19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without
Winter driving in the West can be wacky at best and perilous at worst. Roads ice over. Rain makes pavement slick as bacon grease. Here are 19 winter driving resources on everything from fog lights to snow chains to driving on ice. Use these in addition to the warnings, notices or other advice specific to your vehicle in your owner's manual.
Got Traction? Winter Tires & Snow Chains
Don’t think of chains as a substitute for winter tires but as an option you need to have ready when you’re driving on snow.
You shouldn’t go on a winter drive without being sure of your traction. Find out how to use snow chains, the differences between all-season and winter tires and what you really need for where you live.
- How to: Put on Snow Chains. Step-by-step instructions and a video for putting on snow chains and driving safely.
- Snow Chains Buyer’s Guide. The Automobile Association’s guide to what you need and how to buy them.
- How to Choose Snow Tires. Are winter tires worth it? Can you just buy chains instead? Should you buy studded tires? What about siping?
Top Safety Reminders for Winter Road Trips
Don’t use cruise control. Your tires may spin too fast on slick roads, causing you to lose control.
Getting road-ready is different in the cold months. Don’t leave home without reading these short refreshers to prevent winter driving nightmares.
- 14 Items to Put in Your Winter Road Trip Safety Kit. Think you’re prepared? Here’s a checklist of what you may have forgotten.
- AAA’s guide How to Go on Ice and Snow. Easy-to-read info on safer driving in winter.
- 9 Driving Safety Tips to Get You Ready for a Winter Drive. A pre-trip checklist to get your vehicle winter-ready and quick tips on how to drive on slick roads.
- What to Do If You Get Stuck in Snow. Tips on getting your vehicle out of deep snow from an Icelandic off-road driving expert.
How to Drive in Rain, Snow, Ice and Fog
For a car traveling 35 mph on dry pavement, it can take anywhere from 60 to 97 feet for thinking and braking distance. Double that for driving on wet pavement, triple it for packed snow and 10 times it for icy roads.
Tips for handling all the bad driving conditions you're likely to face from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies to Southern California and every place in between.
- Driving in Rain? How to Avoid Hydroplaning and Other Tips. When you’re most at risk of hydroplaning, preventing skids and what to do if you do lose control.
- Winter Driving Tips: How to Drive in Snow. What you should know about stopping distance, driving downhill and where the road’s going to be most dangerous.
- How to Drive Safely on Ice: Top Tips for Keeping Your Car on the Road. You can’t always tell when the road is icing up. Here’s when to use extra caution and steer clear of a wreck.
- How to Recover from 5 Types of Skids. For advanced drivers only, the low-down on different types of skids and how to safely steer when it happens.
- How Do I Drive Safely in Fog? How to drive safely in fog and a list of fog light rules for Western states.
- Common Winter Driving Myths Busted. Thinking you should gear down in slippery conditions? Think again.
- Winter Driving Guide. The difference between traction control and stability control.
Winterizing Your Vehicle
If it’s worked hard over summer, or the weather was really hot, your auto battery could have trouble holding a charge and delivering cranking power come fall.
Summer driving puts a lot of wear and tear on your vehicle. Here’s what you can do in fall to head off dead batteries and other hassles.
- Now Seasonal Car Battery Care: Why and How. Figure out if you need a new auto battery or not, before your car won’t start.
- How to Winterize a Car. A cold-weather survival guide for your car from Consumer Reports.
Real-time Road Conditions
Know in advance or in real time what’s happening with the weather and roads where you’re headed. Here’s where to find out.
- What You Need to Know About Road Conditions Right Now. Real-time road conditions in Western states, with chain requirements, current road reports, forecasts, road cams and winter storm warnings.
- AccuWeather Hyperlocal Weather App. An app for Apple or Android phones that gives hyperlocal, minute-by-minute precipitation forecasts.
- Weather Underground App. For use in rural areas, an app for Apple or Android phones with local data from over 40,000 professional and hobbyist weather stations.
If Nothing Else, Remember This About Winter Driving
When you’re in a hurry to get to work or your vacation rental it can be easy to forget that winter driving is not like warm-weather driving. In winter, bald tires, tailgating, leaving home on a near-empty tank or passing aggressively have even bigger consequences.
Almost a quarter of auto crashes in the U.S. annually - nearly 1,259,000 - are weather-related. Almost half of those happen during rainfall.
It’s better not to venture out at all when the weather’s awful. But if you absolutely have to be on the road, here are key things to remember.
Slowing down is more likely to get you there safely and on time than rushing. Statistics show you can expect bad weather on main roads to result in travel time delays from 11 to 50 percent. On arteries with traffic signals, you can expect speed reductions from 10 to 25 percent on wet pavement and from 30 to 40 percent with snowy or slushy pavement.
Why fight it?
Give yourself more stopping distance. Forget the 3-second rule; allow at least 120 feet on wet pavement, 180 feet on packed snow and 600 feet on ice to stop.
Make sure all parts of your vehicle are winter-ready - starting with the right tires, properly inflated and in good condition.
