Even on the most idyllic days, driving is a risky endeavor. Throw in complications due to cold temperatures, slippery roads, and diminished visibility, and winter driving can be downright dangerous for those who live in the snow belt. But with a few proven tips, you can tilt the safety scale back in your favor.

The key is preparation, starting in the fall to ensure the car is properly maintained, shod with snow or at least good-quality all-season tires, and equipped with the essential emergency gear.

To ensure your car can go the distance, stay current on maintenance and repairs. This is doubly important in the winter, as a snow storm is not the time to face a roadside emergency. As temperatures decrease, so will the pressure in your tires. Be proactive in adjusting your tire pressure to match the recommendations found on the driver’s-side door placard and/or in the owner’s manual.

Having the right emergency gear ensures you’re ready to deal with whatever may occur, from getting unstuck to staying warm until help arrives.

Ultimately, the most important advice: Think twice about driving in foul weather. If you can avoid braving a storm, do so. It makes the roads less crowded and safer for all. If you must drive, go slow—and follow the tips below.

And if you have other tips, share them in the comments section.


For safe winter driving, invest in a set of studless winter tires

Car Maintenance

Car wash: Rock salt and brine solutions can help keep roads clear, but they can corrode exposed parts on your vehicles. Run through a touchless car wash with an undercarriage spray feature periodically to remove excess salt. (Avoid touch washes, as they risk grinding sand and other grime into the finish.)
Headlights: When you stop for gas, squeegee the headlights and taillamps to ensure that you keep sufficient visibility and so that other motorists can readily see them.

Wiper blades: Blade effectiveness fades after six months of use. Be sure to change the blades before winter. To extend the life of the wipers, be sure to clear snow and ice from the windshield before dragging the wipers across the uneven surface or pulling them out of a frozen position. If possible, raise the wipers off the glass before snow storms, easing clean-up and reducing risk of damage to the rubber blades from a scraper or ice. When the time comes for new blades, replace them in pairs. If one is worn out, its mate can't be far behind. Don't forget to check the rear wiper, if your vehicle has one. Even though it may not get as much use as often as the front wipers, it is exposed to the elements and can fail over time. Do not throw away your old wiper blades. Store them in the trunk in case one or both is ruined from the ice or from scraping.

Test your coolant: Buy test strips or have your mechanic check your coolant's effectiveness. A coolant that works to -30° F is sufficient almost anywhere.

Have your battery tested: This is particularly important if the battery is more than four years old, or if it's more than two years old and you live in a warm climate. Inspect the terminals and cables to ensure that the fittings are tight.

Winter/snow tires are a must in snowy climes: Buy a full set of four. Studless models can deliver impressive snow traction and grip on ice. Metal-studded winter/snow tires give the best traction on ice but offer no advantage on soft snow or cleared roads and can be noisy to drive on. All-season tires provide good, all-around performance in mild conditions. If you must travel in snow, rather than wait for roads to be fully cleared, then winter/snow tires are the right solution.

Top off your windshield-washer reservoir: Used winter blend washer fluid, as it is designed not to freeze. Use the cleanser as needed to keep the windshield clear. Keep a spare gallon in your trunk or secure cargo area.

Safety sensors: Increasingly, new cars are coming equipped with advanced safety features that use cameras and sensors to monitor the world and help keep you safe. To ensure these can work properly become familiar with where sensors are and be mindful to clear bumpers, fenders, grille, windshield, side mirrors, and backup camera of snow. Keep it simple: Make sure the entire car is snow-free before driving. It's a law in some areas.


Essential Gear

Cell phone: Keep a charger in the car. Store the number to a towing service or auto club in your phone.

Emergency kit: Just in case, and particularly if you frequent less populated routes, travel with a kit that includes a flashlight, extra batteries, road flares or reflectors, work gloves, a rain poncho, an extra ice scraper, a blanket, a tow strap, a pair of four- or six-gauge jumper cables, a shovel, a non-perishable snack, and a bag of sand or cat litter. If you drive a vehicle that does not have an enclosed trunk or cargo area, be sure to secure the items so they don't become projectiles in a sudden stop.

Floor mats: To contain the snow melt and grime, use all-weather floor mats. But be sure to remove your three-season carpet mats, rather than stack the all-season mats on top. Otherwise, there is risk the mats could move and interfere with the pedals.

Jump starter: Mini jump starters are a convenient way to jump start a car, and they can provide back-up electricity in an emergency to charge a smartphone or other mobile device. Sized like a paperback, they are extremely portable. In our tests, they proved much less effective when both the jump starter and the car were cold. The lesson here is to store the starter indoors and bring it with you on road trips.

Remote start: While not helpful for the car, warming it up for a few minutes from the comfort of home can make it easier to clear snow and ice. Plus, the cabin will be more welcoming, especially if you have heated seats. Never warm up a car in a closed garage.

Snow brush with a scraper:
An essential winter tool, stock a brush that can be used to clear the entire vehicle. In many states, driving with uncleared snow piled up is illegal, and in all states it is discourteous and potentially dangerous.

Traction aids: Snow chains, traction mats, and fabric tire wraps (aka tire socks) can help you get unstuck. Sand or cat litter spread on snow or ice can aid traction.

Snow bound: If stuck in a snow bank, clear the snow from your exhaust tip to keep emissions away from the car. Run the engine for short periods, such as 10-15 minutes, then shut it off, to stay warm and ration gas.

Winter Driving Tips

There is over 2,000 crashes in wintery conditions. On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, Consumer Reports' expert Jen Stockberger offers essential tips to help get you where you're going safely.