Winter road trips are great — you can travel to some thrilling locations and have a fantastic winter experience. You might indulge in winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, ice skating, and curling. Perhaps you enjoy cozy winter holidays in snowy mountain cabins. Winter conditions are hazardous, so you need to be prepared to deal with anything that can go wrong. Snow and ice make it harder for you to slow your car down. Your car may lose traction on hills, or while starting from a complete stop. You’ll want to know what to do in the worst-case scenario and have the materials to help when needed. Winter conditions are livable if you’re a patient driver and prepared for the worst. You can have a safe, joyous trip by knowing the best practices for driving through the snow.
Trucking companies take steps to prevent accidents, whether that be making sure truck drivers have proper safety information, pre-hiring training and tests, and rewarding drivers for safe driving.
Prepare your car for a winter road trip
Tires are an essential factor for a safe winter road trip. Ideally, you’ll have snow or all-season tires with a rating for mud and snow. The cold weather lowers air pressure in tires, so check and fill your tires if needed. Once your tires are winter-ready, you can outfit your car with supplies.
Winter driving and car safety are about preparedness. You’ll often use your windshield wiper fluid, so check that your tank is full, and keep an extra container on hand. Good sunglasses are also a game-changer to handle glares from the sun reflecting off the snow. Ensure your phone is charged, and keep it plugged in during the drive. Gloves and ice scrapers are helpful too.
It’s good to be prepared for the worst before you leave for your winter road trip. Have a large, thick blanket in the trunk and some emergency snacks. If you’re spinning your wheels on a slippery section, sand or kitty litter can provide traction to get you going. Finally, an emergency car kit that contains flairs, a flashlight, jumper cables, and other valuable items is wise to have on hand.
What to do before the trip
Before you leave, get an oil change, and ask them to ensure the car is ready for a winter road trip. The technicians will ensure all your fluids are topped off — including your antifreeze (which your car needs in the cold), windshield wiper fluid, and oil. They’ll check the tire pressure and will install winter windshield wipers if you need them. It’s always a good idea to have a paper map if the GPS fails. If the forecast predicts a blizzard, consider an alternative route, or travel on a different day.
How to drive on snow roads and ice
It’s vital to maximize your visibility in winter conditions. Scrape all the ice from your windows and the windshield. Brush all the snow from your car, including the sides and the back. Snow blows away in the wind, and the last thing you want is to suddenly have your vision impaired due to snow from your car.
There may be times you have to brake in slippery conditions. If you have ABS (traction control), push hard on the brake and leave it suppressed until the car fully stops. The ABS may make noise or cause the vehicle to vibrate, but it’s working to help you. If you don’t have ABS, pump the brakes so your vehicle continues to slow as it moves straight.
If you’re fully stopped and struggling to move, tap the gas repeatedly to get a rocking motion going. This method gives you momentum to help push you forward. Traction control can work against you if you’re struggling to get moving. Turn it off, and you should find it more manageable. Be sure to keep your tank over half full for the entire drive. The half a tank is a contingency if you need to pull over so you don’t lose access to heat.
On the road
The best thing you can do in the snow is drive slowly. Your vehicle will struggle to brake, and you may need extra clearance to avoid hitting the car in front of you. It’s best to give the car ahead a lot of distance. It’s also wise to stay in your lane and only pass if you’re sure it’s safe. Winter driving is a hazard, but if you give yourself lots of time to arrive at your destination, you’ll maximize your chances of an uneventful drive.
If conditions are bad, it’s best to pull over rather than risk an accident. Avoid pulling over on the side of the highway if possible, as lanes can be challenging to see in snowy conditions. Oncoming traffic may not realize you’re unmoving on the side of the road.
Bridges and tunnels are likely to form black ice. Black ice is a term for ice that blends into the street. Do not slam the brakes if you see a black ice patch and the car loses control. Take your foot off the gas so the car slows, and tap the brakes in short pumps.
Keep your wheel pointed in the direction you want the car to go.
If you’re on a hill, try not to stop for any reason. You may slide backward, and climbing the hill from a complete stop will be challenging. Avoid aggressively accelerating up the incline, which can cause your tires to spin. Take it slow and steady. When the temperature is below freezing, it’s best to take the road slower than usual. The faster you drive, the harder it is to stop (especially in bad conditions).
Winter driving is all about maintaining control.
Ideally, you can avoid driving in a snowstorm altogether. If you are in one, avoid using the high-beam lights. While this seems counter-intuitive, the snowfall reflects the light and mitigates the efficacy of the high beams. Stick with low beams in heavy snow if you drive in heavy snowfall. In any winter conditions, avoid using cruise control.
How to make the road trip more comfortable
You’ll want to be relaxed and alert for your winter drive. Your comfort is a crucial component, so you can’t afford to focus on discomfort when driving in bad conditions. Choose a comfortable temperature for the vehicle, and keep your windows defrosted. You should also wear your jacket while driving. If you get in an accident, and the heat stops working, you’ll be glad you did.
Have a great playlist ready for your drive, and don’t fiddle with it once your trip begins. If you like snacks, set them up in advance so you can reach them without taking your eyes off the road. The same suggestion applies to coffee or water.
Winter driving can lead to some enjoyable adventures. Winter conditions aren’t ideal, but if you take your time and go into the drive well-prepared, you’ll have an excellent trip. If winter driving makes you nervous, try finding a large empty parking lot, and practice losing control where you won’t hit anyone. Winter roads can be dangerous but can also lead to beautiful locations. By following the best practices, you’ll arrive safely and be glad you made the trip.