Snow and ice can make driving dicey, and freezing temperatures can be hazardous. This may not be your first winter behind the wheel, but these tips can help make you better equipped to handle whatever Mother Nature has in store.
Winterize your car. Check your battery, tires, windshield wipers, and use no-freeze washer fluid. Be sure you have an ice scraper too. Install winter tires if you have them (and you really should if winter where you live means temperatures below 45°F, but more on that next week).
Make an emergency kit. You may not think you’ll use it, but you’ll be glad to have it if you’re ever stranded. Consider a flashlight, jumper cables, and even a small shovel in case you get stuck. For long trips, bring food and water just in case.
Keep an eye on the weather. Roads can go from bare to snow-covered in minutes. You’ll want to know about any coming storms so you can give yourself more time to reach your destination without rushing. If the roads are really bad, you probably deserve to take a snow day.
Get to know your brakes. During the day and at a safe place, see how long it takes you to come to a complete stop. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply firm pressure to the brake pedal and feel how it vibrates or pulsates. If you don’t, you should gently pump the brakes yourself.
Try to skid on purpose. Again, do this in full daylight and in an empty lot. Steer into a skid, and practice recovering from it. Avoid braking hard or moving the steering wheel abruptly. Ease off the gas and slowly steer in the direction you want to go.
Take a class. Rather than try to teach yourself, why not learn from professionals? Winter driving courses are available in many cities. If you’re near Cleveland, check out driveteam.com. Otherwise, contact your state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) or Motor Vehicles (DMV).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Reduce your speed. Speed limits are a maximum, not how fast you should always go. A speed that’s fine on dry roads can be dangerously fast in the winter. Even if you’re going the limit and feel like you’re in control, you could still end up with a speeding ticket if the weather is bad.
Avoid using cruise control. Cruise control maintains a constant speed so you don’t have to, but it will keep trying even if your vehicle starts to lose traction. Whenever roads are wet, snowy, or icy, you’ll want to turn off cruise control so you’re in control of your vehicle’s accelerator.
Keep your eyes peeled. Whether the roads feel slippery or not, winter weather can limit your visibility. Don’t drive until your windshield is completely clear of frost, ice, and snow. Reduce your speed during snowstorms and watch for flashing hazard lights of slow or disabled vehicles.