Snow and ice makes for a winter wonderland perfect for skiing and sledding, but it also makes the roads more dangerous than ever. The last thing you want is to skid into a ditch or find yourself snowbound on the highway with no supplies. Make sure you're prepared with these winter driving tips, which can reduce your risk of getting into an accident and help you respond properly to a weather-related emergency.
Get a winter tune-up. Your tires, brakes, headlights, heaters and wipers are more important than ever once cold weather sets in, and they should be in tip-top shape. Have them all checked to ensure that they're fully operational and consider switching to snow tires, which provide more control in slippery conditions, if snow is a factor in your area. Always maintain the proper level of antifreeze and be sure that your battery connections are clean and not corroded.
Prepare for long-distance winter trips. Check the weather reports before you leave, and consider staying off the road if conditions will be poor. If you can't avoid traveling, let others know your route, destination and the time you expect to arrive.
Drive cautiously. Don't use cruise control or overdrive on slick surfaces. Accelerate slowly and give yourself plenty of time to come to a stop. Drive at slower speeds and expand the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you by eight to ten seconds to avoid fender-benders. Lightly apply the brake before entering a turn or curve; if you do it while you're turning, your tires can lose traction. When negotiating an icy hill, increase your speed before you get to the hill to give your car the inertia it needs to make it over the top. Don't accelerate too much while on the hill, and don't stop, or you may roll backwards.
React properly to a skid. If your tires lose traction on a slippery surface and cause you to turn when you mean to go straight or vice versa, your first instinct may be to slam on your brakes and over-correct your steering. This will just make the skid worse and result in an accident. If your car enters a front-wheel skid while turning, ease off the accelerator, focus on a target further down the road in the direction you aim to go, and steer back on course. Depress the brakes only if you don't regain control within a few seconds. For a rear-wheel skid, known as 'fishtailing', you should turn into the skid. What this means is, if the back end of your vehicle turns slightly to the right, turn your wheel gently to the right just enough to straighten out your car.
Pack an emergency kit. Whether you just fill a coffee can with a few absolute essentials or pack a duffel bag full of supplies, you should have certain items on hand in case of a winter driving emergency. If you become stranded on the road, you'll need blankets, a snow shovel and ice scraper, bottled water, non-perishable food, extra clothing, chemical hand warmers, flash lights and a first-aid kit. A bag of cat litter or sand can be helpful to gain traction. Also keep on hand a standard roadside emergency kit including tools, road flares, reflective tape, a tire plug kit, spare fuses and an auto-club or roadside assistance card.
Keep your gas tank full and your cell phone charged. If you happen to be low on gas when a white-out hits, you won't have heat when you need it most, and you run the risk of a gas line freeze-up. Try to get in the habit of refilling your gas tank when it gets down to three-quarters or half a tank. Always take your cell phone with you on the road and be sure that it's charged so you can contact emergency responders or roadside assistance if necessary.
Don't spin your wheels if you get stuck. Turn them from side-to-side to remove some of the snow, and shovel some of it out of the way if you can. Apply sand or cat litter to gain traction. You can also try rocking the vehicle slightly by repeatedly shifting from forward to reverse, tapping slightly on the gas each time.
Stay in your vehicle if you become snow-bound. Attempting to travel on foot in snowy conditions can lead to hypothermia and disorientation. If you have a cell phone, call for help. Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place it at the top of a rolled-up window. You can run the engine for a few minutes every hour to heat up the interior of the car, but lack of insulation means it will get cold again fast. If you choose to do this, ensure that your exhaust pipe isn't blocked to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and crack a window a little bit for fresh air. Insulate yourself as much as possible and conserve your energy. A metal can and matches, a candle or a lighter allow you to melt snow for hydration. Clear the snow off the roof and hood of your car periodically so rescuers can spot your vehicle.