Winter Weather Tips for Cars

Snow, ice and rain are all wintertime weather conditions that make roads dangerous for motorists. Because life and responsibilities don't pause for poor weather conditions, driving on these roads is often a necessity. Drivers can minimize their chances of being in a weather-related incident by recognizing and respecting the danger associated with these conditions. Additionally, drivers should know what steps they can take to protect themselves, their passengers, other motorists, and even pedestrians, from danger. From how the way people care for their vehicles to how they drive, winter auto safety applies to anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car.

Winterize Your Car

Car maintenance needs change when the temperatures begin to drop. These changes help make vehicles better able to handle rain, cold temperatures, and extreme weather conditions such as ice and snow. During the winter, especially in areas that experience snow, drivers may want to consider changing their current performance or even all-season tires to winter tires. These types of tires allow drivers to better handle snowy road conditions. At minimum, drivers with all-season tires should check the condition of their tires before rain or snow begins. Poor tire inflation can also be a problem when driving in snow or rain. The use of a tire pressure gauge will help ensure that the tire is inflated to the proper pounds per square inch (psi). The correct psi for a cold tire is noted by the manufacturer on the tire itself. In addition, drivers will want to check their tires for signs of wear and verify tread depth. According to, tire tread is considered worn when the depth is 1/16 of an inch or less. To determine this, place a penny head-side down at various locations in the tread. If the top of President Lincoln's head is visible, or not covered by the tread, it is worn and the tire should be replaced. If any portion of the top of his head is concealed by the tread, replacement isn't necessary.

To ensure visibility, winter is also the time to check windshield wipers and replace the blades if they are worn or damaged. For areas that experience snow and ice, windshield wipers with winter blades are a smart option. Windshield wiper fluid should also be changed to a wintertime mix that contains a de-icer. Another important step is to have the strength of the car's battery tested to see if it needs replacing. Batteries that are dying should be replaced as snow and cold weather are harder on batteries and more so on the batteries of cars that are parked outdoors. Having the radiator checked to ensure the correct amount of antifreeze is also a wise winter safety precaution. Ideally there should be a mix of half antifreeze and half water in the radiator to ensure the car's performance. Pre-mixed antifreeze is available for people who tend to their vehicle's maintenance needs.

Snow Safety

When there is a winter snow or rain storm outside, safety is the most important issue at hand. People should always check the weather reports to determine the severity of the storm or impending storm. In some instances, a storm may be so bad that driving is too dangerous for any reason other than the greatest of emergencies. On other days, work and other responsibilities leave people with little choice but to venture outdoors when it is snowing or raining. When this is the case, drivers will want to allow themselves plenty of time to reach their destination and should leave sooner than they would on regular days. Whether it is raining, snowing or icy, drivers will want to drive slower than the posted speed limit as roads are slippery and higher speeds increase the likelihood of sliding or hydroplaning. To improve visibility for the driver and other motorists, people should also turn on their headlights even during the day. Using one's windshield wipers will also help improve visibility for the vehicle's driver. While on the road there are several points to remember and follow, in addition to driving slower. One of these points is to keep overdrive and cruise control off when driving on icy roads or when there is the risk of black ice. Black ice is most often found on roads that do not experience heavy amounts of traffic, in shaded areas and on bridges or overpasses. Another safety tip to keep in mind is to never attempt to pass a snow plow. Although snow plows and sanding trucks may be a nuisance, it is likely that they have not yet cleared the road ahead of them. Additionally, the drivers of these vehicles typically have limited visibility and may fail to see a cars attempt to pass until too late. A very important rule to follow is to allow for greater distance between vehicles – up to three times more than normal. This is important as it takes longer for cars to come to a stop on slick roadways. When driving in rain, people should be cautious of flooded areas. Driving through deep flood water can stall a vehicle and may damage its engine.

Supplies to Have on Hand

Despite one's best efforts, it is possible to get stuck out in the snow or rain. This bad situation can be made worse if help is not readily available. For this reason, keeping a stock of supplies in one's vehicle is necessary for emergency winter use. Items that should be stored in the car include items for warmth, such as gloves, blankets, and a rain slicker and/or a heavy sweater. Non-perishable food items, bottled water, a first-aid kit, candles, and matches should also be kept in the car in the event of an emergency that leaves people stranded. To alert other drivers, police, or emergency vehicles to the presence of the car, there should also be flares or emergency triangles. A bright handkerchief or article of clothing is also useful for this purpose and can be tied to an antenna, a mirror, or hung outside of the car window. Cat litter or sand and a shovel are useful in the event that one's car becomes stuck in deep snow or mud. Chains, jumper cables, a flashlight and batteries, and a snow brush and ice scraper should also be on hand.

Storing Your Vehicle Properly

When storing one's motorcycle or vehicle for the winter, it is important that it is done properly. It is necessary to store vehicles in question in a clean, dry, and secure garage. Cars should be parked on a drop-sheet made of plastic that is large enough to cover the lower portion of the vehicle. Next, the motorcycle or car should be cleaned to remove any dirt or corrosive road salt. The interior of the car should be vacuumed so that it is free of any debris or food crumbs that may attract mice or other rodents. For motorcycles, all of the movable parts should be lubricated. Fill the gas tanks of both motorcycles and cars and add a stabilizer to prevent oxidizing. The oils should be changed at this point as well. Jack up vehicles with older tires to avoid tires with flat spots. For cars with newer tires and motorcycles, check that the tires are inflated to the recommended pounds per square inch (psi). Motorcycles should be elevated for load relief. To preserve the safety of motorcycle tires, store the bike away from refrigerators or any item that contains an electric motor. It should also be kept in a place that does not receive direct sunlight. Placing a tailpipe cover or steel wool in the tailpipe of a car will prevent rodents from nesting in the exhaust system. Disconnect the battery and disengage the parking brake to prevent fusing of the rear brakes. After removing the battery on either a motorcycle or car, it should be hooked up to a battery minder or trickle charger to help prolong its life over the winter. The sheet beneath the car should then be used to cover the lower half of the vehicle to prevent moisture and the upper half of the vehicle should be covered using a cover that is appropriate for the type of vehicle.

Additional Tips

When driving during the winter, there are numerous additional tips that can help keep people safe on the roads. Cell phones, for example, have become a crucial safety device for road trips. While they are not safe for use while the car is in motion, they are invaluable in the event of an accident or if the vehicle should breakdown or become stuck. Before leaving home, cellphones should be fully charged so that they are ready for use when or if they are needed. Keeping the tank no less than half full is another valuable tip as it will keep any moisture in the tank from freezing, and it will increase the likelihood of the vehicle starting. Even when safety precautions are taken a car may still slip or hydroplane. Drivers should think about how they will respond in one of these situations and make efforts to educate themselves in advance on what to do.

When traveling a distance in the snow, planning in advance can help drivers avoid becoming lost or stranded in the snow. Letting friends or family know the route and the expected time of arrival will ensure that people know where to look if the vehicle should become stranded. Before driving on cold days, allow the vehicle to warm up as this can reduce window condensation; however, cars should never be warmed up within one's closed garage. One of the most critical tips that every driver should follow is to never drive when tired, ill, or intoxicated.