I’m a Michigander at heart. I admit that I had no desire to leave my home of more than 25 years, especially to live in Florida, but alas, here I am and here I’ve been for 8 years. I’ve married a Floridian and we own a business in Florida, so we’re not planning on leaving anytime soon. My son will probably live years before he has any memories of snow. My heart is broken. I love snow…and yet I live in Florida!
For those of you who get to head up north with the advent of the holiday season, I’d like to share with you my experiences of driving in snow. The one downside of the majesty of a wintery wonderland is that it’s not easy to drive in as, unlike rain (wet is wet), there are many variations of a snowy road from black ice to slush (wet snow), and frozen snow to powder and everything inbetween.
Here are my top 5 tips for driving in below freezing temperatures:
1. Warm Up
The first thing you need to do when driving in below freezing conditions is to warm up your vehicle. Not only will this make the drive more comfortable for you and your passengers, but the components of your vehicle’s engine are more vulnerable when it’s below freezing, so stressing your engine while it’s cold can cause damage over time.
Start your vehicle at least five minutes before you leave. If you have snow and ice to remove from the windows, your car or truck will have plenty of time to warm up while you do this (and having heat blowing onto the windshield makes it easier to remove snow and ice, anyway).
DO NOT let passengers sit in the car if there is snow covering the gas pipe! This is recipe for carbon monoxide poisoning!
2. Equip Your Vehicle
Being prepared can be really important for safety on the road. In addition to the usual emergency supply kit, some basics you should have in you car in cold weather include:
- An ice scraper. This could be something as simple as a plastic cup. If you apply the rim on the window and rub it around, it does a pretty good job of getting off ice and snow. Ice scrapers are generally inexpensive, though.
- Snow brush. Visibility is extra important, especially if it’s still snowing.
- Extra warm clothes/blanket. If you get stuck or break-down you need to make sure you have enough warmth until you can figure out what your next step is.
- A shovel and sand, road salt, or kitty litter. If you get stuck in the snow, you will want to shovel away the extra snow around your vehicle and then lay down something over the snow/ice to provide traction. Sand, road salt, and kitty litter all do a great job.
- Anti-freeze windshield washer fluid. When it’s freezing out and the roads are full of sand and salt from the snow plows, your windshield is constantly dirty. However, if you have regular windshield washer fluid in your car, it’s just going to freeze and cause an even greater visibility issue. Make sure you are equipped with a washer fluid made for freezing temperatures.
3. Test the Road
Just because the road looks clear, doesn’t mean it’s not icy. Any amount of moisture will freeze and can cause the road to be slippery, even if it isn’t visibly so. So, the moment you get moving, apply the brakes a little. Then, go a little faster, and apply the brakes a little more. Basically, get a feel for how much traction you have before you really get going.
My first time really driving in snow was on my way back to college from Thanksgiving break. I had recently gotten my first car and I was giving a few other girls a ride. Those poor girls! I didn’t have a good sense of how much traction I had and slid off of a country road on my way to get one of the girls and hit a signpost. It was just a little dent, but I wasn’t off to a good start. Then, I missed my exit off of the interstate and slid into a deep snowbank. Back then, none of us had cell phones, so thankfully a nice gentleman stopped and helped to push us out!
4. Give Yourself Extra Stopping Distance
Start gently hitting the breaks well before you think you need to stop. The moment the light turns yellow or you see brake lights, start slowing down in preparation to stop.
The first fender bender I was in happened on an icy morning. I carefully started to stop as soon as I noticed the light turn yellow. I barely made it to a stop by the time the stoplight turned red. The woman behind me, however, hadn’t given herself enough time and had just assumed I wasn’t going to stop because of the ice. You can’t predict what others are going to do. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
In addition, take your time accelerating once you are ready to go again. Gunning it prematurely can cause you to lose control of the vehicle and can be just as dangerous as stopping too fast.
5. Just Keep Going
While it’s good to be prepared to stop if you have to, avoid stopping any more than you have to. Staying at a reasonable steady speed is much safer than stopping and going. This is especially true while going up and down hills. Be like Thomas the Train and repeat to yourself, “I think I can, I think I can,” while you steadily keep your foot on the accelerator. Stopping can make it impossible to keep going up, or you could start sliding back down.`
If you are heading up north this winter, please know how envious I am of you. I recently took a quick trip to Montana earlier this fall and it was the first time I saw snow in years. Everyone I was with was from a snowy climate, so they had a good giggle over my excitement.
More importantly, however, please be safe! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have.
-From The Mechanic’s Wife
Photo Credit: Photographer of KenScottPhotography.com captured this shot of downtown Suttons Bay, Michigan; the village where I grew up. I’m grateful to be able to share this with you. Please visit his sight to see some more amazing photos of this picturesque part of our country!