Your winter driving tips?

Winter driving presents a number of challenges to both you and your car. Cold weather tests the limits of your car’s mechanical abilities. Treacherous driving conditions test your abilities as a driver.

We hope folks find our Car Talk winter driving tips useful.

We’re always interested to hear other ideas. We’d like to like to know your suggestions for winter driving, too! You can share them right here.

Yours in avoiding breaking down on the side of a lonely highway in January – and then passing through the digestive systems of wolves,

Tom and Ray
Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers

Drive slow, good tires, stay home, be alert, no cruise control, bring shovel, salt, blanket.

The only thing that I can see wrong is your advice for snow tires. there was a video posted not too long ago showing the reason you need 4 snows tires, but if you only get 2, the rear should get them, even(especially?) in FWD cars. And weight should be OVER the rear axle, not behind it

Clear ALL of the snow from the roof, hood, trunk, and the area of the tail lights before driving. Don’t be one of the idiots who clears a one square foot area on the windshield and the rear window, and don’t be one of the imbeciles who drives with the tail lights obscured by snow.

Well I also agree that the advice for snow tyres should be modified, slightly.

  1. The current term is “Winter” tyres. They are new technology and they are using the new name. Better than the old snow tyres.
  2. I would emphasize the importance of stopping and staying on the road vs being able to go far more. 4WD will help get you out of the ditch but 4WD or AWD will NOT help you stay out of the ditch. Winter tyres will do both.
  3. Best addition is a cell phone to call for assistance on the highway. I would suggest it is almost necessary, and I hate seeing drivers distracted using one whey they are driving. I do keep one in the car turned off.

to update my summary;

Drive slow, 4 good winter tires, stay home if you can, be alert, no cruise control, bring shovel, salt, blanket, cell phone (turned off), shovel the snow off the car.

How about if we add NOT tailgating?

As bad as tailgating is when the road is dry, those who tailgate when it is snowing or hailing are truly dimwits. And, unfortunately, there seem to be more dimwits nowadays than ever before.

In particular, I find that women seem to be unable to comprehend that following 6 feet behind another car during a snow storm is dangerous.

Yes, honey, even if you are driving a BMW, it is still dangerous.

that applies all year long! And is ignored all year long.

have you noticed that drivers are driving faster and more aggressively in recent years?

Living in central Texas, we will use just about any excuse for a “snow day” so I just stay home. It’s not worth it. I don’t need to make one more day’s worth of money that bad. Other than what has already been said, I would add that you should have appropriate cold weather clothes with you in case you are stranded without heat.


Having read your tip on battery maintenance, I have one for you. Get a 12-volt battery, not a 6-volt one like the one illustrated in your tip. 6-volt batteries went out in the 50’s.

whose tip?

Keep a “snow bag” in your trunk. Fill an old duffle bag with road flairs, spare wipers, starting fluid, snow-brush, cable chains, heavy rubber gloves, jumper cables, camp shovel, blanket and an old pair of coveralls. The latter not only can save your clothes when changing a tire or chaining up, it also provides another layer of warmth should you get stranded. Complete the kit with some energy bars and any critical meds that you must take on a daily basis. Some may opt for bottled water too. But for a snow bag, that’s like bringing sand to the desert. When the snow season has past, remove the bag from the trunk, eat the energy bars, and stow the duffle in the garage for winter.

I heard somewhere that people with 4 wheel drive vehicles get stuck in deeper snow further from home :slight_smile:

Know your car and your own capabilities. You don’t have to be a skilled winter driver to decide that it’s better to stay home.

Given two SAME make sedans with the same winter tires, traveling at the same speed in the same conditions, the AWD is ALWAYS superior in traction and control. Anyone that disagrees in all likelyhood never owned one. The problem is that, awd and 4 wd bring out the worse in many with excessive speed and imprudent decisions. You can make the same mistakes in winter with AWD you can in summer with a Corvette; so, know your car and your own capabilities.

General guidelines according to Consumer Reports, in vehicle selection/preparation.

“Our advice. Consider an all-wheel-drive vehicle if you live in a snowy area or want added peace of mind. For maximum traction, equip it with winter tires. In less-snowy areas, front-wheel drive and a set of winter tires should suffice. Mount winter tires on all four wheels for balanced handling. Remove them after winter, since these tires wear quickly on dry roads (plan on about three winters of use). And be sure to opt for ABS on any vehicle.”

  1. RESPECT DOWNHILLS: Because of reduced traction and having to fight against graviy AND momentum, downhills are far more trecherous than level/uphills in snow. While there are reasons to preserve momentum going uphill, all downhills should be approached with extreme trepidation.

  2. ANTICIPATE, DON’T REACT: When driving in the snow, you need to be thinking about where the car will be in 15 seconds or more, and start altering driving accordingly. The obvious one is momentum for uphills; another is to be aware that the crown on the road means left turns will usually be dicier than rights. Also, since you’ll be slowing for turns far in advance of normal, you need to signal in advance, too. Also, always have an “out” if things go bad, even to the point of stating it out loud.

  3. USE NEUTRAL BELOW 7MPH: Once the speedometer is “pegged” low, your AT is pulling you forward, not braking. Thus, neutral will help get you completely stopped.

  4. USE OPTIMAL BRAKING TECHNIQUES: For non-ABS, I’ve had the best luck with increasing pressure to the point of lock, then backing off until wheels resume rolling (because of the differences between static and dynamic coefficients of fricion, this will be substantially less braking than the point at which skidding commenced), then smoothly re-apply until skid. For ABS, I know airplane ABS procedures are to go for pressure causing ABS to cycle at about 4Hz vs. trying to push the pedals through the floor, but I don’t have enough experience to know if this is applicable to automobiles, as well.

One of the most difficult parts of winter driving is keeping your windshield clear of ice and dirt. Ice is hard to scrape off, the washer spigots get blocked, and the wipers won’t wipe if they have the tinest chunk of ice on them. Here’s a simple tip:
Salvage an empty half-gallon container from your trash. Rinse it out thouroughly, so it’s nice and clean, then keep it in your car. Then, when you go out to your car to find the windshield is all icy, just fill up the container at the nearest source of hot water. Hot tap water works of course - so does the hot water spigot on commercial coffee-makers. Dump it all over the windshield, being careful to dump some on the wiper blades and the washer spigots. The hot water will quickly melt ice buildup and usually evaporates rapidly. If you can, immediately run your wipers once or twice to dry off the windshield as much as possible. You should now have a nice clean windshield with actual working washers/wipers for your drive!
P.S. Good containers are the cardboard ones that juice comes in, or even the plastic jugs that washer fluid comes in.

Be careful when doing this tip. There have been cases where the temperature difference is so great, the glass can crack.

If your car has front wheel drive, it may be easier to get up slippery hills by driving in reverse because engine weight traction is sometimes inadequate, especially if there are other passengers or cargo in your car. When driving up a hill backwards, the weight shifts onto the front wheels, providing them more traction.