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Photo by Brian Elmquist via Twitter

Photo by Brian Elmquist via Twitter

When you wake up the morning after a snowstorm to find 2 feet of fresh powder piled up in your driveway, you can guarantee that traveling anywhere outside your home is going to be a chore. Driving is going to be especially dangerous.

The only foolproof way to stay safe when the roads are covered in winter snow is to stay at home. But sometimes, you have to go out. So if you must, here are some ways to make your trip safer and easier for you and your fellow drivers.

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Contents

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Prep your ride

Part of this must be done ahead of time. The rest of your preparation can be done once you know a storm is coming or even as you’re digging out for the daily commute.

Before the storm

Most important, if you live in a snowy climate, get your snow tires installed a month or so before you’ll need them.

Also, get a set of tire chains and store them in the trunk. They provide an incredible amount of traction in extreme conditions. Chains are required on some mountain passes.

Pack in your car: a blanket (or sleeping bag), flares, a shovel, a small bag of sand, matches and a candle in an old coffee can. The first will keep you warm in case you break down and have to stay in your car for hours. The second will help you mark your car for other motorists to see in a storm, The third can help dig you out. The fourth can provide traction if you’re stuck and your wheels are spinning. As for the rest, you can put some sand in the bottom of the coffee can, insert the candle, and light it to make a small lamp and heat source.

Heading out in the snow

  • Remove all snow from every surface of your car. Scrape the ice and packed snow off your windows, side mirrors, headlights and taillights.

  • Top off your windshield-wiper fluid. Use de-icing fluid if you can get it.

  • Fill your gas tank. The extra weight can provide extra traction on slippery roads. It also could come in handy if you end up stuck and have to keep the car running to stay warm.

  • Make sure your tires are filled to their recommended PSI. Low tire pressure can slow your vehicle’s reaction to steering.

Take it easy

When driving on snowy roads, it’s important to move slowly and be very aware of your surroundings. Driving too fast is a major factor in winter car accidents. Accelerate and brake gently and evenly. Look ahead to turns, intersections or obstacles before you encounter them. Avoid any quick or sudden movements, which can cause your car to lose traction and slide or fishtail.

Drive half the posted speed limit, and double the fair-weather distance between you and the car in front of you. An easy calculation is four car lengths per 10 mph you’re driving. That’s 12 car lengths at 30 mph. Maintain that distance when you decelerate or approach a full stop.

Keep your lights on to increase your visibility.

Downshift to decelerate instead of using your brakes, especially on downhills. Use a low gear when climbing hills.

Also, take extra care when crossing bridges or when driving on lightly-traveled roads. These areas are more apt to be icy. If you encounter a snowplow or a truck dumping salt and sand on the road, don’t pass it. (Think about it).

Emergency measures

If you start to slide, take your foot off the accelerator, but don’t hit the brakes.

Steer in the direction you want to go, which is often in the direction of the skid. (If the tail end of your car is skidding right, steer right.)

Your car should start to self-correct. Accelerate gently to get your wheels moving again and increase traction. If you need to stop, brake gently. Be careful, as braking hard will stop your wheels and eliminate any traction you may have.

If you have antilock brakes, press your brake pedal gently. You may feel them pulse — this is normal. If you have traditional brakes, pump the brakes gently.

When you’re stuck

If you end up stuck in a snowbank or on the side of the road, press your accelerator gently to see if you can get free. This isn’t a time to hit the gas: Your wheels will likely spin and get you nowhere.

If you’re stuck for sure, get out and dig the snow away from your wheels and even under the car if you think it’s keeping you from moving forward or backward. (Remember that shovel?) Then place some of that sand you packed under each wheel, especially the drive wheels — front and/or rear depending on your car.

If all else fails, try to flag down another motorist or call a loved one to help you arrange for a tow truck. Is this too late to suggest you sign up for an automobile club membership (or just add towing coverage to you car insurance)?

This page was last modified 22:50, 29 December 2010 by ralfred. Based on work by howto_admin.

All text and artwork shared under a Creative Commons License.

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