How Should You prepare a vehicle for driving under winter conditions?
Driving in winter weather – snow, ice, wet and cold – creates a great challenge for vehicles and drivers. Keeping your vehicle in good technical repair reduces your overall chances for any mishap or disaster while driving – particularly in winter weather. To prepare your vehicle for winter driving give it a complete checkup. Look for the following:
- Battery – recharge or replace if the battery is weak. Also have the charging system checked.
- Ignition – check for damaged ignition wires and cracks in the distributor cap.
- Lights – check all lights (headlights, side lights, emergency flashers, directional lights, taillights, brake lights and parking lights) for proper functioning.
- Check brakes and adjust to ensure equal braking.
The traction between tires and roadway determines how well a vehicle rides, turns and stops, and is crucial for safe driving in winter. Proper tire selection is very important.
- Use all-season radial tires only in areas that receive only light snowfall.
- Use snow tires in areas that receive heavy snowfall.
- Use chains on all four wheels when you expect severe snow and icy roads. Check with your local Department or Ministry of Transportation office to see if the use of tire chains is legal in the region through which you are planning to drive.
- Check tire pressure and if necessary restore it to levels recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. The pressure drops about 1 psi for every 5°C (9°F) drop in temperature.
- Do not mix radial tires with other types.
- Check tire balance and correct if necessary.
- Check wheel alignment and correct if necessary.
- Check the exhaust system for leaks. A properly sealed exhaust system reduces the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Keep the window in your vehicle slightly open when you’re stuck in snow, and run the engine and heater to keep warm.
- Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow. A blocked pipe can force carbon monoxide back into the car interior.
- Check the radiator and hoses for leaks.
- Ensure that your vehicle always has a sufficient amount of antifreeze rated for the coldest weather.
- Check the defrosters (front and back) to make sure they are working efficiently.
- Ensure that windshield wipers function efficiently. Replace them if they are old or worn.
- Fill the washer container with an antifreeze fluid and top it up frequently.
- Fill up the fuel tank before you leave on your trip.
- Do not let the fuel level get too low – the driving time to the next gas station may take much longer than you ever expected, and if you get stuck, the car engine will be your only source of heat.
What should I include in a winter driving kit?
A well-stocked winter driving kit helps to handle any emergency. It should include:
- Properly fitting tire chains.
- Bag of sand or salt (or kitty litter).
- Traction mats.
- Snow shovel.
- Snow brush.
- Ice scraper.
- Booster cables.
- Warning devices such as flares or emergency lights.
- Fuel line de-icer (methanol, also called methyl alcohol or methyl hydrate).
- Extra windshield wiper fluid appropriate for sub-freezing temperatures.
- Roll of paper towels.
- Flashlight and a portable flashing light (and extra batteries).
- Extra clothing, including hat and wind-proof pants, and warm footwear.
- First aid kit.
- Snack bars or other “emergency” food and water.
- Matches and emergency candles – only use with a window opened to prevent build-up of carbon monoxide.
- Road maps.
- “Call Police” or other help signs or brightly coloured banners.
How should I prepare myself for winter driving?
- Plan your driving in advance.
- Avoid driving when fatigued.
- Contact your provincial “Road Reports” to get updates regarding road conditions in the region to which you are going.
- Check weather conditions for your travel route (and time) before you begin driving.
- Plan your arrival time at a destination by taking into account any delays due to slower traffic, reduced visibility, roadblocks, abandoned automobiles, collisions, etc.
- Inform someone of your route and planned arrival time.
- Choose warm and comfortable clothing. If you need to remove outdoor clothing later while driving, STOP the vehicle in a safe spot.
- Warm up your vehicle BEFORE driving off. It reduces moisture condensing on the inside of the windows.
- NEVER warm up your vehicle in a closed garage.
- Remove snow and ice from your vehicle. It helps to see and, equally important, to be seen.
- Wear sunglasses on bright sunny days.
- Bring a cell phone if you have one but do not leave it in the car as the battery will freeze.
How should I drive in winter weather?
- Buckle up before you start driving. Keep your seat belt buckled at all times.
- SLOW DOWN! – posted speed limits are for ideal travel conditions. Driving at reduced speeds is the best precautionary measure against any misfortune while driving on slippery roads. “Black ice” is invisible.
- Be alert. Black ice will make a road look like shiney new asphalt. Pavement should look grey-white in winter.
- Do not use cruise control. Winter driving requires you to be in full control at all times.
- Reduce your speed while approaching intersections covered with ice or snow.
- Allow for extra travelling time or even consider delaying a trip if the weather is inclement.
- Drive with low-beam headlights on. Not only are they brighter than daytime running lights but turning them on also activates the tail lights. This makes your vehicle more visible.
- Lengthen your following distance behind the vehicle ahead of you. Stopping distance on an icy road is double that of stopping on a dry one. For example, from around 45 meters (140 ft) at the speed of 60 km/h, to 80 meters (over 260 ft) on an icy road surface.
- Stay in the right-hand lane except when passing and use turn signals when changing lanes.
- Steer with smooth and precise movements. Changing lanes too quickly and jerky steering while braking or accelerating can cause skidding.
- Be aware and slow down when you see a sign warning that you are approaching a bridge. Steel and concrete bridges are likely to be icy even when there is no ice on the asphalt surface, (because bridges over open air cool down faster than roads which tend to be insulated somewhat by solid ground.)
- Consider getting off the road before getting stranded if the weather is worsening.
- Be patient and pass other cars only when it is safe to do so.
What should I do if I start to skid?
- Above all DO NOT PANIC!
- Look where you want your vehicle to go and steer in this direction.
- DO NOT BRAKE!
- DO NOT ACCELERATE!
For more information on safe winter driving, sign up for one of our online winter driving courses: