Winter driving fun: There’s that moment we’ve all experienced when you realize you are not going to make it to your destination. Your tires spin, your tail swerves. Now what? How about when your wipers have lost their battle with the freezing precipitation and your windshield resembles frosted glass?
No matter how much new technology and new features auto manufacturers manage to cram into our cars, winter still seems to win out. The key to maintaining the upper hand is preparation and technique.
Tires / When it comes to winter travel, the most important decision you make is tire choice. Tire companies have been touting all-season tires for years, but as good as the latest ones are, they are no match for a real snowfall. When the heavy stuff hits, four dedicated snow tires offer far superior traction, dramatically affecting acceleration, braking, and cornering. Even if you have all-wheel or four-wheel drive, you still need winter tires.
Technique / Adjusting your speed for conditions means slowing down, but also maintaining enough speed when approaching a hill. Braking should be done before cornering, and don’t accelerate until your wheels are again pointed straight after exiting the turn. Most vehicles you see off the road in winter are AWD SUVs. AWD only gives you better traction for accelerating. It does not help in cornering or braking. Even with traction and stability control, you can still slide out. The key to winter driving is being smooth, avoiding sudden gas, brake, or steering inputs. Lastly, remember to increase the distance between you and the car in front.
Clear visibility / To keep your windshield free of ice and slush, start with a thorough cleaning before the snow flies. Use a product like Invisible Glass or Rain-X, which have built-in repellants, making ice and snow less likely to stick. The next step is replacing wiper blades. Blades should be replaced every six months, but certainly at the start of winter.
If your car has been parked and has a build up of ice on the glass, start the car and put the defroster on low or medium. As the car warms up, this will loosen the ice’s adhesion to the glass and make removal a much easier process. Don’t hack and chop at the ice as you can damage your windshield or paint. Once the windshield is warm, your scraper will have an easy job. Make sure your windshield washer tank is filled with a winter fluid containing a de-icer. Never put water in your washer tank: it will freeze.
Travel tips / Before you hit the road for any considerable distance, check your tire pressure and fluids and give your car a good coat of wax or polish. This will cut down on snow build-up on painted surfaces. If your car is already covered with snow, brush it off. Your outward visibility will be much better and you won’t blind those behind you with the snow coming off your car. Besides, it’s the law.
For winter trips, your car should have an emergency kit including: a shovel (in case you ignore my driving tips above), jumper cables, extra washer fluid, a blanket, emergency flares, non-perishable food, drinking water, a small piece of carpet (for tire traction or to kneel on when changing a tire), and a first-aid kit. If you are heading north, a set of tire chains is a good idea. New designs are a snap to install.
Accessories / As the behemoth SUV slowly fades into extinction, consumers are driving smaller vehicles. For those times you need more room, say, for a ski trip to Vermont, consider a roof box. Thule, based in Seymour, Connecticut, is the originator and still the top dog in roof box design and quality. Their newest models are easy to install, load from either side, come in a wide variety of sizes and are very aerodynamic. To keep your interior cleaner, get a set of fitted winter floor mats, preferably designed specifically for your car so they don’t slide around and get caught under the pedals. In addition to containing the dirt and water, they can be used in a pinch to give you traction under your tires—face down—if you get stuck.