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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

January 07, 2009

Winter Safe Driving Tips

Af-image010709 To drive safely on ice and snow, you need to prep your car and acquire the knowledge and driving skills to handle winter’s slippery conditions. Snow and ice present an entirely different driving experience than dry or even wet pavement. For your own, your passengers’ and other motorists’ safety, learn how to drive with control. It could be a matter of life and death.

First, give yourself a test. Don’t wait until you’re on an icy highway to determine whether you, and your car, have what it takes. Find a traffic and hazard-free area such as an empty parking lot that is covered with snow. At a slow speed, try braking quickly to a stop. Does your car brake evenly? Depending on your braking system and its condition, the car may veer right or left, or fail to stop as intended. Do you have ABS brakes? They have a “stuttering” action that can be alarming. Try them out so you are not shocked by their effect. If you find your ability to stop the car is significantly reduced in ice and snow, be sure to have a professional check your vehicle.

Next, practice turning. Think “donuts” are just for teenagers? Think again. You should practice maneuvering your car under controlled conditions to sharpen your reaction time when you encounter a sudden loss of traction out in traffic. Try driving in a circle and continue to build speed slowly until the car starts to lose traction. Practice until you can control the vehicle even as it starts to skid.

Here’s what to do if you start to skid in practice or on the road. Your instinct will probably be to hit the brakes, hard. That’s the wrong thing to do and will likely reduce your ability to control the car. First, let off the gas and then steer in the direction you wish to be moving. Depending on the nature of the skid and the configuration of your vehicle, there are a variety of next steps, but it all starts with practice and knowledge of your vehicle. Knowing when to brake and when to accelerate out of a skid are things you can’t just read about and then accomplish without practice.

Want to take it to the next level? Local groups such as the Sports Car Club of Vermont host events year-round that can help you hone your driving skills in a supportive and safe environment. Team O’Neil Rally School & Car Control Center in New Hampshire offers a variety of winter driving sessions that can teach you to drive like a pro on any road condition.

What if you do stuff your car in a snow bank? If you aren’t buried too deeply, first try slowly turning your wheels back and forth to clear some snow away from them. Then press the gas slowly, but don’t spin your tires. That will just dig you in further. If you are really stuck, you’ll need to get out and clear snow from around the vehicle to free it up. Then pour some sand or kitty litter in the path of the wheels. Now when you try to drive out, attempt to use a rocking motion by pressing and releasing the accelerator. Again, don’t spin the tires excessively. You can also shift back and forth from forward to reverse, but some automatic transmissions can be damaged by this action, so be sure to check your owner’s manual first.

Nobody wants to get in an accident, especially in frigid temperatures; you might end up stuck on the highway or on a remote back road until help arrives. Taking the time to prepare yourself and your vehicle is well worth the effort. Approach it as an enjoyable challenge and have fun!

Sports Car Club of Vermont
www.sccv.org

Team O’Neil Rally School & Car Control Center
www.teamoneil.com
603-444-4488

Tips for Driving on Ice and Snow
• Slow down! Many drivers don’t reduce their speed until they see another driver lose control, or one stuck in a snow bank. If there is ice or snow on the road, assume that your traction will be reduced.
• Since it will take longer to stop on a slippery road, leave extra space between you and other vehicles.
• Brake, accelerate and steer gently. Sudden changes can cause you to lose traction and control.
• Drive with your lights on even if in the daytime — it makes you more visible to other motorists.
• Be sure to clean off your headlights and remove all frost from your windshield.
• Beware of bridges, snow-blown roads and shady areas, as they generally freeze up first.
• Maintain a safe distance from plow vehicles. You are better off staying behind them. If you have to pass, do so with great caution. And assume that road conditions will be worse in front of them.
• Avoid using cruise control and overdrive on icy roads.
• Don’t assume having four-wheel or all-wheel drive gives you super powers — it will not stop your vehicle any faster than two-wheel drive would. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are often the first ones to go careening off the road because of the over-confidence they inspire.

Source: www.weather.com

Winter Auto Checklist

  • Switch to snow tires
  • Test battery and charging system
  • Check anti-freeze mixture
  • Get scheduled oil changes
  • Fill washer fluid
  • Inspect windshield wipers
  • Inspect belts and hoses
  • Inspect brakes
  • Inspect spare tire
  • Locate jack and lug wrench
  • Assemble emergency kit (should include flashlight, jumper cables, blanket, gloves, sand or kitty litter and energy food)
  • Wash your vehicle throughout the winter to remove salt
  • Keep gas above a half tank, especially prior to winter storms
  • Add dry gas prior to bouts of extremely cold weather

Courtesy of McCaffrey Sunoco of Burlington, Vermont

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