I live in the Philadelphia Tri state area. We’ve had our 3rd major snow storm (each dumping around 2 feet of snow on us, making it the snowiest winter in recorded history), and in between that, we’d have rain, slippery roads, and ice. Needless to say, driving has been perpetually treacherous. Normally we don’t get this much snow around us, so no one every really buys snow tires. This has been my first real winter driving experience and I’ve been slowly figuring out techniques to make my car more stable on the road. For example, I’ve learned to start the car in 2nd gear with my manual transmission (less torque applied to wheels-less slipping) and to pump the brakes (I don’t have ABS). Does anyone have any other helpful or handy tips while driving in bad weather? I know the optimum thing would to just not drive, but thats not always an option!
If you don’t have the option of not driving in snow during the storm then you have to spend the extra bucks for winter tires. There is just no substitute for traction.
My area was the bulls eye for the latest NE storm and when driving I encountered one car going less than 20 mph. The driver gave me the one finger salute when I passed him but if he had so little traction he should simply not put himself, his car, and all other drivers at risk - he shouldn’t be on the road. My little Civic with 4 snow tires was having no problem going, steering, and stopping in the snow. I encountered some other cars and PU’s going very slowly down hills, again snow tires do their best work stopping the car. Everyone seems to focus on not getting stuck. If you can get moving with all season tires they think they are OK, but you have to steer and stop too and all seasons are completely inferior to winter tires.
Other techniques are to be gentle with all imputs to the car. Gentle steering, gentle on the gas, gentle on the brakes. Winter driving takes a light touch, just like very high speed driving. You are functioning near the limits of traction so you can’t push anything too hard and too fast.
Don’t worry too much about your tires slipping. This is normal in winter driving, that is what tells you how much traction you have. To be sensitive to the car, all audio is OFF. You need to listen for clues about tires gripping or not, you need to hear the slosh hitting the bottom of the car, you need all the info your eyes, ears, hands, and butt and give your brain. Also a good idea to crack the driver’s window a bit so you can hear better.
On the expressway watch out for overpasses and underpasses. These areas are more likely to have ice on the pavement under the snow. Let the semi’s pass you and go as fast as they want. The vehicles are entirely different than cars and the driver’s are pros. Just because they are comfortable at a certain speed doesn’t mean it is safe for you in a car.
When it is a heavy wet snow you must test how much your car is thrown off course when you hit the areas with more snow such as the shoulder, or snow collecting between lanes on highway.
Momentum is key, find a comfortable speed for conditions and try to maintain that speed especially when going up hill. If the cars in front of you can’t make it up a hill and start slipping and sliding sideways you have to either see if you have traction to manuever around them and make the hill, or stop turn around and find a different route. This is where driver’s without winter tires cause the most problem, they clog up hills and make them impassable.
It is a good idea to keep the gas tank 1/2 full or more. Carry a snow shovel, and carry some kitty litter or other friction help stuff (sand) just in case you get stuck yourself. Cell phones can give you some security, but AAA and towing services are going to be so busy, you’ll need other motorists and PU’s with 4WD to pull you out of the ditch.
Your biggest enemys are speed, deadlines, impatience, and over confidence. If you leave you house and encounter problems within the 1st 10 min. turn around and head back home. Often the best decision you’ll make all day is to call the office and tell them you can’t make it in today.
I live in WI, we get our share of snow and ice, but no one I know has snow tires. The crews usually do a pretty good job of keeping the streets passable. Caution and common sense are key.
I usually plan on stopping at least a car length behind the car in front of me, fudge factor for me and just in case the guy behind me misjudges I’ve some room to move up or out of the way if needed.
Slow down before you make your any turns.
Be aware of your surroundings so if you can pick your best escape route from trouble to the front or rear.
An unwritten rule around us, the person on an uphill has the right of way at a stop sign, as going uphill one of the keys is to not stop moving.
Keep a shovel in your trunk.
Be extra extra cautious about windrows, the lines of snow left by plows, or between tire tracks or lanes of traffic.
In addition to what you are doing, using a set of 4 winter tires (the term snow tires is now somewhat archaic) would give you a HUGE advantage in terms of gaining traction for starting, turning, and most important of all–stopping your car.
A good set of winter tires will allow you to stop the car in local driving situations in ~30 feet less distance than even the best so-called “all season” tires would allow. The difference in stopping distance from higher speeds is even more dramatic. Stopping in a much shorter distance can frequently mean the difference between colliding with something and avoiding a collision. Until someone experiences the difference afforded by good winter tires, it is difficult to understand the difference in the control of your vehicle.
