How to drive in snow

Editor: Ilkka

Last updated: March 25, 2022

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Did he ever make it to his destination or not? That’s a question that pops when most people see a driver drive past them like a flash in snow-covered roads. That’s not a bad question; driving in snow is known to be difficult, as in these conditions your car can behave very differently than on dry roads.

And it’s ok to feel that way. No one, including you, wants to find himself in a ditch. To avoid such crashes, there are things you need to do to enjoy a comfortable and safe ride wherever you’re going. Here are some tips on how to drive in snow.

Tips for driving in snow

Follow these instructions to ensure you drive home comfortably, smoothly, and safely in any foul weather.

1. Drive smoothly

One way to drive safely on snow is using the brakes, accelerator, and steering wheel smoothly. Jerky movements caused by these controls could make a tire with good grip lose traction on slippery roads. Hence, every push of the throttle or steering wheel, or brake pedal must be done gently, gradually, and intentionally.

2. Be alert

As the road gets more slippery, it is important you look ahead as you drive. This will keep you alert and help you plan ahead on the next thing to do.

3. Lower your speed

When driving on slick roads, the probability of a crash is higher than driving on dry pavement. It’s easier to maintain traction when you drive slowly on ice. So ensure you don’t go above the normal speed limit. Better still, lower your speed if possible. It’s better late than getting into a crash.

4. Give enough following and stopping distance

It is important that you double the stopping distance or following distance when on wet, ice, and packed snow roads. This is because it takes a longer time to stop on these terrains than on dry pavements. Thus, allowing you to get enough space between vehicles when stopping without hitting them. 

Lastly, avoid sudden stops. Ensure you hit the brake pedal as early as possible to avoid crashing into another car.

Safe following distance on snow

5. Pay attention to lights on your vehicle’s dashboard

When driving on snow-covered roads, one way to know that you’re losing traction is the illumination of certain lights in the instrument cluster. 

If the Electronic Stability Control light in the instrument cluster starts blinking while doing a straight-line acceleration, it’s the stability control system telling you that your drive wheels are slipping. Pay attention to this; reduce the pressure on the accelerator so your tires can regain traction.

If the light blinks while cornering, it’s still the stability control system warning you that your car is drifting from your intended path. Ease up the accelerator till you no longer use the throttle. Doing this allows your vehicle to regain traction.

Electronic Stability Control light
Electronic Stability Control light can warn you about slippery conditions.

6. Brake, turn and accelerate gently 

If you treat your car well, it will do the same. Avoid doing anything aggressively when driving in snowy conditions. Step gently on the gas pedal when speeding and do the same when slowing down. As you slow down, apply the brake gently, this helps build pressure and gives you a clue of how much traction your tires have.

Accelerating aggressively in tight corners could make you lose control immediately and cause the vehicle to slide off the road. Don’t do this. Instead, go through turns on low speed and be easy on the accelerator so that nothing untold happens suddenly.

7. Know when your car is skidding

When your vehicle leaves the actual route and faces another direction, it means your vehicle is skidding. Here, ensure your eyes are fixed on where you’re heading and not where the car is drifting to. Looking at where you are going is one way to bring the car back to its lane; ensure your wheels face that direction.

How to handle a skid

Skidding with front tires

Front-wheel skid is a situation where the front tires lose grip, and the vehicle goes beyond the space it’s gearing. To handle this, go gently on the gas pedal. In a short while, the front wheels should stick back to the road. Next is to concentrate on the direction you were heading as you regain grip.

Skidding with rear tires

A rear-wheel skid is a situation where the rear tires lose grip, and you start slipping out of your path. To handle this, turn the steering wheel to the direction the tires are sliding to. For example, if the rear wheels slide to the right, slowly turn the wheel to the right.

Next, go gentle on the gas and ensure you don’t touch the brake. As traction returns to the rear tires, turn the steering back to the path you were taking.

8. Avoid using cruise control

There are chances that black ice (an ice-covered road that looks wet) or unplowed snow will be ahead of you. Using cruise control in these cases may cause you to lose control of the car since it delays in reacting quickly if you’re losing grip or not. Therefore, avoid driving with cruise control, whether on ice, snow, or slush.

9. Check your available traction

As a norm, traction changes with changes in road and weather conditions. The stability and traction control systems, as well as the anti-lock brakes, help you how much traction is available on snowy roads. When the anti-lock brakes are activated for whatever reason, it means you are losing grip. Otherwise, your tires are still hooked to the road.

10. Take advantage of your vehicle’s drivetrain

Most cars come in three drivetrains-front wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel-drive /four-wheel-drive. They all provide a different amount of grip when driving. 

In FWD, the front tires drive the vehicle, whereas the rear wheels are the drive wheels for an RWD car. In a 4WD/AWD, all wheels can drive the car and, in some cases, two wheels, depending on the terrain and drive mode selected. 

