Want to take the “driver dread” out of winter? Try the following measures to best prepare before heading out into winter weather – while increasing awareness once you’re on the road:
Pop open the hood and make sure antifreeze and wiper fluids are full, and test the battery. In cold weather, batteries are harder to start. “Also, replace the wipers if there’s any wear,” says Bill Windsor, associate vice president of consumer safety for Nationwide. “In addition to the ice and snow, they’ll help you with road salt.”
Few qualities matter more than tire tread, especially in adverse winter conditions. “It’s best for a professional to measure this for you at a dealership or tire-repair facility,” Windsor says. “But if you do this yourself, you should verify that there’s 6/32nds of an inch of tread, and certainly no less than 5/32nds. In many states, the legal limit is 2/32nds but frankly, that’s not going to do much for you in snow.”
Build in extra time for all commutes and trips, especially during a winter storm. You have to slow down in these situations – for good reason. “Even if you bought a big four-wheel-drive vehicle for winter, it doesn’t mean you can go the speed limit in snow and/or ice,” Windsor says. “Any braking you do will still take longer. And you want to leave extra distance between you and the motorist in front of you – four to five car lengths instead of the usual two to three.”
If you harbor any doubts whether it’s safe to pass through a street with heavy snow, then you probably shouldn’t. “That’s likely your sense of better judgment kicking in,” Windsor says. “You should consider an alternative route. Before you go out the door, get updates on road conditions. And no matter what you do: Never attempt to drive on a road for which emergency crews have posted a warning sign to stay away.”
Keep your headlights and brake lights in good working order. Turn on headlights during any adverse weather – including during the daytime. “This is not only essential for your own ability to see, but it will allow other travelers to see you,” Windsor says.
No passing zone
Never, ever pass a snowplow or emergency truck during a storm. Their drivers’ visibility is limited. Besides, the road ahead of them is far, far less likely to be safer than what’s behind them. (That is, after all, why they’re there.)
If you slide …
Don’t panic and slam on the brakes. Instead, gently let off the accelerator and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide, then smoothly straighten it out.
If you get stuck …
Don’t “floor it” to get out of the snow, because spinning wheels will only dig in deeper. Try turning wheels from side to side to push snow out of the way, and then lightly tap the gas to ease the vehicle out. If you have a shovel, use it to clear the wet stuff from your path and underneath. (Spreading sand, salt, gravel and even kitty litter on the path will help here too.)
In good weather and bad, always stock a first-aid kit with emergency contact information in the car. Also, before you leave, check your cell-phone battery and charge it if it’s running low.
Don’t get stuck in a winter wonderland. Add Nationwide Roadside Assistance coverage to your policy, so you can drive with peace of mind all season long.