Get a Grip: Driving on Snowy Roads

Drifting around in the snow can be much fun. This kind of fun is also potentially deadly, so think about it. 6 photos
Photo: Daimler AG
Mercury Sable stuck in snowJensen FF driving on snowJeep Wrangler driving on snowToyota Corolla sedan stuck in snowBentley Continental GT snow drifting
Some people build snowmen or play in the snow, others go skiing or snowboarding, while others (the saddest of the bunch) have to get up early and drive to work while trying not to curse too many of their vacation enjoying buddies.
Even though probably the best option during heavy snow is to just not drive and stay put until snow plows and sand and salt spreading machines do their thing and clear the roads, sometimes driving is imperative and we should learn how to correctly deal with this situation. There are a few tips and tricks, some more important than others:

Shoes for your car

Probably the most crucial need when driving on snowy roads is adequate traction. If your car still has the summer tires on it's probably better if you just stay home, leave on foot, call a taxi or use public transportation to take you where you want to go.

Even all-season tires don't necessarily have great traction in the snow, but are much better than the ones you used all summer because of the better suited compound and threads for not-exactly-grippy asphalt. The best choices are obviously winter tires, easily recognizable by the different thread design and the “snowflake” symbol on the sidewall, which is an industry standard for tires designed for snowy conditions.

Extend your grip

Jeep Wrangler driving on snow
Photo: Pixabay
A small shovel is great when you have to build a sand castle, but it comes more handy if you're stuck in three feet of snow. That, together with a small bag of sand in the trunk and a set of tire chains can get you out of almost any situation. Talking about tire chains, even if your car isn't all-wheel-drive, it is recommended that you should fit all four tires with them to provide extra stability.

Some vehicle manuals advise only to mount the chains on the wheels providing the power. So, in case you have a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the minimum number of wheels that should be fitted with tire chains are the ones in the front, while if you own a rear-wheel-drive vehicle... well, you know the drill. I hope there's no need to mention that you should only equip the tire chains when the entire road surface is covered with snow.

Seeing is believing

Jensen FF driving on snow
Photo: Francis Pullen
Always thoroughly clean the inside and the outside of your car's windows before driving away. Apply a water-dispensing material on the exterior of the windows and mirrors if you have some at hand. Double check that your windshield washer fluid has enough anti-icing and make sure the washing system is working properly.

In order to remove frost and condensation from your windows you can always engage the air-conditioning system (if you have one, of course) and choose the defrost setting for the rear window. Make sure the recirculation is not on, since that usually fogs up the windows even more. Your car's headlights and taillights should also be in perfect running order and not covered in any residuals or snow.

To brake or not to brake?

Toyota Corolla sedan stuck in snow
Photo: Alex Proimos
We all know that on snowy or icy roads the brakes' stopping power can sometimes be as efficient as opening an umbrella through the sunroof, holding it tightly and praying for some wind from the prow.

Apart from the intensive use of engine braking whenever possible, the only tip we can give you is to treat the brake pedal as if it was your beloved pet (in case you don't have an alligator as a pet). Press it as gently as possible because if you lock your wheels you've lost all control of the vehicle. If you don't own a car with ABS, press the pedal even more gentle and never go all the way down.

Steer away from trouble

Bentley Continental GT snow drifting
Photo: Bentley Motors
As with the braking problem, the steering wheel driving you practiced on your gaming console last night will not help you in real life. Steering like a madman can cause a lot of bad things to happen, like losing control of the direction the car is heading toward.

Considering there are only four small patches of threaded rubber to connect you to the road, you should gently (read: rationally) turn the steering wheel and avoid any sudden left-right maneuvers. There are many of us who like the feeling induced by drifting around a corner but please try to play it safe on public roads. There's no “Escape” key or a “Retry” option in real life.

Getting stuck

Mercury Sable stuck in snow
Photo: Michael Pereckas/Flickr

OK, you never thought you would ever come up in a situation like this. These things happen only in the movies, right? You're stuck in a ditch full of snow or ran out of gas too many miles from the nearest populated area, there's no traffic, it's night and every sound you hear is so distressing that you're starting to wonder if you've just been teleported into a Stephen King novel.

What went wrong: you didn't fill the car up with fuel at the beginning of your journey, you didn't bring a cell phone with a full battery or a car-charger and you don't have a blanket in the trunk. I'm sorry to say but you may have just become another statistic. It's better to double-check everything before departing instead of finding yourself in a situation like this.

Drive safely or don't drive at all.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
Alex Oagana profile photo

Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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