Get the shovels out of storage and snow blowers fueled up and ready! Hot chocolate is on the menu, and snow is BACK IN THE FORECAST! You've probably had the experience of being buzzed by the overconfident driver on snow covered roads. Maybe, if you're being honest, you've secretly wished to see them in a ditch around the next bend of the road.
No judgement here, but we are in the business of keeping people out of the ditch, so keep reading for some tips to handle your vehicle in the snow.
The key to safe driving in snow is being smooth with the steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes. Jerky movements with the controls easily unstick tires that have a tenuous grip on the slippery road, so every turn of the wheel, push of the brakes, and movement of the throttle must be deliberate, gentle, and gradual. Pretend there's a cup of scalding coffee in your lap and drive so as not to spill it (though we do not advocate actually having a cup of scalding coffee in your lap)!
2. Look Far Ahead
The slipperier it gets, the farther down the road you should look. Anticipate what you'll need to do next. Slow way down for turns. Allow double the stopping distance when the road is wet, triple on snow, and even more on ice. Driving carefully and safely takes extra concentration, keep your mind fresh, focused, and without distractions.
3. Your vehicle is telling you something
How much traction do you actually have on a snowy road? One way to know before you get into trouble is to know what the stability control, or traction control warning looks like. It is an amber light that looks like an outline of a car with squiggly lines behind it. If you're accelerating in a straight line and this light is blinking, this is the stability-control system warning you that the wheels that drive the car are slipping. Listen to it. Ease up on the accelerator so the tires regain their grip.
If you're turning and see a blinking amber light, this is also the stability-control system alerting you that the car is beginning to slide from your intended path. Again, ease off the accelerator until you are no longer applying any throttle; this allows the car to regain grip. And do not accelerate aggressively when turning tight corners in town on snowy or slushy streets. Remember #1, be smooth with the accelerator so that nothing happens abruptly.
If you feel your car beginning to skid, always look where you want to go, not where the car is heading at that precise moment. Racing drivers know that you almost always end up where you are looking; that's one of the reasons they're so good at recovering from skids.
5. The SKIDS
Sooner or later you will probably hit a slick spot and get a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach as your car starts to slide away from the direction in which you want to be heading. Skids, even big ones, can be managed, and you can bring the car back under full control in short order. First, don't panic--and don't stab the brakes! Instead, do the following:
For a front-wheel skid where the front tires lose grip and the car turns in a wider arc than you expect—ease off the gas. In a beat or two, the front tires should regain traction. Then aim where you want to go as your traction returns.
For a rear-wheel skid where the rear tires lose traction and you feel yourself beginning to spin out—quickly turn the steering wheel in the same direction that the rear is sliding. If, say, the rear is swinging to the left, turn the wheel to the left. Ease off the accelerator and stay off the brakes. As the rear wheels regain traction, steer back in the original direction.
No matter which type of skid you're experiencing, make sure you keep your wheels pointed in the direction you want to be going. And you can gently (remember point number one) use your brakes if you think you can recover without hitting anything. If an impact is imminent, don't be afraid to stand on the brake pedal as described in point number six.
6. Anti-Lock Brakes
If all else fails and you need to stop as quickly as possible in snow or on ice, it's time to engage the help of your car's anti-lock-brake system (ABS). All new vehicles on the road today are equipped with anti-lock brakes, which use an onboard computer to optimize the car's braking in extreme conditions. If you are in a skid from which you can't recover or you need to avoid an obstacle—and your vehicle has ABS--push the brake pedal down hard, and don't let up. The computer will do the rest, keeping each wheel braking as aggressively as possible based on the available traction.
The amazing thing about ABS systems is that you can keep the brake pedal fully depressed while steering around obstacles; the computer will adjust the braking force at each wheel to allow you to maneuver while simultaneously slowing down. So in an emergency, don't just jam on the brakes—keep steering!
Note: most ABS systems cause the brake pedal to shudder when they activate to let you know they're working, so don't lift off the brakes when you feel this vibration; it's perfectly normal.
7. Constantly Monitor your Traction
The amount of traction you have on any given drive in the snow will vary along your trip. In addition to watching the stability control system lights, your ABS system can also help you assess your available traction. Make sure there are no cars close to you, make sure you are heading in a straight line. Now GENTLY apply the brakes. If you feel the brake pedal chattering and have no real noticeable deceleration, you can be sure you are on a pretty slick surface. If you do slow down and ABS does not activate, you probably have a little more grip.
8. Beware ALL WHEEL DRIVE
Vehicles equipped with All Wheel or 4 Wheel Drive can give you a false sense of security. These systems send power to all 4 wheels instead of just 2, giving you much more traction when accelerating, especially from a stop. However, these systems don't do anything to help your vehicle turn or stop in snowy conditions. Expect your AWD or 4WD vehicle to behave exactly like other "normal" vehicles when in the snow.
Most snow related accidents we have seen could have been avoided by simply slowing down. Give yourself extra time, so you don't have to rush, and keep your head sharp to think quickly if you do start to slide. If you do unfortunately end up the victim of someone's wishes for you to be in a ditch, make sure your vehicle is covered. Call Baker Insurance today to assess your insurance needs.