At its best, snow makes driving a cold experience. However, at its worst, snow makes road conditions dangerous. It makes roads wet and icy, and it changes the way that your vehicle handles. Half the country experiences snow every winter, meaning that half the country needs to know how to drive in snow. If you’re preparing for your first winter of driving in the snow, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’re going to talk about preparing your car for snowy driving, as well as provide useful tips on how to drive in the snow safely.
Preparation for Driving in Snow and Ice
When you’re new to driving in snow, there are several things you can do to prepare yourself, as well as your vehicle. By taking the time to knock a few items off of this checklist, you’re helping to improve your safety on the road, as well as the safety of others.
When you’re getting ready to take a drive in snow and ice, there are a number of things you can do to prepare. You’re doing one of them right now! Consulting with a guide on how to drive in snow, whether it’s your first time or your tenth, is always recommended. Refreshing your driving techniques is something you should do annually.
Additionally, it helps to check weather conditions before heading out and getting on the road. Knowing what the forecast calls for can tell you if you should expect prolonged conditions or if things will clear up. Checking road conditions is another big part of driving in the snow and ice. Plan routes that follow roads free of dangerous weather conditions and always have an alternate route planned.
Preparing Your Vehicle
Your car or truck should also be ready to take on winter. You can do this in several ways, many of which should be on your seasonal maintenance checklist. Some of these include:
- Replacing wiper blades with winter blades.
- Purchasing a snow cover and using it.
- Checking, replacing, and filling all fluids (like windshield wiper fluid) with winter versions.
- Swapping your summer tires with winter tires.
- Checking the status of your battery and replace it if necessary.
Alongside these seasonal requirements come some daily requirements that may present themselves, depending on where you live. You may need to add chains to your tires to improve traction or scrape your windshield free of ice every morning. Many winter chores related to driving are circumstantial and can be done as often as daily if conditions are right.
Tips for Driving in Snow (& Ice)
No matter what the conditions are, or what kind of car you drive, there are a handful of tips that all drivers should be aware of. These tips are going to keep you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road safe. Be sure to keep these in mind when you’re getting behind the wheel this winter.
- Don’t Underestimate Even the Lightest Snow
While a light snowfall might seem innocent enough, any amount of snowfall can change the driving conditions of your roads. Being sure to prepare for light snow is just as important as preparing for heavy snow.
Light snowfall presents a danger that a thick blanket doesn’t: it melts at a faster rate. This means it will turn into water faster, with a higher chance of refreezing into a sheet of ice once it hits the pavement. Treat all snow with the same amount of caution.
- Drive Smoothly
When you’re driving in snowy conditions, it’s important to drive very smoothly. Actions on the road should be planned out and deliberate. Smooth actions are required for accelerating, braking, and steering. Quick, abrupt movements run the risk of allowing your car to break traction, sending it slipping and sliding out of control. Take Takumi’s advice from Initial-D, and drive like there’s a full cup of water in the cupholder. Don’t do anything that risks you spilling that imaginary cup of water.
- Look Ahead, and Look at Your Intended Destination
A big part about driving in the snow and the ice is being intentional. We’ve covered that by talking about driving smoothly, but it’s more than that. Driving in snow and ice means looking far ahead, trying to plan your next move. Being aware of what’s going on is critical, and looking at the traffic and the conditions ahead of you lets you stay one step ahead.
Should a slip occur, though, you must always look at where you want to go. This is something seen in automotive racing, and it’s applicable here. Identifying where you want to end up is half the battle, and the other half is getting there. If you don’t keep your eyes on where you want to go, getting there will be more difficult. Let your peripheral vision worry about what’s going on around you – your focus needs to be where you want to end up.
- Treat All Warnings Seriously
It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is; snow and ice can affect how your car handles. If you see flashing lights, or signs warning of inclement conditions, don’t ignore them. One of these flashing lights is actually located in the dash of your car, provided that it’s new enough.
This amber-colored light is the image of a car, with some squiggly lines behind it is your traction control warning light. The light warns drivers of stability control issues. If you’re driving in a straight line and this light flashes, it means that some, or all, of your wheels, are slipping on the ground. When this flashing occurs, you’ve got to slow down to let the tires regain traction. Don’t hit the brakes. Just let off of the accelerator, and the car will do the rest, allowing you to regain control.
If you’re turning and this light begins to blink, it means that your car is starting to slide from its direction. Essentially, the momentum of turning is forcing the vehicle to slip sideways. Just as if it were happening during a straight-line acceleration, let off the gas. It’ll regain traction, allowing you to regain control. To prevent this, don’t accelerate when going into corners if conditions are snowy or icy. This prevents slipping and sliding.
- Drive Slower
If conditions are snowy or icy, be sure to drive slower overall. Reducing your speed is a great way to reduce slipping and losing control of your vehicle, the two things that you need to be most worried about in the winter. By reducing your speed, you can prevent many of the accidents that could occur.
- Brake Sooner
Applying the brakes sooner is key in driving on snowy roads. Snow is water, and when it melts, it leads to slush and ice, two substances that cause massive amounts of sliding on the roads. Braking quickly, like you would on a dry road during warmer months, is likely to result in your wheels locking up, with your vehicle losing traction. This can also happen when you apply the brakes too heavily, regardless of the speed at which you depress the pedal; if you’re driving in snow and ice, brake earlier than you usually would, allowing you the time to slow down adequately.
