Seven Winter Driving Tips You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Before

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jan 07, 2018

Every year, the bloggers trot out the predictable tips about getting ready for the season’s icy blasts. You know the drill—make sure your antifreeze is topped off, check your headlight aim, replace the wiper blades if they’re worn. My favorite is “stay home!”

The author merrily enjoying the season's bounty. (Mary Ann Masarech photo)

So I thought I’d offer some suggestions for dealing with Old Man Winter that you probably haven’t encountered so often. Let me know how they work--I'm off to Florida today! Seriously, but it's 30 degrees in Jacksonville too.

Careful with the scraper. It’s fairly easy to scratch your paint and/or your windshield with the cheap plastic scrapers they give out at gas stations (or, at least, used to give out). For better results, start the car and let it warm up a bit until the ice starts to melt—then it’s much easier to get off without damage.

You could always just leave it there until spring. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Keep the car hooked up to a trickle charger. Somebody called me the other day, with the temperature in the teens, and said the car wouldn’t start. “Does it turn over like an agonized buffalo in heat?” I asked. “Yep,” he said. The battery can’t cope. I use a trickle charger to keep mine topped off, and am never without my handy Sears battery charger—best $30 I ever spent (25 years ago).

Slow and steady does it, and leave plenty of space in front. Don Harder/Flickr)

Invest in winter tires. Not “all-season” tires. Those aren’t optimized for either winter or summer, but they are convenient. Winter tires will either require seasonal mounting or a second set of wheels, But they’re so important that they passed a law in Quebec (where they know all about dealing with snow and ice).  As Car and Driver reports, “Winter-tire treads are molded with compounds that don’t stiffen when temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. That gives them better grip than all-season tires, not only on snow and ice, but also on dry, cold pavement.” I like Blizzaks from Bridgestone.

Heated seats rule. If I was buying a new car, I’d check the boxes for all the safety systems, and find the trim level that comes with heated seats. They really work, and start radiating warmth much quicker than the heater does. A heated wheel is nice, but kind of marginal. And if you’re wearing gloves, you don’t get the benefit anyway.

Slow and steady. I’ve had the best results in snow and on ice if I forget the Le Mans starts and drive like my aunt Bertha. The idea is to avoid wheelspin. Once the tires lose their grip and start spinning on a hill, you’re going to lose momentum and never make it up and over. Figure out how your antilock brakes work, and put a lot of space between you and the driver ahead. If you skid into someone, it’s your fault.

Don't get SUV over-confident! Four-wheel-drive isn't a panacea. (Dwilliams851/Flickr)

Winter mats. Your car may have come with custom mats over the carpeting, but they’ll get awful cruddy from all the snow, ice, dirt and leaves you’ll track in during the winter season. My local auto parts store had very nice $25 front mats that do an excellent job of keeping the underlying carpet pristine.

Avoid over-confidence. There's a common assumption that SUVs are inherently better in snow, and if all four wheels are driven they're invulnerable. Wrong! AWD doesn't help on ice. It will get you through thick snow, but that isn't what most drivers actually encounter. Tires really matter. Go back to the second tip. You might actually be better off in a two-wheel drive sedan with winter tires than a flashy SUV on all-seasons.

And, oh yes, stay home. Here's a video if you want more about winter driving prep:

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