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Image courtesy of Alan Stark on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Everything You Should Know About Winter Driving

With the snow of winter, it’s crucial for drivers to know and understand the differences between winter driving and driving during the other three seasons. For example, it’s important to realize that driving a car that is not properly cleaned of snow will, in some cases, result in a citation from law enforcement. The laws of physics also apply differently to a vehicle when there is a slippery surface under the tires, such as snow, slush or even black ice. Drivers should educate themselves on how to handle these changes so that they can avoid disasters that might endanger not only their investment in their vehicles, but also their very lives.

Winter Tires: Do You Really Need Them?

Image courtesy of Colin Poellot on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image courtesy of Colin Poellot on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Although there isn’t an overriding law on the books that says you must have winter tires during the winter, using them gives you a definite advantage and increases safety. There are, however, state laws that govern the use of winter tires. In many high-snow areas, insurance companies won’t cover accidents that occur with vehicles that aren’t using winter tires. Drivers should check with their local police, insurance company and legislative body to determine what local laws dictate.

So why are winter tires deemed a better fit? For one, winter tires have tread patterns designed to shunt moisture away from the surface of the road. This shunting allows the tire to contact the bare pavement instead of the slippery stuff, which obviously increases traction. All-season tires address the same issues, but to a much lesser degree. In some areas of the U.S., all-season radial tires are sufficient for safe driving, but other areas are much safer with winter tires. Drivers should exercise good judgment and do their own investigation of tire data when selecting winter tires for their vehicles.

Tire Chains and When to Use Them

Image courtesy of Todd McCann on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of Todd McCann on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Sometimes, even winter tires aren’t enough to keep you safe on the road. In such cases, tire chains or studded tires are necessary to maintain tire grip in particularly hazardous conditions. Drivers should check the following website before buying or installing tire chains or tires with studs, because some jurisdictions prohibit their use.

Before installing chains, carefully measure the tires and consult your owner’s manual.

It’s very important that tire chains fit. If they don’t, you will damage your car. To install the chains, put the car into park or in gear with the motor off and the parking brake engaged. Making sure that it’s evenly spaced, attach the chain to the tire. Tighten the chain. Start the car and drive forward about 18 inches. Go back to each tire and loop the last bit of chain around the tire. Drive forward about 100 feet. Go back to each tire and re-tighten each chain.

Does Having Four-Wheel or All-Wheel Drive Really Give You an Advantage During Winter? 

In short, yes, you have an advantage. However, contrary to popular belief, you do NOT have an advantage when the car is moving – handling and braking distance will be the same as those of a two-wheel drive car, and you will face the same challenges a 2WD faces during winter, so don’t get lured into a false sense of security.

A definite advantage of a 4WD and AWD will be felt when you need to get going in the first place.

Starting to move on a wet and/or slippery surface is much easier with a 4WD or AWD. You should also know that anti-lock braking systems, or ABS, do not function when four-wheel drive is engaged on a part-time four-wheel drive vehicle. In short, prepare for winter with a four-wheel drive vehicle the same way you would with a two-wheel drive vehicle.

Battery Drain and How to Keep Your Battery Healthy During Winter

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Cold weather is detrimental to the cranking power of car batteries. The chemical processes in the battery are slowed by the cold weather. When starting your car, it’s a good idea to shut off as many electrical components as you can, which reduces the load on the battery. Even with such precautions, older and weaker batteries will tend to fail more than newer batteries. It’s a good idea to replace batteries older than three years before winter and invest into a quality battery recharger.

Warm-Up: Yes or No? 

Image courtesy of David Goehring on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of David Goehring on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The two camps involved in the warm-up discussion are entrenched in their positions.

  • The “Yes” group maintains that such warm-up helps the oil lubricate the engine better, and that driving cold puts undue wear and tear on the engine and might even cause viscosity breakdown.
  • The “No” group says that this is all hogwash, and maintains that warm-up times that are longer than 30 seconds accomplish nothing but wasting gas.

Probably, no one will ever know who’s right, and neither side is likely to give in. Warming up the car for passenger and driver comfort, as well as making sure the windows are clear and defrosted, however, is always sensible.

Benefits of Traction/Stability Control During Winter

Image courtesy of Grant C on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of Grant C on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Traction control interrupts power to the wheels in a manner similar to ABS, which keeps the vehicle from pushing itself into an uncontrollable skid. Traction control will help in all but the direst winter driving situations. Nothing helps on black ice.

Cars can spin out at as little as 10 mph.

Traction control will help you regain control you once you skid all the way through the patch of black ice, so make sure to drive in accordance to road conditions to avoid serious hazards.

Gas Tank: Keep It Full at All Times!

Image courtesy of futureatlas.com on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of futureatlas.com on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

As the temperature during winter tends to fluctuate quite a bit, moisture can form in empty spaces as water vapor in the air condenses. For this reason, it’s crucial to keep your gas tank full. You don’t want this condensation to cause your engine to sputter and stop, especially because it’s nearly impossible to restart without a professional repairman to do the necessary work. Additionally, a full gas tank weighs more, which adds extra stability to your vehicle on slippery roads.

Clearing the Snow (Legal Requirements)

Image courtesy of Howard Kang on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image courtesy of Howard Kang on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Everyone knows how tiring it is to clean snow off the car, but there are several reasons why you shouldn’t skip this task.

There are several safety issues with not clearing the snow:

  • If you don’t clean the snow off of your car, it could fly off when you reach certain speeds.
  • If some of the snow has frozen, the resulting ice projectiles will become dangerous to anyone behind you, especially in windy conditions.
  • You can’t see through improperly cleaned windows, which makes everyone else on the road unsafe.

As stated, you might even receive an expensive citation for not cleaning your car properly. Every state has their own laws regarding this issue, so it’s best to check with your local law enforcement office to be properly informed.

Conclusion

Image courtesy of Szapucki on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of Szapucki on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

To summarize, here’s what you should do to stay safe on the road during winter months:

  • Get winter tires
  • Find out what your state’s motor vehicle laws are regarding chains and studs
  • Don’t be overconfident: slow down
  • Be prepared: check the battery and make sure every system of your car works as intended
  • Be careful

If you have any tips on driving safely during the winter, feel free to leave us a message! Also, let us know what you think about the warming up the car debate.

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