From my experience, I can strongly recommend the Michelin X-Ice tire, which is effective on ice, as well as on snow. Hence, the term winter tire, rather than “snow tire”.
In addition to its incredible winter traction, the X-Ice has decent handling on dry roads and features a MUCH longer tread life than most of its competitors. All winter tires tend to be somewhat noisier on dry roads than all-season tires, but the extra noise from the Michelins is not really that noticeable.
And, in case you blanch at the thought of laying out the…$600-$700 that a set of these tires (on their own steel wheels) would cost, think of it this way:
Your regular tires would be in storage for a few months, thus saving wear on them.
One collision would result in inconvenience and expense FAR in excess of the cost of a set of good winter tires.
Safe winter driving is all about control and experience in doing the right thing at the right time.
In addition to the great advice, matching your speed to the conditions and timing your maneuvers is important. Think way, way ahead and keep the “space bubble” much greater than when you would in dry conditions. Know your limitations and don’t exceed them. And finally, though slowing down is extremely important there are times when added momentum can be your friend.
You’ll notice walking on ice we tend to walk "like we’re 40 years older ". Ask why and keep that thought in mind when driving.
Safe driving to you.
I live in WI, we get our share of snow and ice, but no one I know has snow tires. The crews usually do a pretty good job of keeping the streets passable.
You’re right of course, but those of us who live in snow country (Vermont in my case) are used to much better road clearing and much more sensible behavior from other drivers than will be encountered in the Mid-Atlantic or the more southerly parts of the midwest. I use all-weather radials myself. Some of my neighbors have snow tires. Some don’t. Mostly it depends on how long and steep their driveway is.
Anyway, I agree with you on all points and would emphasize SLOW DOWN, LEAVE LOTS OF STOPPING SPACE, and DON’T ACTUALLY STOP IF YOU CAN SAFELY AVOID IT.
I’m fortunate to have 4wd and a decent set of tires, but I still take my time. I can’t really improve on the advice already given, but I have a few suggestions.
When making a turn in snow or ice, I slow down or stop before starting the turn.
If somebody wants to go faster, I pull over and wave them through (if it’s safe).
Maintain enough space from the car in front for you and the car behind you to stop safely. For me, stopping distance is how it takes my Blazer to coast to a stop. I try to only use the brakes for the last few mph.
Don’t hurry and don’t get over confident once you almost home.
- Install four good winter tires (Blizzak, X-Ice, etc.).
- Go out to a deserted snow/ice covered parking lot and practice slipping, sliding and recovering.
- Don’t brake and steer at the same time – one or the other.
- Accelerate SLIGHTLY coming out of corners.
- Take it slow and easy.
- Make sure ALL of the snow is off your car and windows before driving.
- Keep a full tank of gas, blanket, bottle of water, power bars, shovel and charged cell phone in your car.
- HAVE FUN!
The BEST thing you can do is keep your speed down. I can’t tell you how many accidents I see every snow storm due to some idiot going far far faster then he/she should. I’m not saying you have to travel at 5mph…when it’s snowing real bad…with poor visibility…traveling at 30mph is dangerous. Slow and steady is best. If you loose control of the vehicle…take your foot off the gas and try to glide through it…If you need to…PUMP your brakes or if you vehicle has ABS…then press brakes firmly…
As for winter tires…If you feel you must…then get them. IMO they’re NOT needed in Philly or even Boston. Upstate NY or Michigan…YES…Or Mountain regions…YES. We have well over 800k miles on several fwd vehicles without ONE incident.
If you’re at all afraid to drive in the snow…then DON’T. Stay at home. Driving in the snow takes practice and a lot of patience.
Thanks for everyone’s input. I’ve noticed a lot of people who have larger vehicles thinking they own the road around here when it snows, and they drive like maniacs. I’ve been able to get through the snow pretty well today thanks to everyone’s help. I also thought that I should get used to winter driving just in case an emergency occurs and I have to drive to, say, the hospital. I’m an eagle scout, and our motto was always “Be Prepared!” So having everyone’s input and ideas really helps. Even though we may think we’re totally prepared to handle a difficult task, it might prove to be more daunting than originally thought.
A couple of other notes.
Better to be in a ditch than an accident.
Some cars (not to pick on Toyotas too much) have running lights on for the front, but not the tail lights, and in whiteout conditions you may have to turn on the headlights so your tail lights are visible. Check your car so you know.
If you are having trouble on icey roads going for the snowy area if not to thick can provide better traction and control.
I haven’t seen any body mention it and maybe it’s obvious but never never use your cruise control if the road are slippery.