Winter driving tips: How to drive in the snow

In a perfect world, all roads would be dry and untrafficked. But in the real world, drivers face a wide variety of weather conditions, and when snow is added to the mix, the potential for automotive disaster can increase exponentially.

Whether you venture to the ski slopes once in a blue moon or spend six months of every year in snowy climes, we’ve assembled a few crucial points to remember while braving snow-covered roads. Follow these tips, and you might even look forward to cold weather driving!

Slow, turn, go!

Dynamically speaking, a car can only do three things: accelerate, turn and brake. While it’s possible to combine those commands from the behind the wheel, vehicles are far easier to control when those actions are performed separately. Let’s say you’re approaching a sharp bend on a snowy road: first, gently apply the brakes in advance of the turn. After taking your foot off the brake, coast through the corner while turning the wheel. Only after you’ve exited the turn and straightened the steering wheel, gently accelerate. “As easy as that sounds intellectually, it’s really hard for most people to put into practice,” says Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.

Limit your speed, think ahead

Excessive speed is the single biggest reason people lose control in the snow, and slowing down will give you enough wiggle room to correct your course in case your vehicle loses control. “It takes 4 to 10 times longer to stop in ice and snow,” explains Cox. “Adjust your speed to the conditions,” he adds, “but also remember that going too slow can be just as problematic as going too fast.”

If you start to slide…

… don’t panic! A proper response will ensure that car control is regained. If the vehicle oversteers (i.e., the back end swings out), accelerate lightly in order to transfer weight to the rear and increase traction. It may feel counterintuitive to press the gas pedal while a car is sliding, but that action can straighten out the tail-happy yawing motion. Conversely, if the car understeers (i.e., slides forward without turning), straightening the steering and gently touching the brakes will shift more weight over the front wheels and enable the tires to “bite” again. As with all winter driving maneuvers, using a gentle hand and not stabbing the gas, brake or steering wheel is the most effective way to recover from a slide.

Humans tend to target fixate. Couple that with the natural reflex to go where you’re looking, and it’s no wonder so many out-of-control cars head straight into curbs and lampposts. By training yourself to look where you want to go, your hands will follow your eyes and steer away from danger.

Smooth and easy wins the race

Race drivers swear by smoothness when it comes to driving technique, and that practice becomes even more important in wintry conditions. “Pretend you’ve got a cup of coffee on the dashboard,” advises Matt Edmonds, vice president of TireRack.com. “If you make sudden or abrupt movements, you’ll go from grip to no grip very quickly.” On the other hand, “(smooth inputs) will help you sense the limits of your tire’s grip before your car starts to slide.”

Know your limits and your car’s limits

Becoming familiar with your car’s handling dynamics will prepare you for the unexpected. When the going gets slippery, does your car understeer (plow forward), oversteer (fishtail) or drift sideways? Weight distribution, suspension and drivetrain setups (like front-, rear- or all-wheel drive) affects how your car reacts to adverse conditions. If you can’t attend a driving school and learn about vehicle dynamics from the pros, carefully explore your car’s limits in a safe area like an abandoned parking lot. Once your sense memory develops, you’ll be better prepared to handle a slide.

Don’t rely too much on technology

Electronic aids like anti-lock brakes and traction control have done wonders for vehicle safety, but icy conditions can render those features useless. Once a tire loses its mechanical grip on a slick surface, all the high-tech gizmos in the world won’t stop that vehicle from spinning out of control. Avoid the inescapable laws of physics by keeping your speed reasonable and maintaining a safe distance from cars and objects around you.

Pick your tires like you’d pick your shoes

“Some shoes are good at everything, but not great at one thing,” says Edmonds. Following that logic, you wouldn’t wear flip-flops in the rain — and likewise, you shouldn’t drive through winter snow on summer tires. Edmonds advises looking for the international symbol for winter tires, which is a snowflake on a mountain. A number of winter tire varieties exist; snowbelt states call for dedicated winter rubber which is referred to as a “studless ice and snow tire,” featuring more aggressive tread and deeper blocks. In regions where snow falls more occasionally, you might opt for so-called performance winter tires, which offer better grip under dry conditions.

Keep your car maintained

A reliably running car can help avoid a world of complications in inclement weather. Make sure your tire pressure hasn’t dipped with the drop in ambient temperature, and your vehicle will be easier to control as a result. Install winter wiper blades in order to maximize visibility, and test your battery to make sure it can handle the challenges of cold weather cranking. Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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