How to Go in Ice and Snow

If you will be driving in winter conditions, prepare your vehicle for the demands of the weather and brush up on driving techniques that will keep you safely on the go, despite ice and snow.

Winter-Proof Your Vehicle

Wet, cold, icy weather stresses your vehicle's mechanical system and impairs the engine's operating efficiency. However, some preparation before winter weather hits can protect both car and driver. Perform a thorough check of your electrical system, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heating and cooling system, and windshield wipers. Make any repairs or replacements well before bad weather hits.

Caution: Carbon Monoxide

As weather grows colder, more people fall victim to carbon monoxide poisoning. Never warm up your vehicle in an enclosed space (such as a garage) or leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running.

Assemble a Winter Driving Kit

Put together an emergency kit for winter driving. Include these items:

  • Cellular phone
  • Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt or cat litter)
  • Small snow shovel
  • Snow brush
  • Traction mats
  • Flashlight
  • Window-washing solvent
  • Ice scraper
  • Cloth or paper towels
  • Booster cables
  • Blanket
  • Warning flares or triangles
  • Gloves or mittens

Brush Up on Your Winter Driving Skills

Ice and snow increase your risk of skidding, spinning your wheels, and getting stuck. Before winter weather puts you to the test, review emergency maneuvers such as push-pull-slide and fixed-hand steering and threshold or squeeze braking (if you do not have antilock brakes).

Here are a few pointers on dealing with common winter driving situations.

Driving on the Highway After a Snowfall

  • Keep your speed low and headlights on low beam.
  • Do not use cruise control in wet, icy, snowy conditions.
  • Choose the lane that was most recently cleared. Avoid changing lanes to minimize your risk of losing control when driving over built-up snow between lanes.
  • On an icy road, allow the greatest margin of safety by focusing your attention as far ahead as possible (at least 20 to 30 seconds).

Your Car is Stuck in Mud or Snow

  • Increase traction by spreading mats, sand, salt or abrasive material such as cat litter in front of and in back of the drive wheels.
  • Rock the vehicle out of the rut by starting slowly in low gear. Use second gear for manual transmission vehicles. Release the accelerator to permit the car to roll back when the car will not go forward any farther. When the vehicle stops its backward motion, apply minimum pressure on the accelerator again.
  • When using devices under the wheels for additional traction, or when wheels are digging into dirt or gravel and you are getting a push, do not let anyone stand too close to the drive wheels.

You are in a Rear-Wheel Skid

  • Continue to look at your path of travel down the road and steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
  • Take your foot off the brake and ease off the gas pedal if the rear wheels lose traction due to hard acceleration (rear-wheel drive).
  • Continue to steer to avoid a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction.
  • As the vehicle straightens out, shift to the gear appropriate to your driving speed and accelerate gently.

You are in a Front-Wheel Skid

  • Continue to look where you want to go.
  • Take your foot off the brake and ease your foot off the accelerator.
  • If the front wheels have turned prior to the loss of traction, don't move the steering wheel.
  • As soon as traction returns, you will be able to steer the vehicle again. Steer gently in the direction you desire to travel and accelerate smoothly to a safe speed.

You Must Drive Up an Icy Hill

  • Remain far enough behind the vehicle immediately ahead so you can slow down, stop, or maneuver around obstacles. The stopping distance required on ice at 0ºF is twice the amount required at 32ºF.
  • As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down the hill as slowly as possible.
  • Minimize your use of brakes, but if you must slow the vehicle, gently squeeze the brakes to avoid locking the wheels and skidding.

Driving in icy and snowy conditions can be very challenging. Prepare your vehicle and review your driving skills and you will be up to the challenge and arrive at your destination safely.

Want More Information?

  • Your AAA club can provide additional information and educational materials about caring for your car and improving your driving skills and strategies.