Driving tips for snow and slush

How to stay safe in tough winter conditions

Published: November 19, 2014 10:30 AM

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Winter is striking the nation early this year, with chilly temperatures and inches of snow catching drivers by surprise across the land. The first frost is certain to remind that winter prep is necessary, from basic servicing and stocking the car with a winter roadside emergency kit, to equipping it with good all-season or winter tires.

Given a choice, it is always best to avoid to driving in slippery conditions, but when you must go out, keep these tips in mind.

Clear off snow and ice

Take the time to thoroughly scrape the windows and brush snow off your entire car, including the roof. It’s not just a courtesy; it’s the law in some states. Visibility is critical, and flying chunks of snow and ice pose a danger. Think of those driving behind you. Imagine seeing a sheet of snow coming off the car ahead.

Accelerate slowly

When starting out on slippery roads, go easy on the gas to avoid wheel spin. Some cars have traction control or a winter mode that helps. If you have an automatic transmission that allows second-gear starts, select that gear for better traction.

Go smooth and easy

Reduce your speed to lessen the likelihood of a skid. Avoid any sudden inputs to the steering, throttle, or brakes. Use lower gears when decelerating, to allow the engine to slow the car. Envision you are driving with an open cup of hot coffee in your lap.

Give yourself some space

On a dry road, allow 2 or 3 seconds of stopping distance between your car and the one ahead. In slick conditions, increase that interval to 4 seconds or more, depending on the ugliness outside.

Don't pump the brakes

Unless you’re driving an older car without antilock brakes, in an emergency use steady pressure and let your car’s antilock brakes do the work. Almost every modern car has ABS, but check your owner’s manual or ask your mechanic if you’re not sure. In some very icy conditions, even ABS may not help; you’re along for the ride until you regain traction.

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive don’t make you invincible

All- and four-wheel-drive systems provide extra traction while accelerating, but they can’t help much with stopping and turning. That’s the job of the winter tires you should have bought.

Jim Travers

Editor's Note:

This artlcle also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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