Safe Winter Driving Refresher

By David Thomas  on December 6, 2009

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As a major winter storm barrels its way through the country, we figured it was a good time to give our readers tips for driving in bad weather.

  • Check your tire pressure. Tires lose 1 or 2 psi with each 10-degree drop in temperature. An underinflated tire can’t withstand the shock of a pothole, even if it doesn’t go flat in normal driving. Checking your tire pressure is a drag in the winter, but so is changing a tire when it’s minus 17.
  • Make sure you have enough windshield fluid. Salt from the streets can coat your windshield and obscure your view. Straight windshield washer fluid is the way to go in the winter. If you cut it with water, which is fine to do in summer, the windshield washer fluid will freeze and block the lines.
  • Make sure your battery is tested and capable of handling the cold weather. Battery efficiency is reduced as temperatures drop, and engines are harder to turn over when cold. A battery that works fine at 40 degrees might not have enough juice to start the car at zero degrees. Find a mechanic that can perform a battery load test and check the car’s charging system.
  • Mellow out. Making gradual moves is more important than ever. Rapid acceleration and sharp turns break traction on snow or ice. Panic moves often create worse problems than whatever prompted them. A pothole can cause damage, but swerving into the next lane can be much worse for multiple cars.
  • Warm-ups aren’t critical. Modern cars don’t really need to be warmed up (for their own sake). In normal weather, you can start and go within the time it takes to put on your seat belt. In winter, 30 seconds of warm-up time should do it. If the temperatures are as extreme, a couple minutes of warm-up can’t hurt. It’s a different story if your objective is to warm the car’s interior, but even this happens more quickly if you start driving.
  • Keep your gas tank more than half full in case you get stuck and have to run the engine for heat.
  • Keep an emergency kit in the car with a shovel, blanket, flare, water, jumper cables, flashlight, basic tool kit and additional washer fluid.
  • Safety


    Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David