It’s about that time of year again when white stuff starts falling from the sky. It’s beautiful, it’s cold, and it means that your morning commute to work is going to be a little bit trickier. Driving in the winter can be a stressful and daunting task even for the most experienced drivers. Almost 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in snowy regions and has to travel in dangerous road and weather conditions. How can you keep you and your loved ones safe? Here at Best Company, we reached out to car experts for their top tips and tricks to staying safe while driving during the winter.
Unanimously, the car experts responded that learning how to properly use your brakes in the snow and ice is crucial to your safety while driving in the winter.
Lauren Fix, founder of the Car Coach with years of car expertise, shared step-by-step guides to recover from a loss of traction and how to drive in icy conditions.
She shared, “Loss of vehicle traction, over slippery conditions or for whatever reason, is always dealt with in the same manner. The object is to maintain your original path by looking where you want your vehicle to stop, and resisting the natural urge to look at trees and other objects you don’t want to strike, including pedestrians.”
Kara Harms, owner of Whimsy Soul, further points out that “when the roads are icy and slippery, drivers need to tap, release, tap, release very quickly, but steadily, to slow the car down without spinning out. This is the biggest mistake I see people make when they are not used to driving in the snow, and I think it is the most important winter driving tactic. I learned this the hard way as a teenager in Wisconsin. One day I pushed the brakes like normal on an icy patch and spun out, very narrowly avoiding taking the whole car into a ditch!”
Sam Maizlech, an outdoor and survival expert from Gunivore adds that, “Accidents often occur when someone gets frightened and slams on the breaks when they hit the ice. When your vehicle hits an ice patch, you do not want to hit the brakes as you will immediately lose control of your car.”
Dani Dimacale, of Matt Blatt Dealerships, notes that a driver needs to check their cars fluids. This includes antifreeze, transmission fluid, brake fluid, oil, and windshield washer fluid. Throughout the season, keep an eye on your windshield wiper fluid and refill as needed.
Next, replace your windshield wipers. Do they leave streaks? Squirt water on the windshield to check. If so, it's time to replace them. Also, DO NOT try to scrape your windshield with only your wiper blades. It will ruin them and possibly burn out the wiper motor.”
William Lu, automotive lead for 5 miles agreed by saying, “Check all of your fluids and belts, in particular your antifreeze and oil levels.”
Shaun Savage, founder of GoShare, advises drivers to “Prepare your engine by checking the antifreeze, testing your battering and getting an oil change. Cold temperatures drain battery life quickly, and you don't want to be stranded. So, consider a heavy-duty option. Oil behaves differently in cold weather as well, so make sure to get an oil change and get the proper viscosity for the season.”
A representative from Etyres says, “With the winter throwing us into black ice, snow and everything in between, it's important that drivers know how to drive safely. If you drive through the snow frequently, winter tires are ideal for you as they provide you with better traction and greater grip in cold conditions, especially when temperatures reach below 7°C/44°F. Winter tires can drive on icy roads better than summer tires as they won't freeze up, allowing you to drive a bit safer and allowing you flexibility with the rubber compounds that they are featured with.”
Ian Coke, Pirelli’s Chief Technology Officer adds, “While many drivers believe the need for winter tires is based on precipitation and the ability to maneuver in the snow, in reality, temperature is the first and most important deciding factor. This is because the rubber in tires is formulated with specific compounds to perform well in different conditions — and cold is an important issue. Winter tires uses different rubber formulations that stay soft below 44°F degrees to improve their ability to maintain grip on a cold road surface — wet or dry.
Winter storms, bad weather and sloppy road conditions are a factor in nearly half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter. Yet in areas where winter tires are mandatory, like Canada, there has been a significant reduction in wintertime serious accident rates, with accidents in Montreal dropping by 46 percent, for example. Moreover, 80 percent of winter tire owners believe that a vehicle equipped with winter tires has saved them from being involved in a potentially hazardous driving situation.”
