How to Drive in Winter

Let’s face it: at some point over the winter, you will encounter treacherous road conditions if you live or are passing through an area prone to icing. Black ice, blizzard conditions, howling winds, and careless drivers can make your trip a challenge, even life-threatening.

skid row
Careful winter driving can help you avoid dangerous skidding.

Staying off the road is the best advice, by letting the storm run its course and giving road crews a chance to clear everything away. However, sometimes you have to head out or finish your road journey lest you become stranded. Before setting out or continuing down the road, keep the following in mind to avoid becoming a road casualty:

Prep your car – Any car with maintenance issues should not be driven – you will only raise the specter of breaking down on the road. Your car should be tuned up, the oil changed, new wipers in place, fluids flushed and/or replenished, leaks handled and the car battery in optimal condition. Fill up your gas tank too. All-season radials are not sufficient for heavy snows – put on a pair of snow tires.

See Also5 Tools To Help Safer Driving In Winter Weather

Bring supplies – Carry sandbags in your car for traction as well as for helping you to dig out should you become stuck. Bring along a shovel, brush, deicer, jumper cables, flash light, extra batteries, road flares, coolant, tools, rags, paper towels, duct tape, and tire inflator. You can visit Edmunds for tips on how to assemble a do-it-yourself emergency road kit.[1]

Recharge your phone – Bring along a cell phone and make sure it is fully charged before heading out. Carry a recharger with you and remember that your phone may not be able to connect in remote areas. However, with GPS capability, your active cell phone may help searchers find you.[2]

Check lights – Walk around your car to make sure that headlamps, tail lights, fog lights, turn signals, and brake lights are working. Replace burned-out bulbs.

Head out – Roads may appear clear, but black ice may be present. No vehicle, including 44 SUVs and cars with traction control and brake assist can stop a car from sliding. Start your trip off slowly and do not assume that road conditions will be the same from highway to highway. Stay in the right lane, turn the steering wheel slowly and gradually brake as needed. Sudden acceleration or braking can cause your car to spin out of control. Always turn your front wheels into a skid.[3]

Consider sharing your planned route with someone who will not be taking this trip with you. That way, if you do not arrive at your destination, emergency personnel can be sent out. If you belong to an auto club, have their toll free number handy in case you get stuck.

Bring along a blanket, food, and water. Pull off the road from time to time to clear off accumulating snow and ice. If coming to the aid of another stranded motorist, call 911 for assistance as needed.

Once you arrive at your destination, you will want to make sure that your car has made it through its adventure unharmed. Tires may need additional air and under the hood fluids replenished. Repeat the steps outlined earlier before returning or continuing with your trip.


[1] Edmunds: How To Create Your Own Roadside Emergency Kit

[2] LovetoKnow: How to Trace a Cell Phone Location

[3] Department of Energy – Ask a Scientist: Skidding Direction

See Also7 Winter Storage Tips for Classic Cars

“Skid Row” by Tiberiu Ana is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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