Dec 272012
 
Winter Driving Tips

Photo Credit: Derek Bakken

While this winter has remained mild for the most part in our home state of North Dakota, with the recent spate of blizzards and storms hitting many parts of the country, now is a good time to go over some winter driving safety tips.

Whether you live in an area that gets eight feet of powder every winter, or if you live in a city that practically shuts down when it snows a few inches (if you’re not prepared, even a small amount of the cold, white stuff can be nerve wracking to deal with on the road), here are eight solid winter driving tips to stay conscious of. Many of these pointers are common knowledge for those of us in cold climates, but it’s still never a bad idea to give yourself a mental refresher, or a learning lesson if you aren’t used to dealing with winter driving conditions.  

1. Watch This Video

If you’re in a hurry, this short video we’ve prepared on winter driving tips packs a lot of great advice, and will take less time to watch than microwaving a burrito.

2. Don’t Cut Corners On Vehicle Maintenance

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to make sure your vehicle is in full working order. Get your battery checked, make sure your coolant levels are where they should be, ensure your tires have adequate tread left (if you live in a particularly snowy place, you might even want snow tires), and make sure that any leaks you might have are fixed.

Having a mechanical break-down sucks enough as it is, but breaking down on an icy road when it’s -20 and blowing snow outside can be potentially dangerous. It’s better to be safe than sorry, even if it means spending a few bucks to fix what might seem like minor issues on your truck, car, or sport utility vehicle.

3. Keep A Winter Survival Kit In Your Trunk

Tow Strap

If you drive a truck, it’s a good idea to keep a tow strap in your vehicle as well in case you need to pull someone out of a ditch or snow bank. If you drive a smaller vehicle, it’s still a good idea in case you get stuck yourself and need to loan it to another driver to pull you out.

Where we’re from in North Dakota, it’s not uncommon to spot cars in the ditch on bad weather days, but fortunately, most people have a generous enough spirit to help each other out. However, you want to be prepared in case there’s no one else coming for you, or for when you’re needed to lend a hand.

A winter survival kit is something that can be purchased at most department stores that carry automotive products and accessories. A good one should include:

  • Jumper cables
  • Warm blankets
  • A flashlight
  • First aid supplies
  • Basic tools like pliers and a screwdriver

Extra coats, hats, gloves, scarves, and food (like energy bars) are also highly advisable to keep on hand. It’s also a good idea to keep some of these things where they can be easily accessed in case you’re not able get out of your vehicle to climb into your trunk or truck bed. A shovel is also a basic necessity (as this writer found out after getting stuck in snow 15 minutes after buying one a couple weeks ago). Salt, sand, and a bottle of de-icing solution are also recommended.

For more information about winter accessories for your truck, check out our Top 10 Winter Truck Accessories guide.

4. Check Weather Conditions Before Leaving Home

If we want to know what the weather is doing, a lot of us will just look outside. However, you don’t want to get caught in a winter storm unaware. Check weather.com, local TV, or your smart phone’s weather app to make sure you’re prepared in advance.

5. Watch Your Fuel Gauge

The Grey

Cold. Alone. Staring down a wolf with nothing but broken glass bottles strapped to your knuckles for self-defense. Fuel up before long trips and don’t let this be you!

This is especially true if you’re travelling long distances through sparsely populated areas. If you get stuck, you might need that gas to keep your car warm until help arrives, or freeze. You don’t need to keep your tank completely full at all times, but be extra cautious about letting it get too low. You’ll thank us if you’re ever out in the woods and you hear howling wolves start to circle your position a la The Grey. We like to think that we’re tough, but we’re probably not tough enough to pick a fight with Mother Nature because we got stranded on the highway. Keep a good amount of gas in the tank though, and you’ll be fine.

6. Keep Your Phone Charged

In an emergency situation, you’ll need your phone to call for help. If you have a smart phone, it’s also good to have to find directions, weather reports, and other information you might need (like this article). It’s only useful to you though if it’s adequately charged, so make sure your battery is about to die before you head out on the road. If you don’t have a car charger for your phone, we’d recommend picking one up. This might seem obvious, but if it’s something you’ve put off or haven’t thought about, you’ll be glad you did if you end up in a bad situation and your phone is out of commission.

7. Watch For Black Ice

Black ice can be identified by looking for dark, shiny patches on the pavement. Be especially careful about driving on black ice while on or under bridges where it’s prone to forming, and when driving at night on poorly lit roads where it’s hard to see. It can even build up on roads that otherwise look clear, so if the road looks wet or glossy, be prepared to follow our next piece of advice for driving on ice.

8. Slow Down

This one should be obvious, but it might also be the easiest of our winter driving tips on this list to forget. This is especially true when we get our first taste of winter weather for the season and have to remember how to handle ourselves when driving in snow and the roads turn into Planet Hoth. Ice and snow make it more difficult to stop and take tight turns, forcing you to either slow down or run the risk of getting in a serious accident.

If you have ABS brakes in your vehicle, you’ll want to apply steady pressure to stop if the roads are icy (don’t stomp your foot down too abruptly). If not, you may need to pump your brake pedal to bring your vehicle to a safe stop. You’ll also want to be sure to leave about three car lengths of stopping distance between you and the car ahead of you; don’t be that guy and ride on people’s tailgate. Unless you want to rear end someone.

If you start to skid while driving on ice or in snow, let off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction your vehicle’s rear end is heading in (ex: if the rear is swinging out to the left and your front end is sliding to the right, turn the wheel left). This will eventually straighten out your vehicle and avoid sliding off the road.

What happens if you ignore this advice? You might end up like this person. You do not want to be this person:

Are there any winter driving tips we’ve left out? Share your advice with us below! Stay safe, keep warm, and remember to smile!