It’s that time of year again: the leaves are changing color, the temperatures are getting cooler, and shopping centers are crowded with people looking to purchase things they don’t need. As we enter the holiday season, the first snowfall is fast approaching – and that means a drastic change in driving conditions.
For some, driving in the snow is business as usual – after all, as long as you practice safe driving habits, you’re good to go, right? Wrong. No matter how safe or responsible you are as a driver, traversing the snow in an automobile requires a little more thought, care, and finesse. Here are a few things to keep in mind before enjoying a trek through a winter wonderland.
Tires are #1(and #2, #3, & #4)
When conditions are snowy, there’s no debate: tires are absolutely the most important thing to a comfortable, safe drive. Proper tires with a good amount of tread exponentially increases your chances of control on the road, while minimizing any potential for skidding or slipping on ice. Ditch the summer tires if you have them – in fall/winter temperatures, the rubber can harden to the point where they provide no traction whatsoever.
The best tires to get if you live in a frequently snowy region are, logically, snow/winter tires. These are manufactured to maximize traction in wet, slippery conditions, while still enabling you to drive in everyday situations. Opt for a whole set of tires – only getting a pair can result in potential spinouts and dangerous handling conditions.
If you’re only visiting snow-filled locations once or twice a year, invest in a set of snow chains – although check with your state first, as chains may actually be required based on severity of snowfall.
Even if you don’t have a set of snow tires, you may still be fine on snow and ice as long as your treads maintain a depth of at least 6/32”. Any depth lower than 5/32”, and you’re playing with fire – or snow, in this case.
Prevent Situations with Accident Potential
No matter how much prep you do, skidding in snow may be a matter of “when,” not “if.” When that happens, the result may be a minor fender-bender – or worse. Don’t put yourself in situations that may result in an accident as a result of skidding. That means:
- No hard braking
- No hard accelerations
- No tail-gating
- No cruise control (the computer can overcompensate for slippery conditions in “interesting” ways)
Maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you, don’t brake too hard, and don’t gun it just because you want to see a torrential wave of snow in your wake.
Keep Your Vehicle Well-Maintained
The condition of your automobile plays just as much a part in safe winter driving as your own skills do. Even the little things can go a long way:
- Always ice and defrost your windows and mirrors before embarking on an icy expedition
- Winterize your car
- Keep your fuel tank as full as you can – you want to minimize condensation and fuel line freeze-ups
- Make sure your headlights and taillights are in proper working order.
Remember to pack an emergency winter kit in your vehicle as well – it’s always better to be prepared in the elements.
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When in Doubt – Stay at Home
Years of driving flawlessly in freezing conditions doesn’t trump an expected flurry or intense blizzard hitting your region. In these cases, it’s best to find lodging, stay warm, and wait it out. You may know how to handle extreme snowy conditions – but do all of those other drivers on the road have the same expertise?
Driving in the snow can be fun, but if lives are at stake, “safety” takes priority over “fun.”