For some of us, the worst of winter’s just around the corner. For others, it’s already here. Driving in the snow and/or ice that come with winter isn’t just stressful – it can also be dangerous. Today, we’re covering winter weather driving tips that can help you stay safe on the road. 

Winter Driving Tip #1: Make Sure Your Vehicle Is Winter-Worthy

Recently, we wrote about how to winterize your car and the benefits of winter tires. A well-maintained car is a safe car – so consider taking yours in for a quick inspection once winter makes itself known in your neck of the woods. Knowing your fluid levels are up to snuff, your tires are properly filled, and your vehicle has no mechanical issues can give you valuable peace of mind when driving on dangerous winter roads. 

If you live where there’s a lot of snow and/or ice, consider getting winter windshield wiper blades and winter tires. If you already have some from last winter, check them regularly – tire pressure can fluctuate throughout the winter, and wiper blades run out faster when used to clear away ice and snow. 

picture of cars on a bridge during a snowstorm.

Tip #2: Clean Your Mirrors and Headlights

For many people, winter driving means pushing through snowstorms. Cleaning your headlights and mirrors won’t just help you see your surroundings more clearly – clean headlights are also more visible to other drivers, which is key for staying safe while driving in storms or at night. 

How can I clean my car headlights? You can buy a headlight cleaning pack to clean your headlights – most only cost around $6-15. You can also get a clear coat to put over your headlights once they’re clean, helping them stay cleaner longer. 

If you’d rather do it yourself, you’ll just need some vinegar and baking soda. First, wash your headlights with car wash soap and water. Allow them to dry for a few minutes, then use a microfiber cloth to rub on a mixture of two parts distilled white vinegar and one part baking soda. Finally, rinse your headlights with clean water, and you should be good to go!

Tip #3: Clean Your Car Sensors

If you have a newer car that utilizes features like an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) or blind-spot monitors, you’ll want to ensure the sensors stay clean so they function correctly. 

Where are my car’s ADAS sensors? Many vehicles position their ADAS sensors inside the front and/or rear bumper covers. Some cars also have interior ADAS sensors against the front windshield and behind the central rearview mirror – check your vehicle’s manual to learn where its ADAS sensors are located. 

After locating the sensors, check them regularly – especially after driving through snow, ice, or mud. 

Tip #4: Drive Slowly (& Spaciously) 

Vehicles take longer to accelerate, stop, and turn on icy and/or snowy roads – as a result, driving slower often means driving safer. Consider driving around ten mph under the speed limit, or cut the speed limit in half on particularly icy or snowy roads.

How far should I stay behind other cars while driving in the snow? Paying attention to the spacing between your car and other vehicles, signs, and stoplights is essential. For example, it can take 60-100 feet on dry pavement for a car going 35 mph to safely come to a complete stop. On snowy roads, that distance can easily double – on icy ones, it can increase up to 600 feet. If you’re driving on snow or ice, assume it will take 8-10 seconds to come to a full stop. That may not seem like a lot, but time it out next time you’re on the road – you’d be surprised by how much distance you cover in just a few seconds. 

graphic with winter driving tips showing how far to stay behind other cars on snowy roads.

Want a real winter driving tip? The only driver you have control over at any time is yourself. Never assume others will drive as safely as you – start breaking before you need to, and give yourself more time than you think you need to reach a full stop. 

Tip #5: Understand How to Slide Safely

Knowing what to do if your car starts sliding on ice or hard-packed snow can help you stay calm and safe. Here are some winter driving tips:

Don’t: Slam on the brakes. Braking hard when you’re sliding only increases the likelihood of losing control. Also avoid turning your wheel sharply – like slamming on the brakes, it will make you more likely to lose control. 

Do: Let your vehicle come to a full stop naturally. If that’s not possible, be gentle with your brakes and steering wheel, and try to keep your wheels aimed where you want to go.

If your front wheels lose traction, ease off the gas and wait for them to regain traction. Once they do, use the steering wheel to “aim” your car where you want to go. 

If your back wheels lose traction, turn the steering wheel in the same direction the car’s rear is sliding while easing off the gas and brakes. Once you regain traction, ease the steering wheel back toward your desired direction. 

If you’re about to hit something, push the brakes down hard. On any vehicle made in or after 2004, this will initiate your anti-lock brakes – meaning you can push the pedal down as hard as you want, and the car will automatically distribute braking force at each wheel as necessary. The brake pedal should “shudder” to indicate anti-lock braking has been activated. While holding the brakes down, try and steer in your desired direction. This won’t necessarily save you from a collision, but it can help decelerate you enough to make it (hopefully) less dangerous.

Cars in a snowstorm on icy roads.

How can I tell if roads will be bad? Before getting in the car, check for signs of ice on your wipers, mirrors, and nearby signs or trees. If you notice a buildup of ice, the roads are probably bad too – so you can either go back in, grab some hot chocolate and drive a different day, or go out prepared for icy asphalt. Ice also tends to worsen early in the morning or late at night (when it gets cold). Bridges are another cold spot – because wind can pass over and under bridges they tend to build up ice more easily than other road surfaces, making them more dangerous to drive on.

Tip #6: Don’t Try to Drive Through a Storm

If you do get caught in a snow or ice storm, look for a safe place to pull over and ride it out. In other blogs, we’ve mentioned the importance of keeping nonperishable food, water, and some warm clothes in your car at all times, but we’ll reiterate that point here. You don’t want to be stuck outside in a turned-off car without a few extra layers. 

Where should I stop in a snowstorm? Avoid stopping on road shoulders or other areas where drivers could hit you. Instead, try and find a parking lot or something similar – any place that will leave you with relatively clear access to the road once the storm’s passed and is out of the way of other drivers is a good bet

There you have it! Some winter driving tips to keep you safe on the road this winter. Want more car tips, tricks, and industry insights? Stay tuned!

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