How to Drive in Snow Tips
Posted on December 13, 2022
In Southern Ontario, weather is something we all learn how to deal with (although as Canadians we reserve the right to complain about it) - especially in Fall and Spring, we can see freezing rain, a foot of snow and sunny below -20 in a matter of hours. One of the most challenging weather related obstacles to achieve is controlled winter driving. Driving in snow means you could lose traction, lose control and end up in a ditch (or worse). While many of us are now privileged to be able to work from home and avoid stormy weather at least some of the time, learning how to safely drive in winter weather is incredibly important.
Here are some tips for driving in the snow:
Be Smooth: jerking the gas, brake or steering wheel can cause you to slip even with the best winter tires available. The best strategy when driving in snowy weather is to be gradual and gentle when maneuvering.
Anticipate: slippery road conditions mean preparing earlier - stopping time is double when roads are wet, triple in snow and even more if there is ice. You’ll need to concentrate and drive defensively as timing is everything when navigating through snow.
Look Where You Want to Go: in very bad weather, it is almost inevitable that you will slip at some point and the best advice you may have never heard is to look where you want to go. It is one of those things that sounds so simple until you are in the moment. The tendency when sliding is to look where the car is heading (maybe the ditch or cars on the other side of the road) but what you should do is look toward where you want to go - not where you may be heading.
Tricks for your Skids: another tendency when you begin to slide is to hit the brakes which is absolutely the most wrong thing to do. Ease off the gas, stay off the brake and wait for the vehicle to regain traction. While in a rear skid, turn your steering wheel toward the same side of the skid until you’ve regained traction.
Brake Hard and Don’t Let Up (When Impact is Imminent): yes, I know the point just above this one says not to brake, however, the exception to the rule is if you are heading toward an obstacle and you don’t believe you will be able to regain traction. Braking hard will cause your Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) to engage and if you have never felt this sensation before it might surprise you - if/when you feel the brake pedal shuddering beneath your foot this is completely normal and you should not let up. Essentially, ABS is computer adjusted braking at each wheel so you can focus on continuing to steer and regain control.
Read Your Ride: there are many visual queues and other factors that can help you assess the road you are driving on so you know how best to drive along. For instance is the temperature well below freezing or just above zero? Is the road shiny or dull? Is there snow covering the whole road or are there tire lines? Do you see blowing snow up ahead? The answers to these questions will help you to gauge the likelihood of ice, slush, areas of traction versus potential slippery conditions and wind gusts.
Practice (Only Where Safe): is there an empty parking lot nearby or a quiet road you can get to? If there are no cars or other obstacles around, driving on a snowy lot or street can absolutely improve your familiarity with how to react when driving through wintery conditions. You’ll be able to better gauge your stopping distance, become more comfortable maneuvering out of a skid and understand your vehicle’s ABS and traction control features.
Gear Up: when starting to move from a complete stop in slippery conditions, it may be helpful to start in a higher gear than first as this will help you to slowly gain traction. What gear is best for driving in the snow? Well that will depend on the exact conditions, but generally speaking, starting from a stop in second or third gear will improve your chances of gaining traction. Whether you are an automatic or standard driver, your shifter will allow you to start in second or third gear until you start moving along - your automatic vehicle may even have a winter button option that when engaged will automatically start your vehicle in a higher gear after coming to a complete stop.
While not a driving tip per se, there are some features and functions of some vehicles that will make them the best cars for snow and ice driving:
AWD or 4x4: while certainly not the invincibility cloak some drivers seems to think, AWD or 4x4 mode should help with traction from a rest when accelerating and may reduce the likelihood of spinning out on a turn - but never let this lull you into a false sense of security, most AWD/4x4 vehicles will behave pretty similarly in winter conditions to vehicles with power to two wheels.
Good Winter Tires: all-seasons begin to show inferiority below 7 degrees celsius - snow tires improve stopping distance, grip and handling but will never make road conditions irrelevant - you should still employ the tips for driving in the snow above no matter how new or expensive your winter tires are.
Safety Features: all new vehicles will come with ABS and most will come with traction control - these will certainly assist with skids and stopping in icy or snowy conditions. Adaptive headlights and LED tail lights will help you to see and be seen. Automatic windshield wipers will allow you to focus on driving without constantly adjusting your wipers during a storm. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) adapts your brakes and engine power to maintain control of the vehicle - different from traction control which detects wheel slippage specifically and adjusts accordingly.
Getting into a vehicle that is equipped with the right features for winter driving will improve how you drive in the snow. Let our trusted Product Advisors help you find the vehicle that is right for you. Reach out to us at carhub.ca/contact and/or check out our vast inventory of new and used vehicles here: carhub.ca/vehicles.
Sharon Pinfold has been in the automotive industry since 2005. She has worked in the Service Department, Leasing Department and as a New/Used Car Sales Person for domestic, foreign and luxury brands. Most recently, she worked for an Agency that provided digital advertising and website solutions to the automotive sector.