Winter Driving Tips

Winter driving can be inconvenient, annoying, even infuriating. But you can offset those aggravations and minimize the special risks of winter driving. Getting started Here are some routine precautions to help you avoid starting problems:  

  • Get an engine tune-up in the fall. Switch to winter-weight oil if you aren't already using all-season oil. Be sure all lights are in good working order. Have the brakes adjusted. 
  • Battery and voltage regulator should be checked. Make sure battery connections are good.  
  • If the battery terminal posts seem to be building up a layer of corrosion, clean them with a paste of baking soda and water. Let it foam, and then rinse with water. Apply a thin film of petroleum jelly to the terminal posts to prevent corrosion, and reconnect.  
  • Be sure all fluids are at proper levels. Antifreeze should not only be strong enough to prevent freezing, but fresh enough to prevent rust.  
  • Make sure wiper blades are cleaning properly. Consider changing to winter wiper blades, which are made for driving in snow. They are covered with a rubber boot to keep moisture away from working parts of the blade.  
  • Don't idle a cold vehicle's engine for a long time to warm it up - it could harm the engine. The right way to warm up a vehicle is to drive it. 

Equipment and supplies

Here's what you'll want to have on hand, especially in an emergency:

  • Snow shovel. 
  • Scraper with a brush on one end. 
  • Tow chain or strap. 
  • Tire chains. 
  • Flashlight (with extra batteries). 
  • Abrasive material (cat litter, sand, salt, or traction mats). 
  • Jumper cables. 
  • Warning device (flares or reflective triangles). 
  • Brightly colored cloth to signal for help.  
  • Empty coffee or similar type can containing candles, matches (in a water tight containter) or a lighter.
  • High-energy food (chocolate or dried fruit, for example).
  • Sleeping bags or blankets, ski caps, and mittens. 
  • First-aid supplies. 
  • Compass. 

Getting Unstuck

If you should find yourself stuck, here's what to do:  

  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Keep a light touch on the gas, and ease forward. Don't spin you wheels - you'll just dig in deeper. 
  • Rocking the vehicle is another way to get unstuck. (Check your owner's manual first - it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.  
  • Front-wheel drive vehicles, snow tires should be on the front - the driving axle - for better traction in mud or snow. 

 If You Get Stranded... 

You may feel helpless, stuck in the snow in a lonely place - but there are things you can do until help reaches you.  

  • Stay in the vehicle. Don't wander and get lost or frostbitten.  
  • Run the engine for heat about once every hour, or every half hour in severe cold. 
  • Clean snow from around the end of the tail pipe to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. 
  • For extra heat, burn a candle inside a coffee can - but don't set the can on fabric. 
  • Make sure the vehicle is NOT air tight, by opening a window a little. 
  • Clear outside heater vents. That's the grill under the windshield.  
  • Avoid alcohol. It lowers body temperature and will cause you to become drowsy.  
  • Leave one window cracked open. Freezing winds and driving, wet snow can quickly seal a vehicle.  
  • Signal to other motorists that you're stranded by using flares or flashlights, or by tying a piece of brightly colored cloth to the radio antenna. 

Copyright © 1992, The National Safety Council Reprinted with permission.