We're over a month out from the official start of winter, but the heavy snow falling this morning is telling us something else. It's blanketing those of us at Autoblog HQ in metro Detroit, and the storms are hitting many other large swaths of the country, too. Ideally, everybody would already have their winter tires on and be ready for the elements. We're sure the weather creeped up on many of you (as it did us), though.
So, it's time for a reminder to prepare your car for the blizzards to come and to adjust our driving habits to match those conditions. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but we see folks ignoring what some many consider to be obvious all the time.
Check your fluids: Antifreeze and washer fluid (not to mention gas) should be topped off. You also can prepare for the worst by keeping emergency provisions in the trunk: flashlight (with fresh batteries), warm clothes, first aid kit, flare, and a backup cellphone charger.
Check your wipers: If they're not fresh, invest in a new set. Also, make sure they're clear of snow and ice before setting off.
Mount winter tires: You'll have better traction in every direction. More important, they will reduce your stopping distance. Read up on why winter tires are far superior to all season tires here.
Adjust your tire pressure: When snow is present, it may be wise to let a bit of air out from the max PSI as the increased surface area of your tread (you still have tread, right?) will help with traction. On the flip side, be sure your tires have enough pressure in them as the temperatures dip. The colder air causes the pressure to go down, so your tires that may have been perfectly fine in the 90 degree summer heat may be low now. Temperatures are predicted to dip into the single digits this week in the north.
Clear your car: Remove all snow from your windshield, headlights and taillights. Don't forget the roof! Make sure you get it all. A massive chunk of snow flying off at 70 mph can easily spark an accident on the highway as you blind the drivers behind you.
Lock your doors: That safety cage around you will protect you better if your doors don't pop open in an accident.
Warm up your car: This one is a hotly debated topic, but when there's snow out, it makes sense to let the car run and melt the snow/ice off it before heading out. Allowing the car a couple of minutes to get up to operating temperature is also good for the engine under extreme conditions, and warms up the cabin for you. If you're more comfortable in the driver's seat, you're going to be a better driver in those extreme winter conditions.
Turn on your lights: A modern phenomenon is people driving around with daytime running lights at night, which means their taillights are not illuminated. It only makes sense to help others see you when the weather is poor by consciously turning on your headlights. A good rule, any time of year, is turn on your headlights whenever you need to use windshield wipers. Many new cars do this automatically with auto headlights, but it's always worth checking when conditions are bad.
Turn off your high beams: Your brights probably aren't the answer in heavy snow. Most of the time, they degrade your forward sight, and they'll certainly hurt the visibility of cars around you.
Slow down: All-wheel drive does not make you invincible. The vehicle will come to a stop just the same as a front-wheel drive car. And, regardless of what you drive, most states require driving under the speed limit in inclement weather.
Easy does it: Accelerate slowly, brake gently, and try not to do much of either while turning. Cars today can stop on a dime, but not when it's wet or icy. Increase your following distance. And remember that all-wheel drive can give you a false sense of security, making you think road conditions are better than they are. But when it comes time to slow down or stop, an AWD vehicle does not brake any better than anything else.
Be mindful of road conditions: Bridges and overpasses can get slick before other parts of roadways. Be aware of parts of the road that are in shadow. Slow down before you reach questionable pavement, not once you're on it.
Don't stop if you can avoid it: But do follow the rules of the road. This applies best to deep snow situations, which some parts of the country will be experiencing later today. If you know your car doesn't dig out of deep snow easily, don't strand yourself in the middle of nowhere for no good reason.
Don't use cruise control: Driving alertly, not passively, is called for in the snow, plus cruise control will contribute to an accident if you hydroplane, skid or encounter black ice. Additionally, your car's adaptive cruise control may not function as it should in snowy conditions. The sensors and radar could become blocked by snow and ice, leaving you to slow the car on your own.
Always use your turn signals: Does this really need to be said? It's especially important in severe conditions to communicate to others on the road.
Leave your phone alone: Ditto!
Check your mirrors: Know what's around you, in case you find yourself in a skid. Also don't forget to check your blind spot when changing lanes.
When faced with a skid: The natural reaction is to brake. Don't do that. Keep your feet off the pedals and steer into the skid until the car slows enough for you to regain control. If your car is front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, gently pressing the accelerator can help straighten you out.
Use a lower gear: If going down a hill in poor weather, shifting to a lower gear will help you control your speed thanks to engine braking.
Use your hazards: If you are in distress. Your hazard lights alert others to proceed cautiously around you. That said, don't overuse your hazards either. If conditions don't call for it, you become a distraction on the road.
Smartest tip of all: Stay home. Wait for the plows, and don't go out unless you absolutely have to.