If it gets clogged with snow, ice, or other roadway debris, it can start filling the cabin with deadly (and odorless) carbon monoxide, which would make for a very bad holiday.

Be Prepared—for Long Trips

If you’re planning on making tracks for the holiday season, a little winter road precaution could go a long way.

Stay ahead of the game by monitoring weather reports and plotting your routes accordingly. For extra caution, share your intended route and ETA with others, so someone else may be tipped off if you don’t show up.

When driving, you should keep your gas tank at least halfway full, to help prevent gas lines from freezing. This will also be useful if you find yourself in the worst-case scenario: stranded on the side of the road.

Whether it’s due to vehicle malfunction or simply the unyielding nature of the elements, it’s NOT a good idea to keep pushing through a severe storm. Staying in your car, safely parked, is a far better option.

A little extra gas could help keep the car heated when you need it. But if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it would also be helpful to have some heavy blankets on hand, as well as extra water, some food, cell phone chargers, batteries, and flares or bright-colored fabric to wrap around your antennae to catch the attention of other drivers on the road whom you could ask for help.

Be Prepared—for Anything


In general, this unruly time of year solidifies the old saying: luck favors the prepared.

Stocking up on wiper fluid and antifreeze is certainly a good idea, as well as ensuring you have an ice scraper available and your defroster and headlights are working properly. You may also want to just go ahead and get your whole car examined or tuned up before the long, hard winter takes hold.

Still, employing some caution on the road is a surefire way to help keep you rolling safely into spring.

Good luck out there!

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