Winter is coming, even if it still feels like summer in many places. That means the temperature can drop below 32ºF and water can turn to snow and ice. Driving in the snow — if you’re not a Finnish rally driver (and odds are, you aren't)— can be stressful, especially if you did not grow up in a colder climate. Here are five essential tips for driving in the snow and some products that can help you on your way.
You don’t need to slow down to 5 mph the second flakes start falling (please don’t). But you want to be smooth and gradual with your steering, gas and braking inputs. Jamming the gas or the brakes abruptly can end badly. Give yourself more space (and more time to react) and slow down earlier for turns that could get tricky. If you feel yourself start to slide, don’t panic. Let off the gas and turn your wheel in the same direction to regain control. Looking where you want to go can be helpful.
Know the terrain
Hard-packed snow should have relatively good traction. Snow patches offer more grip than ice. So put your tires on them if possible. Areas where water is slushy and liquid can turn to black ice at night. Avoid anything with a sheen. Be extra careful at night. Route yourself around steep hills if possible. Like the sign tells you, bridges do freeze more quickly than other tarmac because they don’t have insulation from the ground.
Follow the snow plows
The safest way to drive after a snowstorm, even if you did spring for that loaded-up Jeep Wrangler, is to wait until the roads have been cleared and salted. Main roads will likely be plowed before secondary ones and neighborhoods. Be extra careful at the sides of the road and in turn lanes that may not be as well plowed. Keep your distance from the plows themselves and don’t try to pass them.
Buy a good set of winter tires
Buying an all-wheel drive car is great. But you can have the most sophisticated AWD system on the market. But if your tires can’t grip the road, it won’t help you much, especially when you need to stop. Winter tires are specially designed to drive in snow and ice. They have more aggressive treads to expel snow and ice and softer compounds to keep contact with the road. Even a front-wheel drive car can be formidable with a good set of winter treads.
Make sure your car is properly outfitted for an emergency
Getting stuck somewhere any time of the year isn’t fun. Getting stuck somewhere in winter can be life-threatening. No matter how good of a winter driver you are, there are some situations you can’t avoid. Snow removal tools are great to have on hand. A portable jump starter that can power the car and your devices is handy. And having a hat, blanket and gloves on hand can make all the difference.