By Michael Albee

plowWith the onset of winter just around the corner, it might be a good idea to cover a few winter driving tips to make sure we all stay safe when the weather turns bad.

Over the past 30 years I’ve heard a lot of advice from a lot of people. Here are a few tips I’ve either heard or come up with. I hope you find them helpful.

1). Know Your Equipment
Make sure that your vehicle is ready for winter by checking the battery, exhaust, belts and hoses, oil levels, tires, brakes, wipers, washer fluid, lights, heater, defroster and the antifreeze.

2). Let It Warm Up
Letting your vehicle warm up for a few minutes before you begin your trip or commute will allow the engine to warm up and the idle to run slower reducing the chance of an accident. It will also allow the windows to have a chance to de-ice and defrost.

3). Keep Vehicle Windows Clear of Show and Ice
Driving with an obstructed view is not only dangerous, it’s against the law. Keeping all of your windows clean will allow you to see the traffic in front, in back, and on your sides. It will also allow you to see better at intersections. Don’t just clean off the windows, Sweep the snow off of the hood, top and trunk so that the snow will not blow back on the windows or cover your tail lights.

4). Increase Your Following Distance
Increasing your following distance to at least three times the normal distance will give you extra time and distance to react to possible problems. Normal dry weather distance is (2 seconds between vehicles).

snowtires5). Snow Tires
Using a “Snow Rated” tire in the snow is a must. While “All Season” tires are fine in light snow, they only have minimal traction in deep or wet snow and can cause you to have an accident or to spin out of control. If you drive in deep snow, or in icy conditions, you may want to purchase a set of studded tires or snow chains. They also come in very handy on dirt and gravel roads that receive on partial maintenance during the winter months.

6). Keep your Gas tank Full
Vehicles use more fuel in the winter months because of fuel blending. It’s a good Idea to keep your fuel tank over 1/2 full during the winter months. You will be glad you did if you get stuck, or lost. Extra fuel can be used to keep yourself warm while waiting for help to arrive. It is also extra ballast. Gasoline weighs about 7 pounds per gallon and it can aid in traction on slippery roads.

OK, now that we’ve covered the vehicle, the next tips are for the people in it.

7). Safety Items
Temperatures during the winter can vary 10-30 degrees from night to day. For this reason it is wise to keep a spare coat, wool cap, boots, gloves and even a change of clothes in your vehicle. These will come in handy if you get stuck or caught in a storm. It is also a good idea to keep several candles, a few books of matches or a lighter in a coffee can in your trunk or back seat. These items can be used to help keep you warm if the engine stops or if you run out of gas.

Other items to keep handy during the winter driving months include jumper cables, a flashlight, flares or triangles, a shovel, an extra blanket and a supply of sand. You may also want to keep a bright piece of cloth in your glove compartment to tie to your antenna. This can make your vehicle easier to spot if it becomes disabled.

If you are taking a trip during the winter it is also a good idea to take drinking water and some food with you. High calorie, non-perishable foods are best. These including canned fruit or nuts, energy bars and sports drinks. If you take canned foods, don’t forget a non-electric can opener.

8). Know Your Vehicle’s Limitations
Every vehicle handles and reacts differently on the snow and ice. After the first few snow/ice storms, go to an empty parking lot and try to create all kinds of braking and driving situations. Note how your vehicle reacts to different brake pressures and steering situations. Don’t forget to practice backing, turning and accelerating. Practicing skids, braking and accelerating may actually save your life some day!

wintersign9). Slow Down
Most winter accidents are caused by people taking chances while they are in a hurry.

Slowing down starts by adjusting your schedule to leave a few minutes earlier. Most of us wake to a clock radio these day! LISTEN to the DJ’s. If they are forecasting traffic delays, leave earlier to give yourself more time to get where you are going. It’s just common sense!!!

10). Watching out for the Idiots
This is a continuation of #9. The old saying goes: “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. Be a part of the solution by driving defensively. Watch out for that person that might cut you off or slide through an intersection. It will save you money and time in the long run. It may also save you money on your insurance premiums!!!

11). Drive with Care
Drive smoothly. Avoid sudden acceleration and braking and don’t make any sharp turns or sudden moves with the steering wheel. Above all, if you don’t absolutely have to be somewhere, stay home.

12). Traction
No matter how careful you are, you are probably going to get stuck at least once. For this reason is good to keep some sand in the trunk. Usually 1 bag is more than enough, but I suggest that you pour that bag into gallon milk jugs so you can apply the sand to the areas just in front or behind the tires when it happens.

These are just the basics. And while I’m sure there are others, following these will keep you out of a lot of trouble. While 4X4’s and FWD are definitely a plus in deep show areas, I’ve personally found that rear wheel drive vehicles are just as safe and effective in moderate amounts of snow. The most important things to remember when driving a RWD vehicle in the snow would be: Add extra weight to the rear of the car to improve traction, Drive with common sense, Slow down earlier for stops, Increase following distance, Don’t Speed, and if you start to slide, don’t apply the brake – Just steer into the slide.

Driving Condition – Your Reaction Should Be

Front wheel slide – Let off the gas and brakes and steer into the direction of the slide.
Rear wheel slide – Let off the gas and brake, and steer into the direction of the slide.
All wheel slide – Let off the gas, pump brake (non ABS), and steer into the direction of the slide.
Hydroplaning – Let off the gas, gently apply brakes until you regain traction.

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