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Stay Safe on the Winter Roads

by Product Specialist

As winter settles in, many of us will be looking to the mountains for our travel and recreation. While playing in the snow is fun for the whole family, driving in wintery conditions presents a special set of challenges.  If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions.

It's helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you're familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner's manual for tips specific to your vehicle.

First things first. Make sure your car is prepared for the winter. Check your lines, your antifreeze , your tires and make sure to get a tune up before you head out into the cold.  Keep in mind that as you may get a little off the beaten path, emergencies can happen at any time, so make sure to keep your car stocked and prepared. From a flashlight to a shovel, here is a handy checklist to get you ready.

Here are the basics for driving on icy roads:

Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. If you are not experienced driving in the ice and snow, you will be surprised how difficult it can be to stop a car on a plane of ice. Make sure that you brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. Keep your lights and your windshield clean. Don't use cruise control and keep it in the low gears, especially on hills. Remember that on bridges, overpasses and less frequently traveled roads, and even in shady spots on traveled roads, there is a greater likelihood of ice.

This may seem obvious to most, but don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks!

If after all of your basic precautions, you still find yourself in a skid, don't panic…

  1. Take your foot off the accelerator.
  2. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
  3. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  4. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  5. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid...

  1. Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
  2. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you end up stuck in inclement conditions, maybe even off the road, here are some simple steps to help you get unstuck:

  1. Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  2. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  3. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  4. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  5. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction. (see the link at top for emergency items to keep in the car!)
  6. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services