It's that time of year. The leaves have fallen, the days are shorter and snow is on the horizon. Although most people think about getting their snowblowers ready for the impending weather, a lot of people forget about preparing themselves and their cars for winter driving. The colder temperatures, slippery surfaces and potentially dangerous situations drivers will face require proper vehicle preparation to navigate safely. You also need to make sure you are in the right mindset as a driver and ready to control the vehicle in these challenging conditions. With the proper alterations made, winter driving will be safer and if you like to drive, way more fun!
One of the most important things to do is to install dedicated winter tires and no, all season tires do not count. Even though tire technology has come a long way, trying to have a tire that can handle hot weather, cold weather, snow, rain, and dry pavement is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. What you end up with is a tire that is a jack of all trades and a master of none. This is why we recommend having dedicated summer tires for the summer and winter tires for the winter to get the best performance out of your car year round.
To perform well in snowy conditions, winter tires are made from a much softer rubber compound so they remain pliable in the extreme cold. They also have siping, which are little grooves cut into the tread blocks of the tire. Siping creates even more edges on the tire which improve traction on ice and snow. As a result winter tires allow you to stop, steer, and accelerate with a lot more control than with summer or all season tires. It doesn’t matter if you drive a Fiesta, a Miata or a Suburban, winter tires are a necessity. Sure a Suburban is four wheel drive but what good is four wheel drive if the tires can’t put that drive to the ground. Not to mention trying to stop and a vehicle that heavy is very difficult with limited traction. Some good tires to look into are the Bridgestone Blizzak, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta, the Michelin X-Ice and the Yokohama Ice Guard.
Another important measure to take is to make sure you have survival equipment in your car. Winter driving can be dangerous so if you have an accident or get stranded out in the cold, you’ll want to be prepared. Make sure to keep a first aid kit, flashlight, blanket, matches, non-perishable foods, and water in your car. This may seem excessive if you are new to driving in snowy climates but it is not unheard of for drivers to spend hours stranded in their car in blizzard conditions. Should you find yourself in this situation, you'll be glad to have these simple items in your car.
Other things to do is make sure all of your vehicle's fluids are rated for the cold temperatures. One that is often overlooked is washer fluid. You'll want to ensure that you have fluid that will not freeze in subzero temperatures so you can always clean your windshield. Proper visibility is important every time you drive but especially in the winter. The same goes for your engine oil. It is vital you run the proper oil viscosity for the colder temperatures. It is also good practice to maintain your fluid levels. You don’t want to run out of washer fluid and have impared sight but you especially don’t want to run out of fuel. A good strategy is to always make sure you have at least half a tank of gas at all times to be sure you will not run out of fuel in a bad situation.
Lastly, there’s the most important mod of all, the driver mod. As a driver, make sure you are in the right right frame of mind to make good decisions and are prepared to operate the vehicle safely in snowy conditions. Some important things to do are plan ahead, keep your eyes further down the road, and separate your inputs. Knowing the temperature and conditions and being able to react to changing conditions is also vital in winter driving. Being able to determine what is a wet road and what is black ice for example is very important. A good way to tell is if the road looks wet but you don't hear water splashing, chances are you're driving on black ice. When driving on slippery surfaces like this, being smooth and separating your inputs is key. The traction circle on ice and snow is limited so asking the tire to steer and brake simultaneously will overwhelm that traction circle. Braking and getting the car slowed down before the turn will help you maintain traction. If you do slide, don’t look at what you might hit because you will probably hit it. The car follows your eyes so look where you want to go and your chances of keeping your car shiny side up are much higher. You can avoid this situation in the first place by looking further down the road. This will allow you to react faster to changing road conditions and better control the vehicle. So get some proper tires, make sure your car has all the essentials, and be prepared as a driver for the conditions. If you want some professional instruction, check out our winter driving school here!