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How to Drive in the Snow

Hand on steering wheel gazing out into snowy roads

The frigid winter season is creeping up slowly, and although some states are projected to have little to no snow, residents of snowy states should start preparing. Snow is a significant driving hazard that creates slick roads and can increase your chance of an accident when you’re unprepared.

A few ways you can prepare your car for the season’s unpredictable effects are to winterize your tires, inspect your tires, wipe the snow off your vehicle, and prepare for worst-case scenarios. Below, we have provided specific precautions on preparing yourself and your car for driving in the snow.

Winterize Your Tires

Tires are the most critical part of a car because they support the vehicle, absorb road shocks, provide traction on the road, and maintain your direction. The winter season’s snow and slick roads threaten every major function of your car’s tires, but there are ways to make sure they still work.

If you are in an area that experiences little to no snow, you can keep your all-season tires on your car and simply drive with your anti-lock braking system (ABS) on. When the ABS is turned on, your vehicle will be prepared for sudden stops without locking your wheels. That said, your ABS might not work if your wheels are out of alignment or if your tires are unbalanced.

Be sure to take your car to a mechanic to check wheel alignment, tire pressure, and tire tread. If you see that your tires are balding, you may need to replace or cover them for the winter season.

Tire Chains

Tire chains, invented in 1904, are physical chains fitted around your all-season tires for the snow and slush. If your car is,

  • Front-wheel drive, then the chains should be put on the front wheels;
  • Rear-wheel drive, then the chains should be placed on your rear wheels; or, 
  • All-wheel-drive, then put the chains on the front for better steering.

You may never see anyone driving with tire chains, but they are permitted for use during hazardous weather in the United States and Puerto Rico, except for Hawaii. In Puerto Rico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and South Dakota, tire chains are permissible even if they can cause any damage against the road. In the other 44 states, tire chains are prohibited if they can damage the street or highway surface.

A tire chain can also damage your car by wrapping itself around your wheel axle or brake lines or by flying off your tires. If you decide to put tire chains on your vehicle, follow these safety tips:

  • Don’t drive above 25 mph.
  • Don’t break too fast.
  • Avoid frequently steering your tires.
  • Don’t use tire chains on bare roads.
  • Don’t intentionally drive on ice.

A safer way to protect your car and your tires during inclement weather are to invest in snow tires.

Snow Tires

Thirty years after the tire chain invention, snow tires were created as a safer alternative for your car. Snow tires are flexible tires that maintain traction on cold, icy, and snowy roads. Their flexibility helps them conform to the road during inclement weather, which provides you with efficient steering power.

Putting on snow tires is a tremendous precaution for the winter, but you shouldn’t put them on too soon. Snow tires shouldn’t be put on during dry, rainy, or hot-weather seasons.

Think of snow tires as your suede or leather winter boots. You wouldn’t wear those in the summer, right? The sun can cause your shoe leather to fade, and the ground could melt the traction into a smooth base, which would cause you to slip on ice. It’s the same principle with snow tires.

In addition to the tire’s tread’s quick wear-down, a snow tire’s flexibility will negatively impact maneuverability during other seasons. Since they are made of softer rubber, snow tires would compromise acceleration, braking, and cornering in another season.

You might prefer to keep your all-season tires on during the winter because they’re in good condition. If that’s the case, you’ll want to try auto socks.

Auto Socks

Another advancement that can aid in winterizing your car is tire socks, also known as auto socks or snow socks. They are woven fabric covers that wrap around your car’s all-season tires to increase traction and reduce your ability to slip and slide in the snow. Auto socks are,

  1. Safer than tire chains but require you to follow the same safety tips provided above;
  2. Significantly cheaper than snow tires; and, 
  3. Permitted in every state.

Don’t Bring Snow or Ice with You on the Road.

The winter season may bring heavy snow and cause delays. If you’re in a job where you can’t work from home on heavy snow days, you should take a few precautions to stay safe and avoid fines. One primary safety precaution that often goes overlooked is to wipe the snow off the roof of your car.

Remove Roof Snow 

Removing the snow from the roof of your car is not necessarily required by law, but removing it is the responsible, safe thing to do.

The snow on the roof of your car has the potential to blow off onto the windshield of the car behind you. It can also slide onto your windshield and block your view of the road, which can lead to an accident. If that snow falls and stops the picture of your license plate, you can be pulled over and fined.

You should also remove all snow from your side mirrors, headlights, and taillights to ensure visibility. Another precaution you should take is to defrost your car before driving off.

Defrosting Your Windows

When you first go out to your car on a wintery day, you may notice that the windows are foggy, and you can barely see inside. This fog is a layer of melted snow that froze over a small window of time.

This sheet of ice can be melted by,

1) Starting your car

2) Turning your temperature dial to warm.

3) Turning on the front/back demister.

If you have a remote start button, you can use that instead, but make sure the defroster is inside the car. Either way, remember to give yourself enough time for it to defrost before your commute.

If you’re in a hurry and can’t wait for your car to heat, just scrape your windshield thoroughly with a windshield scraper. Just remember that the fog might return while you drive if your defroster isn’t on or if there’s a lot of humidity.

Emergency Driving in the Snow

The winter’s snow inevitably creates slick, icy, slushy roads that make it challenging to drive usually. Besides obeying traffic laws, you should take additional safety precautions, such as increasing the distance between yourself and other drivers.

You should keep a minimum 4-car distance, drive the speed limit or below, avoid slamming on your brakes and always use your turn signal.

Signaling

You should signal long before you need to switch lanes or make a turn in inclement weather. This will give other drivers enough time to slow down and decrease the risk of an accident.

The snow can also interfere with your ability to see the road and other cars; when you cannot see, you should turn on your hazard lights and reduce your speed. Using your hazard lights will increase visibility and prevent other cars from rear-ending you or jumping in front of you.

How to Prevent a Spinout

To prevent emergencies such as hydroplaning or spinning out, you should make sure your car is evenly weighted.

If your car is an all-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive, then you can put one or two bags of water-softener salt in your trunk to add weight—the weight of the 20-lbs. Salt bags on your tires will slightly increase traction.

Highway safety offices generally don’t recommend using salt bags on front-wheel-drive cars. Also, there’s no guarantee that the salt bags will be enough to prevent your vehicle from spinning out.

How to Regain Control of Your Car

If you end up spinning out in a front-wheel-drive car, you should initiate a drift without using the hand brake by taking the following steps:

1) Quickly steer right and accelerate at the same time.

2) Counter-steer (i.e., steer in the opposite direction you’re accidentally heading) while releasing the gas pedal.

3) Allow the wheels to lock, and hold your steering wheel firmly.

4) Accelerate again.

If you spin out in an all-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive car, you should initiate a drift by taking the following steps:

1) Steer right and accelerate.

2) Pull the emergency handbrake.

3) Allow the rear wheels to lock up.

4) Regain control of the steering wheel and counter-steer as your tires gain traction again.

Keep in mind it isn’t necessary to drift every time you begin to spin out or if you begin to slide on the icy road. You really should only use these techniques as a last resort.

When you can avoid drifting, the alternative is to take your foot off the gas, slowly pump the brake pedal, and slowly steer away from the slippery area. Whatever you choose to do, don’t slam on your brakes. When you slam on your brakes, your tires will have a more challenging time gripping the road.

To decrease your risk of being in any emergency, you should winterize your tires and take the other winter safety precautions. Your insurance agency may have other tips on how to keep you and your car safe in inclement weather. Stay safe!

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