How to Drive in the Snow
There’s plenty of information on the topic—but some of it isn’t always particularly right. With a major nor’easter imminent, now is the best time to brush up on snow-driving techniques and tips.
Tires, tires. tires. Yes, you need a set of sturdy steel wheels and some reliable winter tires. Traction is everything—no slip, no crash, no problems. Beware the “all-season” scam. Get tires that suit the weather conditions for optimal driving performance—it’s simple enough. Even your Miata will be relatively capable in the snow with the proper tires (although, you’d better slow down).
Most cars today have stability control. To put it simply, it’s what helps you recover from slipping on ice, snow, or slush. While you may think that is your reflexes, it’s really the unsung hero of new safety advancements and snow-driving features.
There’s three types of differentials. Regular, which would allow a slipping wheel to continue to spin. Limited slip, which will allow the other wheel on the same axle to help out. Locking, which is manually operated by the driver and locks the speeds of both wheels on an axle together, further increasing traction. Either the limited slip or locking should do, however the latter will be your best friend if you ever do get stuck.
Anti-lock brakes can help in desperate situations. Try not to disable this feature, it will prove very useful once you see its benefits.
Some vehicles, like many Jeep SUVs, have a Terrain Response System which includes a snow mode that adjusts the driving style slightly to suit the environmental conditions. If you’ve got this feature, put it to good use.
Skip the all-wheel drive, go for rear-wheel drive instead. Mechanically speaking, it makes more sense. Consider this—your car’s weight shifts to the rear when you hit the gas and the only purpose of the front wheels is in steering.
You should already have a safety kit of items in your car that will help you in difficult situations, but here’s a couple specifics.
Blanket. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s cold in the snow. You can’t leave the car on all night, we all know the implications of that. Get a big, wooly blanket from an army surplus store for maybe $20.
Other necessities like food and water should always be available. High-calorie energy bars, a couple gallons of water, and you should be set.
Think about what you may be wearing. Off to an interview in flats? Maybe coming back from the gym, when a storm hits. You don’t want to only have shoes or sneakers—throw some boots in the back. Nothing fancy, just enough to get yourself through the snow, if need be.
A sturdy, heavy-duty shovel in the trunk will be your favorite companion if you happen to get stuck in the snow.
Kitty litter plus ice equals traction. We all know the trick, it’s actually quite simple. Throw it around on the ice in front of your front wheels to help your rear wheels get unstuck.
Stay warm. Some extra warm clothes are good. If you have to walk from your car to get help. or dig yourself out, you’ll appreciate at least being warm in such a miserable situation,
Get the standard oil change, fluid check, tire pressure, and battery check. Spray a little WD40 on door locks to prevent them from freezing.
Clear the snow off your car, making sure that the exhaust pipe is also clear. No need to put your car through anything more. If you have snow around the vehicle, then shovel it out of the way.
The Whole Driving Part
Remember, stopping doesn’t work the same in snow. Less traction will get longer braking distances. Leave plenty of room in between cars in front of you, and think about where you may end up before stopping.
Avoid complete stops. Roll through stop signs at a low speed, if it is safe to do so. Getting going again could prove difficult.
Slow down in everything you do, especially turning. Cut close to the corner, allowing some room for sliding. If you do slide, try not to freak out. No jerking the wheel or hitting the brakes. Just steer in the direction that you want to go, and it will likely straighten itself out.
You can go to an empty parking lot on a snowy day and practice if that’ll make you more comfortable driving in these conditions.
If you do get stuck in the snow, which you should really avoid. Don’t worry. It happens. Get your shovel, dig the snow out from under your wheels. If you need extra traction, go with the kitty litter. Or if you forgot the kitty litter and are willing to sacrifice a floormat, they happen to provide nice traction.
Black ice doesn’t have to be that scary. Slippery and see-through, but if you pay attention and slow down, you’ll catch it before it gets you. The most important part of driving in the snow and ice, is really just to slow down and be cautious.
Never get too comfortable, however, when driving in these conditions–be careful, stay safe, and keep warm!