Winter Weather Driving Tips

Driving in the High Country during winter presents its own set of challenges. With a combination of natives, long time residents, college students and tourists everyone has their own style of dealing with winter driving.

However less seasoned drivers in the area may find winter a bit more challenging to deal with. Below are some tips for dealing with winter on High Country roads. Leading off is the advice of seasoned High Country motorists as sent in from Facebook, followed by advice from AAA Carolina.

From Facebook submitted comments in no particular order:

Keep your washer fluid reservoir full.

Rain X those windows (not just the windshield) ice will come off MUCH easier when the interior of the car gets warm.

Always carry kitty litter and a blanket – and always fill up the gas tank before bad weather

Slow down and don’t follow to close.

Use brakes as little as possible, downshift when you can.

Maintain a speed going uphill of ~15mph because creeping will put you in the ditch, decrease tire pressure a bit to increase surface of tire on the road

Just because you have 4-wheel or all-wheel drive doesn’t mean you can be a race car driver.

Steer into a slide, don’t pull the other way because it will trigger a fishtail.

PATIENCE

If you start sliding… Take your foot off the brake. You cannot steer on ice while the brakes are locked up.

Keep gas tank full, carry a large container of kitty litter or a bag of playground sand with you – it can help get you unstuck out of slippery situations. If you have to travel through somewhere there’s no cell service & no residences then carry some sort of emergency flare/signal!

Pull your wipers up and away from windshield before the snow or freezing rain… easier to clear windshield of snow and ice, and you wipers aren’t frozen in place…

A little alcohol or even a bit of antifreeze in the washer fluid reservoir will help keep it from freezing… fluid can’t help you if its solid…

Keep some jumper cables in your car

Headlights on at all times…. and clear the snow off your car before travelling

If you start to slide on an incline keep your foot steady on the gas and steer. If you step on the brakes 1) you will lock up and 2) you will get stuck and not be able to get traction again. Slow and steady. If someone gets stuck on a hill and you are behind them, drive around. Red light on a hill? Wait until the light turns green and then drive up the hill. Also when driving in freezing rain/ice on a two lane road or multi lane with a shoulder never underestimate the power of driving with two wheels on the grassy/dirt shoulder for traction to get to a safe place.

Always be alert for others

Winter survival kit in your vehicle: flashlight, batteries, blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots, first-aid kit. and other gear: tire chains, ice scraper/brush, jumper cables.

If it’s 32 degrees or below there is a good chance there is black ice, even if it isn’t snowing

If the temp is around freezing or below and you aren’t sure if the road surface is just wet or ice, roll your window down just a bit and listen for ‘wet sound’ your tires make, if there is no sound, good chance the roadway is frozen

NEVER call 911 to ask road/weather conditions! If you are involved in an accident in a low visibility area and you can safely move your vehicle from the roadway, please do so. This way you are not a bulls-eye for other vehicles. Additionally, if you are in a low visibility area don’t get out of your car until police arrive, unless there is a reason that makes it more dangerous for you to stay in it. (we don’t want pedestrians getting hit by oncoming cars.) If you must get out of the car, stand well off the road and away from the cars. And last, please be patient. It is frustrating being involved in an accident but calls are dispatched to officers in the order of highest priority first (with that in mind, this is one time to be thankful that your call is not the highest priority on the list!) From there, calls are dispatched in the order they are received.

If you do not have a 4×4, all wheel drive or front wheel drive vehicle, stay off the road during heavy snow. All too often we work wrecks where someone in a rear wheel drive vehicle tries to drive in deep snow and up steep roads. Remember 4×4 does not mean invincible. They will slide as easy or easier than other vehicles on ice. SLOW DOWN. Leave more room between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Use common sense. If you are not use to driving in snow, please stay off the road.

Just because you may have an AWD vehicle and it goes very well in slick weather it will not in any way help you stop. Drive conservatively and easy. Also much of the braking advice is good unless you have anti lock. If your car has this then keeping the brakes applied is fine and let the computer modulate the brakes for you. When you feel the brake petal vibrate DON’T let up as it ruins the affect. Also someone above wrote about listening to the sound of the road and she was right. A wet road makes normal wet road sounds but ice is much quieter and can tip you off.

On side roads (especially in the mountains) with a ditch on one side and a drop on the other, I would sometimes ride the ditch. Needs to be shallow enough for sure but if you start to slide due to steep grade, you don’t go off of the bad side.

Just because you have a 4×4 vehicle you are not invincible and that speed matters. Slow and easy makes a lot of difference. If you are running late, stay that way and not end up dead. Also to keep some sort of hi-vis clothes in car so if you get out of vehicle you will be seen easier. and DON’T stand in middle of road trying to flag down another vehicle. Carry a decent tow strap, or heavy duty chain to keep in your car in case someone who stops to help doesn’t have one or they don’t have a big enough one. Have warm gloves and remember that if you do get stranded or stuck crack your window some so you don’t get CO poisoning.

From AAA:

Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.

Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.

Make certain your tires are properly inflated.

Never mix radial tires with other tire types.

Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.

If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.

Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).

Always look and steer where you want to go.

Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.

Tips for long-distance winter trips:

Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.

Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.

Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.

Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.

If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.

Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.

Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.

Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.

Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.

If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.

Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.

The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.

Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking.
Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.

Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.

Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.

Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

AAA CAROLINAS OFFERS CHECKLIST TO PREPARE YOUR VEHICLE FOR WINTER DRIVING

As temperatures fall, preparing your vehicle for winter driving is essential for the safety of all passengers.

Cold temperatures can affect everything from a car’s battery to its tire pressure, so proper maintenance this time of year can greatly decrease the chances of your vehicle letting you down.

AAA Carolinas has seen an increase in battery-related service calls since Tuesday and expects that trend to continue over the next few days, with the forecast calling for overnight temperatures below freezing in many areas of the Carolinas.

“When you’re expecting cooler temperatures or snow, you need to be prepared,” said Dusty Holcomb, president of AAA Car Care Centers. “Seasonal checkups can help prevent unexpected repair costs in the future.”

Below is a simple checklist to determine your vehicle’s fall and winter maintenance needs. Many of the items can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, but others should be performed by a certified technician.

Winter Car Care Checklist:

Battery and Charging System – Have your battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. When the temperature is below freezing, a battery only generates 60% of its current charge.

Tire Type and Tread – In areas with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires work well in light-to-moderate snow conditions provided they have adequate tread depth. Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread.

Tire Pressure – Check tire inflation pressure on all four tires and the spare more frequently in fall and winter. As the average temperature drops, so will the pressure in your tires – typically by one PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Incorrect tire pressure can reduce your vehicle’s fuel economy by 3-4%. Proper tire pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker typically located on the inside of the driver’s side door. Tire pressure should be checked when your tires are cold – before you have driven one mile if possible.

Lights – Visibility is important – particularly when it starts getting darker earlier. Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.

Wiper Blades – The blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots. In areas with snow, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup, which can prevent good contact between the blade and the glass.

Washer Fluid – Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that has antifreeze components to prevent it from freezing.

Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids – Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.

From National Safety Council:

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it.
Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared (TIPS), and that you know how to handle road conditions.

It’s helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you’re familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner’s manual for tips specific to your vehicle.
Driving safely on icy roads

Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.

Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.

Keep your lights and windshield clean.

Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.

Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.

Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.

Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid…
Take your foot off the accelerator.
Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid…
Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck…
Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.

Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.

Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.

Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.

Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.

Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

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