Driving on snow or Ice

July 11, 2007

 Winter driving under slippery road conditions can be frustrating at best and dangerous at all times. But, advises the Better Business Bureau, you can increase your odds of avoiding a fender bender or being trapped in an ice/snow rut by following several simple driving procedures.

Start the winter driving season by getting your car ready for it, suggests the BBB.

Here is a short checklist:

• Have the engine tuned. It will start faster in cold weather and save you plenty of fuel in the bargain.

• Make sure there is sufficient antifreeze in the radiator for the coldest weather expected in your area.

• Double-check radiator hoses for wear and leaks especially around clamps.

• Test the windshield wipers for streaking. New wiper blades are worth the investment. Also make sure there is antifreeze solution in the washer fluid reservoir.

• All lights should be operating properly; brakes adjusted; heater and defroster working; the exhaust system tight and free of leaks.

• In the car carry an ice scraper, snow brush, flashlight, small snow shovel, and and/or traction mats.

All About Snow Tires

On ice with temperatures at –8 C., it takes 195 ft. to stop a car traveling at 13 kph on regular tires. Snow tires cut braking distance to 174 ft., and reinforced chains reduces it to 77 ft. Therefore, if your area is prone to icing conditions and law permits, your best bet is chains, not snow tires.

Snow tires, however, do improve traction on freshly fallen snow, snow tires with metal tungsten carbide studs will improve the traction on packed snow and ice. It's wise to let a professional install the studs, advises the Better Business Bureau. If some studs work their way out of the tire, don't attempt to have the studs replaced or have the tires re-studded when the original studs wear down. Note that in Manitoba studs are only allowed in the winter months.
     Snow tires should be mounted on the rear wheels if the car is powered via the rear wheels. Put snow tires on the front wheels if the car has front-wheel drive. For 4-wheel drive, mount snow tires on all four wheels. Snow tires must be properly installed on the rims of wheels and they should be balanced just like regular tires. Also, maintain correct tire inflation; don't under-inflate the tires to get more tire traction. Always remember to check out the reliability of any shop with your BBB before doing business with them.

Driving On Ice And Snow

The normal reaction to a snow or ice-bound car is to gun the engine and spin the tires until they bite into the road surface below the snow or ice. The direct opposite is the solution to unsticking the car.

Start the traction wheels turning very slowly; keep the steering wheels straight. Then gently slip the car into a lower gear without spinning the wheels. Traction is best just before the wheels start to spin.

If the wheels spin, try rocking the car by gently slipping the shift from second gear to reverse in a series. If this fails, fill the ruts with sand or a traction mat to move ahead. Once underway, keep going until the car is level. Then return to retrieve the traction mats if you used them.

When going up a hill that is slippery, give the engine the gun at the bottom of the hill for extra momentum. If the wheels start to spin, release the foot pressure from the accelerator.

For skidding, take your foot off the accelerator and steer the front of the car in the same direction as the rear of the car is skidding. When the car starts to straighten, turn the front wheels straight. Do not brake!

Other slippery driving tips:

• Pump the brakes; don't floorboard them. Pumping action gives the best steering control during the mini-seconds the brakes are off. When the brakes go on, the wheels lock and perform like runners on a sled.

• Reduce car speed as you approach curves, shaded areas of roadways such as underpasses, and on bridges. Brake before, not into, a turn.

• Slow down by smoothly shifting the car into a lower gear and pumping the brakes.

• Never lower tire pressure to get more traction. Lower pressure reduces your control over steering and wears out tires. It is not an effective method of increasing traction.

• Don't tense up and "over drive" the car. More accidents are caused by over correction than the original skid.