Winter Driving Tips

I grew up in, and live in, the Intermountain West. Growing up, I lived on a high plain featuring drifting snow. Now I live in a mountain valley that requires some tricky winter driving if I want to leave. Going to visit my parents requires going through one set of mountains and over another mountain pass. Not to mention braving the blowing snow and icy conditions that come with driving across a river plain. As a result of our location, my husband and I are careful to understand some of the basics of winter driving.

Basic Winter Driving Safety Tips

Of course, the best thing to do in difficult driving conditions is to stay home. Many a trip to my parents’ has been postponed due to snow storms. If things look bad out there, it’s usually best to wait until the storm is over and the roads have been cleared somewhat. When you are ready to go, or if you happen to caught on the road when the storm hits, offers some things you can do to increase your safety:

  • Slow down: Do not drive fast in icy or snow conditions. Move at a slower pace, and do your best to ignore the drivers flying by you. Move to the right, and turn on your hazards if you feel you need to.
  • Avoid using cruise control: This is no time to be on “automatic.” You should be doing what you can to “feel” the road.
  • Turn on your lights: You want others to see you.
  • Give yourself space: Leave plenty of room between you and other cars. Leave at least three or four times the space you normally would.
  • Lower gears can help you maintain traction when going up hills.
  • Avoid overconfidence in your vehicle: Remember that on icy roads, four-wheel drive isn’t much better than other cars. It’ll still slip if you aren’t careful.
  • Stay behind snow removal gear: Not only is it dangerous to pass these big vehicles, which have limited visibility, but you might find yourself in worse road conditions. Staying behind the snow plow or sanding/salting truck is a better idea.

You should also be careful of what happens when you skid, or if you get stuck. It may be difficult to be calm, but you can remain so if you try — and if you know ahead of time what to do.

If you find yourself skidding, immediately take your foot off the accelerator. You should ease the steering wheel in the direction you want the front wheels to go. You can also get a little more help be considering where the rear wheels are headed. Steer the car to match the direction the rear wheels are skidding. You may need move the wheel right to left a few times before getting under control. If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump them. Apply pressure, and realize that the “pulse” is normal.

When you are stuck in the snow, take your foot off the accelerator. Don’t spin the wheels. Instead, turn the steering wheel from side to side to move some of the slow. Move slowly with your car, accelerating lightly. You can also alternate between forward and reverse. Check your manual to see if rocking the car is acceptable. If you have your car stocked for winter, you can use sand or gravel to gain traction by pouring it in front of each of your wheels. A shovel is also helpful to have in your car during the winter.

Be Prepared

It is always a good idea to be prepared when you drive in the winter. Make sure that your car is in good working order, and that you are up to date on the maintenance. Also, consider keeping some standard items in your car for winter, in addition to your standard car emergency kit (which should include first aid, flares and other items):

  • Shovel
  • Bag of sand or gravel
  • Warm blankets
  • A few non-perishable food items that don’t need heat, like granola bars, MREs or trail mix.

Before you go, make sure everyone has a warm coat, gloves, scarves and their snow boots. It is also a good idea to make sure that your cell phone battery is fully charged, and that your gas tank is full. Don’t let your gas tank fall below half full. Stop and get more gas if necessary. This way, if you do get stuck, you will have gas so that you can stay in your warm car.

Do you have any other winter driving tips we need to know?

5 Responses to Winter Driving Tips

  1. A few more i’ve learned surviving Canadian winters …

    Keep your snow brush / scraper in the car.
    Kitty litter can be used as a replacement to sand / gravel.
    Buy and use winter tires!
    Like any season, but especially in winter, keep your distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.

  2. Hi Miranda [edited, fixed name], growing up in Intermountain West, you would probably have more experience with snow and icy conditions. The site covers just about all of the precautions and preparation one should exercise. Unfortunately we can’t teach the intangibles, experience, instincts and patience.
    Check your headlights, windshield wipers, defroster. Make sure you have enough washer fluid.
    Patience patience patience!!!
    Thanks for the site.

    • Patience is so important. Especially if you don’t have experience. But, even an experienced driver can be surprised in ice and snow if s/he becomes overconfident. Great points about making sure headlights, wipers and defroster are in order.

  3. If you are planning to travel in bad weather, please let someone know when you are leaving and the route you plan to take. It would be much easier trying to find you if you are late arriving.
    Happy Holidays!

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