NTB Tire & Service Centers says, “Consider buying snow tires for the season. Investing in snow tires is a smart decision if you live where winter brings prolonged snow, blizzards and/or ice storms. The tires will give you the traction you need to travel safely in ice and snow. Snow tires typically last through three or four winters, depending on how they're stored and cared for.”
When questioned about specific tips to extend the life of your snow tires, NTB says, "Checking the tire pressure regularly is key because the cold temperature changes can cause a tire to go low on air pressure. Good grip, good tread and tire condition are just as important for proper pressure for the tire to maximize performance as it is intended."
Furthermore, Cofounder of You Could Travel, Cory Varga shares, "Winter tires are paramount. Don't go for the cheapest option but consider investing a little more in some well-reviewed tires from well-known companies which are more specialized.
Lu advises “If you live in an icy area, you also can put a bag of kitty litter or sand in your trunk for traction on ice if ever you get stuck”
Laura Adams, safety and education analyst at Driver’s Ed noted the importance of having emergency supplies. She says, "Being stranded after a breakdown or accident can be especially dangerous when the temperature plummets. Since you never know how long you could be stranded, keep these cold-weather emergency items in your vehicle:
Kaitlyn Darby from Superior Honda advises drivers to “accelerate and decelerate slowly. It takes longer to speed up and slow down on icy roads. Take your time when you are stopping for a light. Apply the gas slowly to avoid skidding.”
Steven Hileman from Togo Group shares expert advice on driving in the winter from Togo's RV guide by adding, “Winter driving presents its own complications. The most important thing to remember is to slow down even more than usual. Leave at least three times as much space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you as you would normally. Also, while most cars are front-wheel drive, RVs aren’t. If you find the rear end sliding and you feel you’re losing control, simply pump the brakes to regain control. If weather conditions warrant, pull over.”
Angela Rucci, CEO of Tego insists driver should, “make sure to keep space in between you and the cars around you during a snowstorm. If you follow too close and the car in front of you hydroplanes, they may accidentally hit you too. Giving more space allows you to have time to safely react and move around them.”
Ethan Lictenberg, from CarInsurance.org says, “Many people forget how important it is to take good care of your car, especially in such harsh conditions. It can mean the difference between life and death in some cases. If you have bald tires and didn’t bother to replace them before the season, you can bet on slipping and sliding all over the road. If you didn’t top off your fluids and assure your battery is working correctly, it could mean a very cold night for you.”
The CEO and founder of GoShare notes that, “safe winter driving starts with good vehicle maintenance. Before you even climb into the driver's seat this winter, you should ensure your car, truck or van has been properly prepared for the cold, icy or snowy conditions.”
Laura Adams from Driver’s Ed shares “Give your vehicle a check-up now, so when storms blow into town, you can handle them. Let a reliable mechanic winterize your car and check your tires, battery, wiper blades, engine oil, anti-freeze, belts, hoses, and four-wheel drive.
Before getting on the road, remove all the ice and snow from your vehicle, not just from the windshield. Leaving snow on your windows, roof, trunk, or lights makes you less visible to other drivers. If you take time to warm the interior, you can prevent the windshield from getting foggy when you turn on the defroster and de-ice the exterior more quickly.”
If you want to take extra precautions to keep you and your family safe, think about investing in SPOT. SPOT is a X 2-way satellite messenger. This handheld device features a full keyboard, paper-lit screen, built-in rechargeable batteries and allows you to have direct communication with emergency services. Its unique phone number allows friends and family to contact you outside of cellular range. The IP67 rating comes with all the functionality of the original SPOT products including GPS tracking and check-in.
The SPOT includes an S.O.S. where you can message back and forth about the nature of your emergency with the 24/7 Search and Rescue services and then receive confirmation when help is on the way. You can also exchange messages with any cell phone or email address from virtually anywhere in the world. It has features that allow you to check in from wherever you are to let everyone know that you are okay.
Sign up below to receive a monthly newsletter containing relevant news, resources and expert tips on Car Warranties and other products and services.