- Don’t Get Caught Off Guard
Much of this comes down to being aware of your surroundings, as well as your vehicle. We’ve already talked about being aware of what’s going on around you, most of which comes from paying attention to what’s in front of you. There are things about your vehicle, however, that you need to know, as well.
Your vehicle probably has anti-lock brakes, also known as ABS. This system is designed to detect when the brakes are starting to lock up, preventing them from doing so. The resulting feeling is a pulsating sensation in the brake pedal. When this happens, don’t be alarmed. The last thing you should do is take your foot off the brake. Everything is working as intended.
- Don’t Panic
The last thing you should do when things start to slip and slide is panic – panicking results in abrupt decision-making, which leads to further issues while driving in the snow. When you drive in winter conditions, you’re going to skid at some point in time – unfortunately, It’s almost inevitable.
When a skid starts, let it take place and stay calm. The last thing you want to do is over-correct or stomp on the brakes, which will only make things worse. For more information on what to do when a skid takes place, keep reading. We’re going to cover driving in snow and ice using different drivetrains. The type of drivetrain in your vehicle determines the way that you should be driving.
How to Drive with FWD in the Snow
Front-wheel drive, or FWD, vehicles are safe to drive in the snow and ice, so long as you’ve taken the proper precautions. Like all other vehicles, your FWD vehicle needs to be equipped with the proper tires for the environment that you’re going to be in, as well as studs or chains in some cases.
The reason that FWD vehicles are considered good snow vehicles is due to the positioning of the drivetrain. The engine and the transmission are placed directly over the wheels that are doing the work. The resulting weight over the wheels increases traction, and with traction comes better control. The rear wheels typically have less weight over them, tracking the vehicle’s front more easily.
This isn’t to say that FWD vehicles are perfect in the snow, however. They can still fall prey to the same issues that vehicles with other drivetrains can. Proper driving still needs to take place, and adequate tires need to be mounted on the car. If they aren’t, the performance of an FWD vehicle will be just as poor as any other drivetrain. That being said, these vehicles will still slip. No car is perfect in the snow.
When driving with FWD in the snow, have in mind the tips above. Maintaining a lower speed, as well as earlier braking, will help you prevent from sliding across the road. Should an FWD skid happen, ease your foot off the accelerator until traction is regained. Then, gently aim your vehicle where you’d like it to return once traction has been recovered.
How to Drive with RWD in the Snow
While rear-wheel drive or RWD cars and trucks can be a lot of fun, they’re not nearly as predictable in the snow as their FWD counterparts. The problem lies within the way the drivetrain itself works. As the name implies, rear-wheel-drive vehicles are propelled by the vehicle’s rear wheels. This means that there is less weight over the wheels, and less weight over the wheels results in less traction – something that you don’t want when you’re driving in icy or snowy conditions.
Keeping this in mind, it is essential to realize that driving an RWD vehicle in the snow is possible. People have been doing it for decades. While they are the most susceptible to sliding or getting stuck in the snow, they can still be driven with proper care.
First, it should be noted that all RWD vehicles need to be properly winterized. This means equipping a set of good winter tires with the proper accessories where necessary. For trucks and SUVs, weight can be placed in the bed or the back of the vehicle to improve traction performance. When doing so, all items being used as added weight need to be adequately secured. This prevents the weight from shifting unexpectedly, which can be disastrous on a winter road.
Finally, if you’re looking at an RWD vehicle as your year-round vehicle, try to find one with a snow mode on the transmission, traction control, or with a four-wheel-drive (4WD) option. All of these things help improve an RWD vehicle’s performance in the snow, ultimately making it safer to drive. If 4WD for the car isn’t available, look for AWD options, and many vehicles come with either option.
If you do enter an RWD skid, and you start to feel like you’re going to spin out, some steps can be taken. When you notice this slide, quickly turn the steering wheel in the direction that the rear is sliding. If the rear is sliding right, steer right. Ease off the gas, and don’t touch the brakes. When the rear wheels regain traction, steer back to the original direction that you were driving.
How to Drive with AWD in the Snow
When asked what the best drivetrain option for winter driving is, many people will choose all-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive, or AWD, is a drivetrain in which the engine gives all wheels power, as the name implies. While all-wheel drive is often the best option for snow, it’s not skid-proof. Caution still needs to be taken with an AWD vehicle, the same as any other vehicle on our list.
AWD tends to lull people into a sense of security. They believe that they can tackle any kind of terrain or driving conditions because they have an AWD vehicle. While this is partially true, it isn’t always the case. AWD requires as much attention when driving in snow like any other vehicle. While AWD excels at the snow, it lacks in ice, just like any other vehicle.
If you feel your AWD vehicle begin to slide, let off the gas and don’t touch the brakes. Wait for the wheels to regain traction. Do not attempt to overcorrect the vehicle, as this can lead to full spinouts, and your problem will be made worse than what it started as.
AWD is exceptional at gaining traction from a stop, but as speeds increase, the likelihood of the wheels slipping increases as well. Because all wheels are being given power, it’s much easier to accelerate too quickly, making some wheels slip while others keep traction. Keep things slow, and take your time when you’re in an AWD vehicle.
Driving in the snow is challenging, no matter what way you look at it. However, with adequate preparation, as well as knowledge of a few essential tips, you’ll be able to tackle it without a problem. Just remember, take your time when it starts to snow. Rushing is only going to exacerbate the problems that snow creates. It’s best to take things slow and steady. Doing so is going to keep you, as well as all of the other drivers on the road, safe. Stay warm and have safe travels, even when snow and ice start to cover the ground!