Car Talk: Winter Driving Part II

October 27, 2016

Believe it or not, winter really is coming. Brush up on some winter driving tips from our favorites, Car Talk. 


If you’re in an area that permits or requires tire chains, they should obviously be in the trunk, too.

And be sure you’ve practiced putting them on before you need them. Trust us – applying tire chains is much harder when you’re knee-deep in slush in the dark and other cars are whizzing by you. If chains are too much, you may want to throw one of those ladder-like devices in your trunk. They unfold to provide a steel surface for the tire to grip if you’re stuck in snow or ice. These are for sale under several different trade names, one of which is Tiger Paws.
Clean off your car – entirely!

Once snow or ice does arrive, take some extra time to make sure your car is clean and your visibility is good.

Clear off the entire car, not just a little peephole in the windshield. You need just as much, if not more, visibility in poor conditions because you have to keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians, and every other knucklehead on the road. Make sure every glass surface is clear and transparent by using a snowbrush and/or ice scraper. Your side-view mirrors, and all all lights should be brushed and cleared as well.

Now, if you haven’t been smart enough to do so already, clean the snow off the rest of the car. Why? Because the rest of the snow will either (A) slide off the roof and cover your windshield as you’re slowing down; or (B) fly off onto someone else’s windshield and causing him or her to smash into you. That’s not enough of a reason? Fine. Here’s another: (C) it’s the law in many states that your vehicle must be clear of snow and ice.

Clean your headlights. Even if you think they don’t need it.

It goes without saying, that if your headlights are covered with six inches of sleet, you’re not going to be seeing much past your hood ornament, nor are oncoming drivers going to see you as well. Salt, sand and other wintry crud can dramatically impair the effectiveness of your car’s headlights, even long after the last snowstorm. Whether you’re planning on driving at night or not, take a moment before every winter trip to clean off your headlights. At home, we suggest you have a squeegee or paper towels stored in your garage, so you don’t have an excuse not to wipe the film off your headlights, before you take off. When that last remaining wooly mammoth runs out into the middle of the road some night, you’ll thank yourself.
When driving in the snow, do everything slowly.

Even with good coolant, snow tires, stability control, all-wheel drive, and the bag of Doritos in the trunk, keep in mind that driving in snow, sleet, and ice is very treacherous. And even if you maintain control of your car, not everyone else will. So don’t ever get lulled into a false sense of security. Do everything slowly and gently. Remember, in the snow, the tires are always just barely grabbing the road. Accelerate slowly and gently, turn slowly and gently, and brake slowly and gently. To do this, you have to anticipate turns and stops. That means what? Going slowly and leaving and leaving plenty of distance between you and other cars. Rapid movements lead to skids and loss of control. Drive as if there were eggs on the bottoms of your feet – step on the gas and the brake pedals so gently that you don’t break the eggshell.

If you’re nervous about driving in winter, consider spending some time practicing. Go to an empty parking lot and try sending the car into a little skid on purpose. Slam on the brakes, then practice turning into the skid and see what happens – and practice until you’re comfortable regaining control of the car. Doing this in a large, empty parking lot (preferably without light poles) allows you the luxury of skidding without ending up flat on your back, looking up into the eyes of seven different EMTs. The more comfortable you are maintaining control and regaining control, the better a winter driver you’ll be. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget your laptop computer with the cellular Internet connection so you can kill time here at Car Talk while you’re waiting for the tow truck.
If you’re thinking about a new car, think about safety features that will help in lousy weather.

If you’re looking at buying a new car, consider buying one with features that will help you when road conditions stink, such as anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control.

Vehicle stability control, a relatively recent safety addition, has been shown to prevent accidents during treacherous or otherwise dangerous driving conditions. It doesn’t give you license to drive recklessly in poor conditions, but it will give you an added degree of safety. We recommend it. How’s it work? Here’s a good rundown.

Finally, if you really have to drive a lot in the snow, all-wheel drive is a good option. If you just drive in the snow a few days a year, front-wheel drive is fine – and you’ll get better fuel economy and save a heap of money on repairs over the years.