Winter weather has the nasty habit of causing unexpected problems on the roads. The following list is a reminder of what you would be facing today if weren’t living in Costa Rica.
Driving on an empty tank
Winter driving experts warn to avoid the mistake of running on or close to empty. Keep your gas tank at least half full when driving in winter, and always have a charged cell phone in case of emergencies. Find out how to survive your car breaking down in winter.
Forgetting to prep your car
Before the first (or next) blast of dangerous winter weather, have your car dealer’s service department prep your ride for winter. Doug Herbert, drag racing legend and founder of the defensive driving non-profit Put on the BRAKES (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe), encourages a thorough battery check because extreme cold requires more energy to start your car. At 0° F, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength, and at 32° F, it loses 35 percent. Ask your mechanic to also check all your lights, wiper blades, fluids, and the tire pressure, which can drop along with the temperature.
Not changing your tires
Driving in winter with regular tires can be a dangerous mistake, warn winter driving experts at both Chevy and BRAKES. Winter tires provide added traction in snow and ice, even for vehicles already equipped with four- or all-wheel drive. If you drive regularly in cold, harsh conditions, a set of winter tires may be a smart and safe investment because they use special rubber compounds that stay flexible in the cold, providing better grip and improved braking even in extreme weather.
Driving without emergency supplies
In addition to carrying the standard snow brush and ice scraper, it’s a good idea to tuck a snow shovel and a container of cat litter in your car during the winter. Also recommend you have jumper cables, flashlight, emergency flares, and a bright piece of clothing that can be seen in a storm—all of which can help you get to safety if you encounter unexpected problems—plus an extra set of cold-weather clothing, blankets, and spare phone chargers. Keeping some high-calorie, non-perishable snacks and bottled water in the trunk isn’t a bad idea either. Stay prepared with these other 17 items you should always keep in your car.
Giving up momentum
When going uphill in snowy conditions, even the slightest incline can lead to spinning out or worse. During a winter driving event in Connecticut, Chevy taught drivers to leave plenty of room between their own car and the vehicle ahead of them, emphasizing that it’s important to keep the momentum going while traveling uphill. Stopping in the middle of an incline may cause you to become stuck or start sliding backward. Discover how you can take a vacation to become a better winter driver.
Unnecessary lanes changes
‘Stay in your lane’ isn’t obnoxious life advice, but rather another important winter driving lesson. Unnecessary lane changes may cause your car to hit a patch of black ice or force you to plow through a strip of deep snow. Instead, stay safe by staying straight in your lane until you must turn off the road.
Trying to power your way out
Depending on your vehicle’s ground clearance and the snow conditions, the car can be rocked free. The ground clearance and 4×4 system of an SUV can help get you up and moving in deeper snow. Recommended is clearing the area around the front wheels and turning off any traction system your car may have. Then, gently shift back and forth between reverse and a low forward gear, spinning the wheels as little as possible. If your attempts to free your car are unsuccessful, don’t hesitate to call for help.
Running the car non-stop when stuck
Turn your engine on periodically to keep the interior of your car warm after clearing snow from the base of the vehicle, especially any snow that may be blocking the exhaust pipe. But don’t just let the engine run—you could run out of gas and potentially risk carbon monoxide poisoning. To help you get through, grab your warm blanket and open a window about two inches on the vehicle side away from the wind to bring in some fresh air. When you aren’t stuck, these are the states where it’s illegal to leave your car idling.
Passing on overpasses
We see the yellow signs, but rarely do we think about the potentially dangerous mistake of speeding on a bridge or overpass in winter. Part of the BRAKES defensive driving course teaches about weather’s impact on bridges and overpasses—that’s where icy conditions develop first because of the different exposure to air. Surface conditions can be worse on a bridge than on the approach road just before it, so expect less traction. Slow down before you reach all bridges and overpasses; lower speeds allow for better reaction time. Next, make sure you know these other car care tips you should use every winter.