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The Car Coach with tips and tricks for driving in the snow

Written By | Jan 7, 2022
Winter Driving, Car Coach, Tips, Emergency Driving

Seventy percent of all cars on the road aren’t prepared for winter. Is yours? There are many tips and tricks for driving in winter snow. The recent backups on the DC beltway stranding motorists for up to thirty hours remind us to be proactive.   It takes more than having a 4-wheel drive and heated seats, to be safe.

Being proactive means making sure you’re car is mechanically sound before the temperature dips and the streets get icy. And that you have the correct “emergency” kit in your car or truck.

Many vehicles are designed for all-season driving but it is your job to get that auto ready for the extreme weather that you will experience.

The snow and ice of winter are here. And there will most likely be more before the first crocus of spring appears. Being prepared can keep you safe and save you from costly auto-body and towing fees.  Even those of us who are winter driving “experts” need a brush-up on the physics of driving in the snow: the science of what happens when we hit the brakes and how to keep tires gripping the road.

How to drive in heavy rain, snow, or on slippery road surfaces.

The easiest way to drive safely is to slow down. Adjust your speed to the current road conditions. Just because you are driving a large, four-wheel-drive truck does not mean you can stop any faster on ice. It may give you some advantage but not enough to justify driving faster.

When driving in challenging conditions, slow down. By decreasing your speed you will allow yourself more time to respond when a difficult situation occurs.

The following video from shows real examples of how to not only avoid a slide but correct from one.


Anticipate accidents – keep an eye on the road 2, 3, or more cars ahead. 

Many studies have shown that 80% of all accidents could be prevented with only 1 more second to react. This 1-second can be gained by looking far enough ahead of you to identify problems before you become a part of them.

Also, be aware of Black Ice.  This is when the pavement becomes super frozen.  There may not be any visible ice or water, but the pavement is frozen.  (What Is Black Ice And Why Is It So Dangerous?)

Think about your grip on the steering wheel effectively

When roads are slippery, always try to brake when the car is going forward, in a straight line. And before you hit the curve in the road. See above “Anticipate Accidents.” Taking your foot off the brake before you steer into the corner allows you to use the entire grip available for steering.

Don’t accelerate until the steering wheel is straight.

Drive with your headlights on (good tip any regardless of weather)

Whenever daytime visibility is less than clear, turn on your headlights, to be seen by other drivers. Remember this rule of thumb, Wipers On – Lights On. When traveling in snowy weather, remember to clear taillights, turn signal lights, and headlamps of snow and ice regularly.  Also, before you take off into snowy or foggy conditions, turn all your lights on, including turn signals.  And walk around the car.

It’s your job to make sure the guy behind you can see you.

Anti-Lock Brakes do not mean anti-skid

ABS braking systems give you the ability to brake and steer, they are still limited by the grip available on the road, and the type of tires on your vehicle. If you’re driving too fast into a corner and then try to brake, even ABS won’t keep you on the road.

Driving at night in snow, rain, or fog.

Leave your headlamps on low beam when driving in snow or fog. This will minimize the reflection and glare, improve visibility, and will help reduce eye fatigue. If you are forced to drive slower than the speed limit, turn on your emergency hazards – those flashing lights could save your life. And the life of the guy coming up too fast behind you.

During bright winter days or low visibility, put on polarized sunglasses

Good quality sunglasses help highlight changes in the terrain and road surface even in low visibility conditions. Polarized lenses are your best choice.

Electric vehicle winter safety.

If you own an electric vehicle you should be aware that cold temperatures can impact battery life. If you are heading out for the day, make sure you have a full charge. Know that by using any accessories like heated seats, audio system or anything on the center screen you are using battery power. And reducing your range.

If you slide off the road.

If you think you can get safely and efficiently back on the road, try stuffing floor mats or branches under the tires – anything that will give you a little extra traction. A lot of drivers keep sand, or kitty litter, in their trunks to use for traction.  The best mats are those that are rubberized on the bottom and rough surface.  Search rubberized garage mats.

Mats can also be a life-saver when it comes time to change a tire.  Keeping you from lying or kneeling in the cold wet snow or wet from rain mud on the side of the road.

Be prepared more than usual: An Extreme Winter Prep Kit should include:

For your car:

  • Jumper cables OR even BETTER – a battery starter
  • Ice scraper.
  • Windshield de-icer fluid.
  • Portable compressor to fill tires until you can get to a station.
  • Carjack – check it before you need it.
  • A wheel lug crossbar for removing frozen or too tight wheel lugs.  The one in your car jack kit is not going to work in many situations. When replacing your tires, or having maintenance done, ask the mechanic to hand tighten the lugs.  Lugs tightened with pneumatic wrenches can be impossible to remove under the best conditions.)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Aggressive snow brush.
  • Shovel
  • Ensure you have the right winter oil for your car.

For you and your passengers:

  • Blankets.
  • Hand and foot warmers for each passenger.
  • Extra clothes (hats, winter jacket, scarf, gloves, dry socks and winter boots).
  • LED light source instead of flares (much safer) and better for the environment.
  • Bottled water.
  • Food.  Including power or nutrition bars, plain chocolate bars, trail mix, etc.
  • First-aid kit including aspirin or Tylenol.  Also include baby wipes and eye drops (warm before using). Any daily medications should be kept in the car, in the glove box, and replaced with every trip.
  • Extra blankets, including those silver space blankets.

Please remember, if you slide off the road or are stuck in a snowbank, make sure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow, mud, or debris. 

If the tailpipe becomes blocked, it can cause carbon monoxide to back up into the vehicle.  Which could be a death sentence for all.


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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.