I have a love/ hate relationship with winter. Right now I live in Florida, so I LOVE winter. However, I did live in Maine for 13 years and the winter really put me through my paces.
I loved the winter if I could sit at home, watching television and enjoying a warm beverage.
I hated winter if I had to do anything else.
And driving was the worst of them all. Driving in a snowstorm or blizzard is a learned skill, there is no other way to prepare for it, other than sheer experience. But here are a few helpful hints and tips for driving in a snowstorm or blizzard….if you must.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
TIP #1 – Don’t Drive in a Snowstorm or Blizzard…
Don’t Go Out. It’s as simple as that. Driving in a snowstorm is dangerous. There are idiots who don’t know how to drive, snowplows trying to clear the roads, limited visibility, and slippery roads.
If you don’t need to be out, then don’t. Even if you just postpone whatever you were doing a few hours. Give the snow plows time to do their job. Then venture out.
Tip #2 – Be prepared…
People have work and school that they need to get to; if you must venture out, then be ready. This starts with your vehicle. Make sure you have gas. Keep up with the fluids in your car, make sure they are topped off.
There are certain essential items that you want in your car for wintertime driving. These include a blanket, ice scraper, flashlight, cell phone charger, to name a few. Also, I carried a little shovel with me, you never know when you are going to need to dig yourself out.
A huge factor in this is your tires. Make sure you have good winter tires. The importance of this can not be understated. Winter tires have a more aggressive grip and rubber that is meant to endure cold driving conditions.
You want to make sure that you have at least 1/8″ of tread left on your tires. Anything less and you risk losing traction and going into a skid. That is very bad.
My wife drove a 2000 Nissan Xterra up in Maine. It was not a very good winter car, it was light in the back and rear-wheel drive (not 4×4). But during the winter we beefed that machine up with oversized studded snow tires and threw 200lbs. of play sand in the cargo area and that car would go almost anywhere. There was a dramatic difference in driving in snow conditions.
All of this takes forethought, though. You have to think of these before you get stuck. We used to get our vehicles ready at the beginning of November. Pack the car up, change the tires, all that good stuff. This way when the storms came we were ready to go.
TIP #3- Clean off your car…
It is truly amazing how the cleanliness of your car can affect your driving. So before you take off down the road, give your car a once over to make sure it’s in good driving order.
What are you looking for exactly?
The number one thing I am looking for is ice and snow build-up at this point, especially around your windshield wipers and headlights.
Your headlights and windshield wipers will collect all sorts of gunk when driving around during the winter months. So take a few minutes to make sure there is no ice or snow build up on your headlights and windshield wipers.
A simple thing that you can do is simply pull your windshield wipers up when you get home. It is much more difficult for the ice and snow to build up on the windshield wipers when they are in the upright position.
Otherwise, let your car idle for a few minutes so that everything gets nice and warm. It will be much easier to get the frozen stuff off your car when it’s slightly melted.
When you are expecting an icy build-up from a storm, allow the snow to sit on your windshield. In other words, don’t go out during the storm and clean your vehicle off.
Allow the snow to build up and then when the ice and sleet fall; it will stick to the snow rather than your car. It is a lot quicker pushing that snow off your car, than trying to scrap the sleet and ice off.
This also keeps them from freezing to the windshield and makes cleaning the windshield off that much easier. Another little trick that a friend taught me is this.
Check for Ice Buildup on your Roof
The roads are dangerous enough as it is. No, this doesn’t really help you in a blizzard or snowstorm, but it will make it safer for other people on the road. Those chunks of ice tend to become dislodged when you are driving down the road. And all it takes is a good gust of wind to blow it off, into the car behind you.
Clean your Tail pipe
I vaguely recall knocking the snow out of my tailpipe. It may have been one of those instinctual things, but it makes a lot of sense. If your tailpipe is clogged, then the exhaust has nowhere to go. So eventually it will back up into the cabin…where you are. So if you happen to get stuck in the snow make sure your tailpipe is clean, so you don’t poison yourself.
Okay, so you have to go out in the snowstorm. We have to live right, work, emergencies, etc. Here are some driving tips for when you actually have to get out on the road.
Okay, I am guilty of this one. It’s very hard to be patient when you are on the road when you don’t want to be. So you find yourself taking chances that you normally wouldn’t.
A little common sense goes a long way here. Don’t tailgate people, leave at least two through four car lengths between you and the driver in front of you.
Don’t recklessly switch lanes, and be careful passing people. Everyone wants to get home safe, so don’t take unnecessary chances. It’s hard to drive only 20-25 miles an hour on the open road, but stuff happens.