Shop for Winter Tires
How to Drive Safely on Ice: Top Tips for Keeping Your Car on the Road
When icy roadways are involved, the most important thing you can do to avoid an auto accident is not drive at all. Even if you have to reschedule that key meeting at work or delay that trip you’ve had planned for so long, think about staying home when conditions are bad or forecast to get worse.
If you’re caught trying to get somewhere and the highway becomes better for hockey than driving, here are 17 general tips for driving safely on ice. Of course, you should always carefully review your owner’s manual for any warnings, notices, or other advice specific to your vehicle.
Traction on Icy Roads
- Have the right winter tires, properly inflated. Winter tires are worth it, especially if you might be encountering ice. See why in this video that shows stopping ability of winter tires compared to all-season tires.
- Carry chains and if the road gets slick, use them.
- Don’t be overconfident about traction just because you have a four-wheel or all-wheel drive. These vehicles don’t stop or steer better on ice than regular old two-wheel drives. Even snow tires may not give you full traction on ice.
Ease up on the Gas
- Slow way down. If you do go into a skid you’re less likely to do your vehicle or yourself damage.
- Accelerate and apply brakes slowly.
- Increase your following distance. You’ll need ten times the stopping distance compared to what you’re used to on dry pavement.
- Don’t even think about passing other vehicles. And if someone tries to pass you, gently steer to the shoulder as far as you safely can to give more room.
How to Tell If the Road’s Icing Up
- Don’t use your car thermometer as the only judge of how slippery the road is. Air temperature warms quicker than pavement. So even when your thermometer says it’s above freezing the roadway may still be frozen. Look for ice on your wipers, side view mirrors, road signs or trees as other signs that extra caution is needed.
- Avoid driving at night or very early in the morning when it’s coldest.
- You can’t always see ice coming. Black ice is thin ice that actually looks like water on the road. Again, watch for signs of icing up elsewhere.
- Be extra vigilant on bridges, overpasses and ramps. They’re the first to freeze and the last to thaw. They get colder than asphalt because they’re concrete and there’s no insulation provided by the ground.
- Also be alert when you’re changing elevation. On mountain passes, the worst patches of road are often the icy spots in shaded corners.
- If you notice rain or snow turning to freezing rain, crank the defroster on high. Don’t let ice stick on your windshield. It’s unsafe to try to see through a small part of the windshield and just keep going. Pull over someplace safe and scrape it off.
- How to drive downhill in slick conditions: if you have anti-lock brakes (ABS) start at the top of the hill as slowly as possible, leaving your vehicle in normal drive gear. Use light, steady pressure on the brake pedal to maintain the right speed. This allows your braking system to maintain traction. If you don’t have ABS, start slowly and keep it slow by lightly pumping the brakes.
- Never use cruise control in icy conditions. It can cause your wheels to spin at different speeds and may make you lose steering control.
- If your vehicle suddenly feels like it’s floating, take your foot off the gas but don’t slam on your brakes, which can cause you to skid.
- The best way to be safe while driving in icy conditions is to be patient. Let vehicles that tailgate you go by and take your time.
Check the Road Conditions Before Your Trip
Make the most of your travels with road cams, mileage calculators, scenic byway routes, and weather forecasts from your local Department of Transportation.
Road Trip Checklist
Free Pre-Trip Safety Inspection
Taking a little time to make sure everything’s in good working order before you hit the road can mean the difference between the trip of a lifetime and being stranded.
Stop by for a free pre-trip safety check on the following, no appointment necessary. Les Schwab will help you get where you’re going.
- Tire pressure check
- Tire tread depth check
- Visual alignment check
- Brake check
- Shock/strut check
- Battery check
7 Things To Do When Your Car is Stuck in Snow
A blizzard is on the way. You’ve stocked up on candles, hot cocoa and batteries. But what if you have to leave the house? Do you know how to get your car out of the snow if you get stuck?
From driving techniques to using props, here are seven ways to get your car moving again, plus some advice about how to prepare for a snowstorm.
Before It Snows
There are two key things to do BEFORE the storm arrives to be sure you can get your vehicle back on the road after a big snow. They can make the difference between looking like a genius and having huge hassles.
Have the right tires in the right condition.
If you live somewhere where storms can bring a foot or two of snow at once, you should definitely be running winter tires, not all-season tires. (Find out how to choose snow tires.) Before the snow starts falling, get your air pressure checked and make sure your tire tread’s in the proper condition.
Keep a snow shovel in your vehicle.
Not only will this come in handy for you, but you may also be a hero to those who are caught unprepared. (Speaking of preparedness, here’s a winter safety kit checklist of other items to keep in your car so you’re ready for pretty much any winter road condition.)
Before You Turn Your Vehicle On
Turn off traction control.
Both drive wheels will need to have traction for you to get unstuck. These are the front tires on a front-wheel-drive and the rear tires on rear-wheel drive, AWD and 4WD vehicles. Turn off the car’s traction control system (usually with a button somewhere on the dashboard or console).
Clear a path around the tires.
