Winter driving can be a lot of fun as long as you know how to do it safely. Idaho native Clint Grover has over 20 years of experience driving in some of the harshest winter conditions imaginable, here he will give a written step by step tutorial on how to drive on snow and ice as well as a complete video version at the bottom of the page.
Step 1: Get Prepared
- Check your vehicle over and make sure it's winter ready.
- If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle you should consider adding some weight over the rear wheels, some sand bags or an old transmission in the trunk or bed of your vehicle will go a long way in helping with traction on slippery conditions.
- Front wheel drive and All Wheel Drive vehicles are better suited for slippery conditions so adding weight typically isn't required for these types of vehicles.
- Tires are one of the most important components in winter driving, you need to take a few moments to check them for adequate tread. Consider upgrading to a studded winter tire with aggressive siping for additional traction on ice and snow or have your existing tires siped at a local tire center, the cost is generally very low (typically less than $20 per tire) and the benefits in traction are substantial.
- Check your windshield washer fluid. Make sure that the fluid you are using is a winterized fluid, these help melt ice much quicker and are less likely to freeze. If you are unsure about your fluid just check the label, it will be listed as a winterized fluid.
Step 2: Know The Conditions
- Take a look at your current temperature, if it's below 32 degrees fahrenheit then what was water has now frozen and become ice. What makes this really dangerous is when you have ice that has begun to thaw and now has water on the surface, it becomes incredibly slick and very unsafe to drive on.
- If it's snowing turn your headlights ON, this increases the other drivers ability to see your vehicle and lessens the chances of collisions during low visibility driving.
- If your vehicle is equipped with 4 wheel drive it's a good idea to engage it before you leave, this way you have the maximum traction available during travel.
- How do you know if the road is slippery or not? When you are safely away from other traffic and traveling at low vehicle speed (less than 20 mph) give the throttle a quick blip or bump your breaks to see if your tires slip.
Step 3: Don't Drive Like and Idiot!
- When leaving a stop you want to EASE into the throttle. When you spin your tires on snow it creates ice when you spin your tires on ice it polishes the ice and makes it incredibly slippery and difficult to find traction on.
- If you're driving down the road and the rear end of your vehicle slips and begins to slide toward your front end the first thing you want to do is let off of the throttle, typically that'll be enough to straighten your vehicle out. Occasionally the rear end of the vehicle will slip out far enough that simply letting off the throttle isn't enough to straighten you out, in this case you'll need to add some steering into the mix. The process is simple just let off the throttle and steer TOWARDS the slip. If the rear end begins to slide to the right then you steer to the right, if it slips to the left you steer to the left. The idea is to keep the vehicle from spinning completely around in a circle by keeping the front end ahead of the rear end. DO NOT hit the brakes when the rear end of your vehicle has slipped out, it will amplify the problem and cause your vehicle to go into a spin.
- Stopping a vehicle on snow and ice is much different than in any other condition, you want to begin slowing down a long ways before it's actually time to stop. Stop signs and stop lights are notorious for being excessively slippery areas so you'll want to make sure that your vehicle is traveling at a very low speed as you enter these areas or you'll slide right through them. If you notice that your vehicle begins to slip during braking just let off of the pedal and slowly come back onto it, you may have to do this a couple of times depending on the vehicle.
- What if my vehicle is sliding and I cannot get it to stop? In this case you need to apply the techniques above as well as take power away from the driven wheels, this technique is called the "neutral bump". The method is easy, just bump your vehicle out of gear and into neutral then continue easing in and out of your brake pedal until the vehicle stops. This technique gets a lot of criticism but it really does work.
- The final part of step 3 is to SLOW DOWN! Under no circumstances should you ever exceed 45 mph in slippery conditions. 4 wheel drive does not mean 4 wheel stop! If you have to suddenly turn or hit your breaks at excessive speed on slippery roads you're likely going to end up in an accident. Most winter accidents are caused by people who are driving too fast for the conditions.
Step 4: Play In The Snow
- Find an empty parking lot covered in snow and ice and do some donuts, not only is it extremely fun it will help you get a feel for what your vehicle will do when it enters a spin or otherwise loses traction. Obviously this is something you'll need to obtain the proper permissions for in certain areas.