However, it is safe to say that a car driven by four wheels will hook the road better than those whose power comes from two wheels. However, note this.

Driving in an AWD

True, vehicles with AWD or 4WD send engine power to four wheels rather than two. This makes them accelerate better on icy roads than those driving on two wheels. However, be careful with them. 

These types of drivetrains lure drivers into a false sense of security, overatting the amount of traction the cars can really provide. To them, their vehicle’s ability to give more traction means extra safety; this is not true. While using power from all wheels will make the car drive better, especially during cornering and braking, don’t over-push on snowy roads, else you will slide. 

Pro tip

If you are experiencing very bad weather, please stay at home. Some road conditions coupled with severe weather are very unsafe to drive. 

Preparing to drive in winter weather: snow and ice

As you approach winter, keep up with these before you think of hitting the road. They are meant to ensure you get to your destinations safely.

1. Prepare your car for winter conditions

If your car can’t get you from A to B, all your driving skills will be a waste. So ensure your vehicle is in good shape so it can take you safely to wherever you’re going. Car breaking down in summer isn’t too much of an inconvenience. But in icy conditions, especially after dark? It is dangerous.

 Make sure you carry out everything you do during routine maintenance.  Check the brake fluids and tire pressure and ensure the tires are properly inflated (over-inflated or under-inflated tires are dangerous).

Ensure there is still enough tire tread in your tires. Low tread depth can make your car lose grip and even slide. So if you observe the tread are worn down, you may need a set of new tires.

2. Start with the right tires: use snow tires or winter tires

Winter driving requires the right tires. Some people feel that all-season tires will see them through winter weather since it is built to go through all seasons. But winter driving is different. 

An all-season tire will never provide the amount of traction true winter tires or snow tires can provide. So it is safer to drive on tires built particularly for wintry conditions. Get them ahead of winter weather.

Studded winter tire
Winter tires have narrow grooves which increase the traction on snow. In addition, some winter tires have metal studs which increase traction on ice substantially.

3. Keep winter emergency kits in your car

During winter driving, there are times when you might be stuck; some things set in place could ease the tension. Ensure you go with a small shovel to dig you out in case. An ice scraper would come in handy too. Else you may end up paying more than when an emergency sets in for these same kits. 

You never know how long you might stay trying to get a car out if you’re stuck. Try stocking your car with non-perishable food, bottled water, extra boots, jackets, gloves, and your medication if you have one. Roadside emergency kits, an air compressor, blankets, jumper cables, a torchlight, and a smartphone are also important.

A bag of kitty litter or sand might come in handy when you need extra traction. A bag of melt ice will also be a good option to travel with.

4. Remove snow from the car’s exterior

Ensure you clean snow from the top of your car, windows, and mirrors before leaving your home. As you brake while driving, snow from the top can fall and cover your view (the windshield).

Also, ensure the lights are clear from snow. This enables your lights to provide enough visibility for you to see. Good lights will also make other drivers see you quickly.

Car covered in snow
Don’t drive like this! Driving with a car covered in snow is dangerous, as it can decrease the visibility.

5. Ensure your tank is full or half full

By all means, avoid getting stranded in a lonely snow road because you ran out of gas. If you can’t fill the gas tank completely, you can at least get a half-full tank. 

Aside from running out of gasoline, filling a reasonable amount of fuel into your fuel tank gives your vehicle more weight to ensure it stays planted on the ground as you drive. Lastly, you need your fuel lines to be properly lubricated to avoid freezing. Filling your tank will help you here 

6. Use snow chains on tires

While winter tires are highly recommended in winter driving conditions, a snow chain gives extra traction anywhere snow and ice are present. Wrap your tires with them; you might need them. Different winter tires come with different amounts of traction. If you drive through snow and ice on other tires, it is necessary to go with snow chains.

7. Inspect your spare tires

While you may be driving around with spare tires, chances are they might have lost air pressure or have expired. Inspect them and ensure they can serve you if needed. If it has expired, get a new spare tire. To be on the safe side, check for air pressure and other wear every month.

8. Practice your skills in a safe place

Your driveway or parking lot is a good place to test your winter driving skills before hitting the road. Utilize everything discussed above on how to drive in snow. This prepares you ahead of what driving on ice or packed snow roads will look like. 

FAQ

How do you drive in snow?

Amongst many, reduce your speed, approach turns on low speed, accelerate gently, allow more space between you and a vehicle ahead. Use the brake pedal gently and apply the steering wheel as smoothly as possible. 

What is the best gear to drive in snow?

Drive on a lower gear in the snow; it keeps your speed under control. Instead of stressing yourself to slow down using the brakes, a lower gear prevents you from getting to that high speed in the first place.

Is it hard to drive in the snow?

It is not hard to drive in the snow. You only need extra caution since the roads are slippery at this stage. Just ensure you prepare your vehicle for winter and observe those safety tips listed above to ensure safe driving in snow.