- Starting with the drive tires, dig the snow out from in front, underneath and in back. Clear a path long enough for wheels to move forward and back a few feet, assuming you have that much space on either end of the car. Remove any snow around the tires that’s higher than the ground clearance of the car. Dig out snow from under the front of your car. If you’re high-centered, with snow or ice under the vehicle blocking your exit, you won’t be going anywhere.
If you don’t have a shovel handy, try using a screwdriver, ice scraper or another tool to at least break up any ice that’s formed below the tires. A rougher surface area provides more traction.
- Also dig out the tailpipe before you start the engine. People have lost their lives from carbon monoxide building up inside a vehicle when they didn’t know the exhaust pipe was blocked.
1. The Forward-and-Back Technique
Start your vehicle, roll down your window and take off your hat or earmuffs so you can hear clearly. Even better, stick your head out the window to watch your front tire. You’ll get the best traction by straightening the wheel, so do this as much as your parking situation allows.
Put your vehicle in the lowest gear. If you’ve got a four-wheel drive SUV or pickup, engage the low-range gearing. Move forward just a bit.
Now slowly back up. Don’t rev the engine. Stop, then put it in forward and apply a little gas. This can tamp down loose snow and maybe give you enough traction to get out.
Listen carefully. If you hear any tire spinning, take your foot off the gas immediately.
2. The Braking Technique
If your vehicle didn’t move at all or a tire is spinning, try braking while at the same time that you’re giving a little gas. This should decrease the spinning and transfer some power to that wheel.
If you have a front-wheel-drive and there aren’t curbs or other cars blocking your way, try turning the wheels slightly the other way and see if that gives you more traction.
Don’t try this braking method for more than a few seconds. It can overheat your brakes which can compromise braking until they’ve cooled down.
3. Find Some Muscle
Sometimes a push from a few Good Samaritans will do the trick. Be 100 percent sure you use only the gear that keeps pushers out of harm’s way (Forward gear only if they're pushing your vehicle from behind.). Ask your helpers to push on the count of three as you gently apply the gas.
4. Use Snow Chains
If you’re still stuck and you have snow chains, it's time to chain up. That almost always does the trick.
5. The Rocking Technique
If you don’t have chains, and your vehicle is moving forward some but then stopping, try "rocking" back and forth between forward and reverse gears. Give it a little gas just as the vehicle starts to swing forward out of reverse. This may give you enough momentum to drive out. But be aware that this kind of rapid shifting can overload your transmission. Only try it a few times or you could end up with expensive damage. It will be much cheaper to just call a tow truck.
6. Add Traction with Sand, Kitty Litter or Cardboard
If you’re still spinning, you can put something on the ground to add traction that won’t damage your tires. Try sprinkling sand or kitty litter in front of the drive tires (and behind them if you’re planning on backing out).
DON’T EVER USE ANTIFREEZE TO TRY TO MELT SNOW AND ICE. Antifreeze is toxic to children, pets, and wild animals, and it can find its way through storm drains to waterways where it can poison marine animals. Plus, in some states, it’s illegal to pour antifreeze on the ground. Using salt as a deicer is also a bad idea for the environment — and your vehicle. It’s corrosive to metal (like the undercarriage of your car) and becomes less effective below 25 degrees Fahrenheit anyway.
Another way to get traction is to lay cardboard, plywood, two-by-fours or even your vehicle’s floor mats down in front of the drive tires (or behind them if you’re starting in reverse). If you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can use weeds or branches from the side of the road. But caution: Clear the area and go very easy when accelerating. Sometimes the wheels can make whatever you put down for traction shoot out. And be aware your mats could get ruined. Again, it’s probably less out of your pocketbook to get a tow truck.
7. Let a Bit of Air Out of Your Tires
The last resort is to let a little air out of your tires, just enough so they look visibly lower. Only do this if you have a way to get them quickly refilled someplace close by. Driving on underinflated tires puts more rubber in contact with the ground and will give you better traction for a short distance. But driving this way isn’t safe and it could damage your tires if it’s a long way to the filling station.
Be Prepared When Your Car Does Break Free
If you’re in forward gear, don’t stop right away but drive somewhere you can see there’s less snow and you can safely stop. If you’re in reverse, keep backing up for a few yards, then take your foot off the gas. The snow will stop you. Next, put it in low gear and gently accelerate forward in the tracks you’ve made, just fast enough to break through where you were stuck.
Once You’re Unstuck from the Snow
Re-engage your traction control system, if you turned it off. If you engaged your low-range 4WD, disengage. Make sure your radiator has air flow. Snow packed into the front of the grille can cause engine overheating.
Go immediately to the closest service station and refill your tires if you let any air out.
If you notice a vibration in your steering wheel, check for snow packed into your wheels. Pull over someplace safe and knock the snow or ice out with an ice scraper or shovel.
Want a complete list of resources for winter driving safety? Here’s our guide for safe driving in winter, from prepping your vehicle to driving in bad conditions.
Important Notice: The information provided above is from a variety of resources deemed reasonably reliable. The operation of your vehicle, or the repair or replacement of your vehicle’s equipment, may be different than for a typical vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual for specific warnings, notices, and other advice relative to the above.