As the temperatures drop in the winter season, driving becomes more of an inconvenience. You might be dealing with rain, ice, snow, and frigid temps, all of which can have an impact on driving conditions. Sometimes winter driving is more than just an inconvenience and can be dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as of 2019, there were 33,000 injury crashes and 440 fatal car crashes that occurred in winter driving conditions. But by taking a few preventive measures and precautions, you can significantly reduce your risk and feel safer behind the wheel. Find out the top 15 winter driving tips to help you stay safe.
Winter driving preparation tips
When the air is crisp and cold, it can change how your vehicle operates and certain conditions. As part of your winter driving car maintenance, check up on the following:
1. Inspect your car tires
There are two main things you want to do with your car tires to prepare for winter driving conditions.
Your tire pressure is something you should ideally check every month, but lower temps (as well as extreme heat) can affect your tire pressure. Look at your owner’s manual to see the suggested pressure. You don’t want your tires to be underinflated or overinflated. Instead, you want the Goldilocks amount, something that is just right.
Additionally, if you have the wrong tire type you may be more susceptible to getting stuck in the snow. Getting snow tires and snow chains can help. Also, be aware of uneven tire patterns, which can be a warning sign for other car issues.
2. Check your car battery
You know how you might have less energy in the winter and feel like hibernating? Your car battery is kind of similar. In winter driving conditions, your car battery requires more power to start.
Due to the additional effort, you want to make sure your car battery is in tip-top shape. Consider taking your car to a mechanic to check your car battery and make sure all the parts are running as they should.
3. Know your brakes
For winter driving safety, it’s key to be aware of the type of brakes you have. If you have anti-lock brakes, you can apply steady pressure, but if you have non-anti-lock brakes, you’ll need to pump them gently, so you avoid locking them and losing control. If you hear squeaky brakes, it’s time to get a check-up ASAP.
4. Review type and condition of floor mats
The wintertime is a great time to review a part of your car you probably don’t think much about…your floor mats. These may just seem like an accessory but can impact driving conditions when your shoes are exposed to rainy or snowy weather.
For example, when you get into your car, you might bring some of the snow or rain with you, and mats could be slippery. For more traction, consider rubber mats. Be sure to make sure your floor mats are securely fastened and placed correctly to help you avoid any issues when accelerating or braking.
5. Make sure your lights are working properly
Your lights communicate important information to other drivers. Your turn signal tells other drivers you’re about to turn, your hazard lights are required when you pull over, and having your headlights work is a key part of seeing the road ahead of you (and for other drivers to see you!).
Double-check these lights and make sure they’re working properly before doing any winter driving.
6. Check windshield wipers and defroster
Your windshield wipers are a much-needed sidekick during the winter months. They can help in the rain and snow to make sure you can still see ahead of you.
So first, check that the blades move effortlessly from side to side and are in good condition. Next, check your fluid levels and opt for specific winter fluid to help break down ice and snow. Lastly, see if your defroster is working as it should. If not, you might need to get it checked out by a professional.
7. Look at your cooling system
Another car maintenance task you might forget about or put off is looking at your cooling system.
During the winter months, you can test the cooling system and replace any coolant as needed. Cars.com recommends changing your coolant about every 30,000 miles, however, that may vary depending on your vehicle.
Winter driving tips before hitting the road
Before hitting the road in winter driving conditions, you want to be ready for anything and be prepared. Below are winter driving tips that are useful before you get behind the wheel.
8. Prepare your winter driving safety survival kit
Having a few important items and keeping your car in good shape can help you if you’re in a bind. Here’s what to put in your winter driving safety survival kit:
- A flashlight
- Jumper cables
- Ice scraper
- Snow shovel
- Sand or salt (if you get stuck in snow)
The above are requirements but some bonus items might also include:
- Dry pair of warm socks
- A jacket
- Gallon of water
- Portable cell phone charger
9. Check the weather and traffic alerts
Though you don’t have control over everything, especially when it comes to weather, there are two things you can do to assess winter driving conditions:
- Check the weather. Many phones have this as an app or you can check Weather.com.
- Look at traffic alerts and map out your route on Google Maps to see about potential closures, traffic, etc.
Knowing these things ahead of time can help you avoid being stuck in an unexpected snowstorm you didn’t know was coming or help you find a new route if there are road closures.
10. Fill up your gas tank
You’d hate to deal with dangerous winter driving conditions and manage just fine only to find out you ran out of gas somewhere while stuck in the cold. So, here’s your warning! Fill up the gas tank to keep your car running and happy!
Know what to do in unexpected situations
Winter driving safety is of utmost importance. When you add variables like rain, cold temperatures, ice, and snow, you can find yourself in unexpected situations. The best thing to do is to know how to react ahead of time.
11. Know how to get unstuck
One thing that could happen? You could get stuck in snow. If you do get stuck in the snow, avoid spinning your wheels as this will just dig you deeper into the slush.
Figure out the simplest way to dig yourself out of the hole and clear the snow in front of and behind all four tires before spreading sand or kitty litter to provide instant traction (this is why these materials are good to have on hand in your winter survival kit in your car).
As you maneuver the vehicle out, keep your front tires straight so you’ll encounter less resistance. Learn about eight things you can do if you’re stuck in the snow.
12. Be prepared for a skid
Skidding on an icy road can be scary, but it’s important to stay as calm as possible (deep breaths!) so you can move through the important safety steps: avoid slamming on your brakes, take your foot off the gas, and steer in the direction you want to go. Allow the car to slow down so you can regain control.
13. Adjust your speed accordingly
When weather conditions change, it’s important to stay present and in tune with your surroundings. You may need to drive slower than the speed limit to stay safe and in control.
Remember that posted speed limits apply to dry roads, not those covered in ice or snow, so let your sense dictate your speed, not necessarily the signs.
14. Take on hills the right way
You may be tempted to power up a hill, but using extra gas on a snowy incline can cause your wheels to spin.
Instead, gain some inertia on a flat road before you reach the hill, and as you reach the peak, reduce your speed (but don’t stop!) so you can head downhill as slowly as possible.
15. Get roadside assistance
Your winter driving safety is super important. If you don’t want to go it alone, the good news is you can get roadside assistance to help out if you need it. Roadside assistance is available as additional optional coverage for Metromile customers.
The bottom line
When you get behind the wheel to drive, there is a level of risk. Added variables like inclement weather can increase that risk. Using these 15 winter driving tips, you can do your part to stay safe while on the road. If you’re still paying a flat rate for car insurance and don’t drive that often, it’s time to rethink your auto insurance coverage. Metromile offers pay-per-mile coverage at an affordable rate, with an option to add roadside assistance. Get a quote in a matter of minutes.