With the official start of winter only on December 21st, actual winter has been in swing here in the northeast for a few weeks. And I’m sure many of our readers have heard of the epic, record setting snowfall in my hometown of Binghamton, NY (3-4′ in some areas!). Keeping that in mind, it’s probably time we revisit some winter driving tips before we’re all encased in a snowy tomb.
Let’s start with the most important thing for getting around safely in icy, slushy, or snowy conditions -your tires. Many people assume since they have a vehicle with all- or four-wheel drive, winter tires aren’t necessary. While having power to all four wheels will help you get going, it won’t help you stop. We highly recommend getting yourself a set of dedicated winter tires, no matter what you drive. Winter tires will provide a worry free, grippy driving experience, no matter what Mother Nature throws at you. Even though you can spend a fortune on some excellent winter tires, we have 2 favorites here. At the upper end of the reasonable-ish price range is the Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 and at the lower end is the General Altimax Arctic – which we have on our vehicles in the Pro Auto fleet. We do recognize that not everybody’s living situation or budget allows for 2 sets of tires, so you should at least make sure that whatever tires you do have are of sufficient tread depth to provide reasonable traction in messy conditions. If storing your second set of tires is an issue, don’t fear! Many tire sellers/shops, dealerships, etc. will store tires for a small fee or even for free.
As long as we’re talking about tires, you should always make sure that you have a tire pressure gauge and a portable air pump. Know that pesky tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) light that comes on during those chilly mornings? That’s thanks to physics; when the temperature dips, so does air pressure. For every 10°F change, the pressure will change by 1 PSI. So by the time it’s 5°F in the morning, those tires are probably a bit low on air. Keeping them inflated to manufacturer specs will keep you moving and avoid any surprise low or flat tires! We have Slime 12V pumps that we carry in our car year round. It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure for every 20°F change in temperature whether it’s a warmer or a cooler change.
Another item to check is your brakes. Make sure the pads and rotors are in good shape to get you through the cold months. If you haven’t changed your brake fluid in a while, that should be addressed as well. Usually, unless recommended by the manufacturer, brake fluid should be changed approximately every 4-5 years. Old brake fluid can cause decreased braking performance, especially if there is a lot of heavy braking action, like frequent ABS engagements or even prolonged braking event where the fluid will get hot. Old fluid can become contaminated by moisture or degrade over time, and heavy use might lead to seized calipers (a stuck brake).
Now that we’ve covered starting, stopping, and staying on the road, it’s good to make sure you can still see where you’re going! Have plenty of washer fluid on hand and bring some with you on road trips. Check your reservoir weekly to make sure you aren’t running low. And don’t forget to check your wiper blades for any rips or tears. If they pass a visual inspection but still leave streaks on your windshield, try giving them a wipe down with a wet paper towel. Often times lots of salt and dirt will get stuck to the blade causing it to smear instead of remove water.
You should also make sure to have some provisions in case you get stuck. Travel with a full tank of fuel, have a blanket for warmth, and some spare snacks (granola bars and other easy to pack, high calorie items with long shelf lives are ideal for this). You can even purchase survival kits like this one, which are necessary in regions of extreme cold.
Making sure you follow these tips will help make winter driving a bit less stressful and more safe.
We’ll leave you with one more tip for driving in wintry conditions that’s served us well for many years; pick only one of the following to do at a time – brake, accelerate, or steer. This will reduce the chances of your vehicle losing traction.