5 Auto Basics for New Winter Drivers
Your truck or SUV might be jacked up six inches and be decked out in accessories and lights. But if you’ve never driven in the winter before, all that stuff isn’t enough on its own to keep you safe and, most importantly, on the road and pointed in the direction you want to go.
Winter driving isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you prepare ahead of time, it doesn’t have to be risky or even stressful. Here are five basics every driver should do before the snow flies and the roads get icy.
Prepare Your Vehicle
For areas where there’s snow and freezing temperatures for complete months, not just a few days, it’s imperative that you equip your vehicle for the conditions.
First and foremost, you need traction. All-season tires are usually fine through spring, summer, and fall, but the rubber compound hardens like a hockey puck when the temperature drops below 45 degrees F. Winter tires remain pliable and have more sipes – those thin lines in the tread blocks – to grip the road better. Sure, it’s an added expense, but a good set of snow tires can last for a few years, and it cuts down on wear on your summer tires too.
Also, you won’t get very far if you can’t see where you’re going. Change your wiper blades before winter hits so you can keep the windshield clear of ice and snow. Harsh weather both in winter and summer can cause the rubber edge to become brittle and tear, and wipers are an inexpensive maintenance component that should be replaced annually anyway.
Speaking of maintenance, a thorough multi-point inspection can help identify any issues with your vehicle before they cause mayhem in the winter. It can identify subpar coolant strength, contaminated fluids, loose suspension, bad brakes, and a host of other things. Since a breakdown in the winter can be extremely dangerous, a full maintenance check gives peace of mind that your truck is in good shape.
Keep a Vehicle Emergency Kit
Just like on the trail or backcountry, accidents can happen to anyone at any time. Emergency response times can be much longer due to inclement weather too. Be prepared to help yourself and assist others – when you leave home, bring an emergency kit with you. Stock it with items to keep you warm and sustain you while you wait, plus gear for recovery too. It can include things like:
- A warm, dry set of clothes including socks and boots
- Non-perishable food and bottled water
- Emergency blankets
- A small shovel
- A first aid kit
- Scissors or knife
- A tow rope
- Jumper cables
- Fire extinguisher
- Road flares (emergency triangles)
- A whistle
- Tire chains
- Extra car fluids
Most items can transfer handily between your summer and winter emergency kits. It’s also a great idea to bring a hi-lift jack, whether you need it for you, or someone else you’re assisting.
Know What to Do in Case of a Storm
Storms hit with more force than you’d imagine at times. From minor weather disturbances to a polar vortex that slams state after state, some basic principles to stay safe and keep your vehicle in good shape in a storm will pay off, both for your health and your wallet.
First, if you ever get stuck in a blizzard or drive off the road due to poor visibility, stay in your vehicle. It’s extremely dangerous to exit where there could be other vehicles driving that also can’t see well. And if you’re out of your truck and on foot, the likelihood of getting lost or getting frostbite – or worse – goes up exponentially.
If you’re headed out into a snowy, windy, wintry day, clear all the ice and snow from your vehicle before you leave. Otherwise, your view is impeded and, even more harmful, the snow and ice can dislodge while you’re driving and hit another motorist.
Another question that’s contested every winter: should you leave your wipers up before a storm? The prevailing thought is that it prevents the wiper blade edges from freezing to the glass and tearing when you turn them on. It doesn’t hurt to lift your wipers, but the best course of action is to warm your engine and turn the defrost on, melting the ice buildup where the wipers park, before turning them on.
Be Aware of Conditions
When you leave, be it from home or work, know what you’re getting into. Has there been freezing drizzle throughout the day, or has a warm spell melted the snow on the road and frozen again? If it has, the highways could be a skating rink and you may want to avoid rush hour traffic. Keep an eye on the forecast so you’re aware of any snow accumulation or high winds you can expect, as well as frigid temperatures that could roll in.
If the expected weather makes your blood pressure rise, ask yourself, “Is it really important that I leave the house today?” And if it’s a must, is there a different mode of transportation you can take? Or, perhaps, there’s a more experienced driver that would be willing to chauffeur you for the day.
Life’s short, and you don’t need to make it shorter by venturing out when it isn’t necessary.
As a new winter driver, you play a much larger role in safety on the road than your vehicle. Caution while piloting any vehicle around wet, snowy, and icy roads when the blizzard winds are howling isn’t just a suggestion – it’s compulsory. Here are ways you can be cautious when you drive:
- Slow down. Speed limits are MAXIMUM speeds, and going below the limit is encouraged when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
- Test your traction. Try out the brakes before you get into traffic. You’ll figure out how much traction you have (or don’t have) so you can adapt your drive accordingly.
- Keep plenty of distance from other vehicles. Stopping distances can expand a lot when it’s icy out.
- Brake firmly. Your anti-lock brakes will engage and pulse under your foot if you lose traction, but it will help you stay in control rather than initiate a slide.
- Don’t use your cruise control. A slippery section can allow your wheels to spin momentarily, and you could lose control.
Winter could be a blip on the radar or a months-long stretch of tricky driving. As a new driver, use these five basics to prevent an unnecessary collision or mishap.