Just to give you an example of how quickly things can derail. I was on my way to school one morning, not even during a snowstorm. The sky was clear, the weather was good, but it had snowed the night before; so the roads still had some slush and snow on them.
I was taking my time driving down the road, and someone in a 4X4 pickup was coming up behind me. I thought I would get out of his way, by pulling to the right a little bit so he could pass. He or she had a better vehicle for driving on the bad roads, besides I didn’t want them tailgating me the whole way.
Well, as soon as I moved over, I got pulled into a rut and drove off the side of the road. The jerk in the truck didn’t stop, they just kept driving. Anyway, my point is, you don’t even have to be doing anything stupid. The roads are unpredictable, even when the weather is good.
As I stated earlier, just use common sense. If you have to drive a little slower so be it. Remember everyone wants to get to their destination safely. If you are out on the road you have the responsibility to look out not only for yourself but others around you.
TRY TO RELAX.
Your vision will be compromised. The combination of wind and blowing snow will reduce your visibility down to almost nothing. Sometimes all you can see is the tail lights of the person ahead of you.
It’s stressful driving in snowstorm conditions. Staying relaxed will help you to be more patient and make better choices. I always liked having someone talk to me, it kept my mind focused. Listen to the radio, recite poetry, sing, I don’t know. Whatever works for you.
This should be obvious, but you would be surprised how many people disregard this. The road conditions have changed, you are no longer driving on dry roads. The roads are wet and could have slush or ice build-up. It’s going to take you longer to get where you are going, accept that.
This is particularly important at night. If you are driving at night, that snow is coming right at you. Do remember the Windows starry screen saver? Where all the little dots are coming at you and it feels like you are moving a little.
That’s what driving in a snowstorm at night is like. Except it’s a lot scarier because it causes you not to see what’s in front of you and you are actually moving. So slow down, you simply need more time.
Also, if you happen to be driving at night; in addition to driving slow. Keep your low beams on along with your fog lights. This will highlight the road in front of you and reduce the glare coming off the snowflakes. Yes, snowflakes produce glare that is very distracting at night.
DON’T ACCELERATE OR BRAKE ABRUPTLY
Braking may seem obvious here. Brake to hard and you could go into a skid. But accelerate too much and you could go into a skid as well. Hopefully, your traction control is on to prevent this from happening, but even so, the transfer of power from one wheel to the next can cause issues. to
Try to maintain a consistent speed; this is especially important for going up and down hills.
Try to use your momentum to get up hills. This is something that has to be practiced and experienced. I have thrown my car into a skid by going up a hill before.
I was trying to accelerate up the hill and I started to lose control of my car. By using your forward momentum you can usually get up a moderately sized hill with little acceleration.
I will try to explain this. If you see a hill coming, pick up your speed a little at a time when you are on flat land. You will naturally lose speed going up the hill, but if you have momentum before you get to the hill, the less you will have to accelerate when you are trying to make the incline.
If you have to punch the accelerator when you are on the incline you take the risk of having a spin out.
Conversely, when you are going down a hill, take your foot off the gas. Allow the momentum of the car to carry you down the hill. It really is an art. After you have done it a few times you will be a pro at it.
Again this should be obvious. Your stopping distance is increased and you don’t know what the other driver is going to do. Tailgating will likely make them more nervous and cause them to make a mistake.
As was mentioned, it’s going to take longer to get where you are going. Tailgating someone is not going to make them go faster, it’s going to cause an accident.
NO CRUISE CONTROL
Just like when driving on black ice, don’t use cruise control when driving in a blizzard. I said to keep it at a constant speed, but not cruise control consistent.
You still need to maintain control of your vehicle. Cruise control takes a little bit of control away from you. Don’t use it.
WATCH FOR BRIDGES AND OVERPASSES.
You will see signs warning you of an upcoming bridge or overpass, and we discussed this when talking about driving on black ice. The road surface will freeze quicker on these surfaces, so exercise even more caution when driving over a bridge.
Not to mention the conditions of the road. With salt and sand trucks dropping salt and sand the roads will become wet and slippery with a nice amount of slush. All of this makes it very difficult to drive, even with the proper tires. Which brings me to the second tip…
Well, there you have my tips from things I have learned while driving in Maine. People will try to drive like there is nothing happening, I have seen it every winter.
The fact is road and driving conditions are compromised in a blizzard. If you have to drive, mind the suggestions above. But if it can be avoided, just stay home and enjoy the snowstorm from the comfort of your home.