With winter at the doorstep, we all need to prepare. For most of us that means getting our winter clothes from storage, imagining snuggling with a thick down blanket and drink hot coco by the fire. One must remember, however, that the car must also be prepared for the cold season.
1. Car checkups
Make sure that the brakes, wipers, splashers, heating & defogging systems are in proper condition and consider installing rubber pads on the pedals to prevent slippage.
Make sure that your tires are in good condition, this means no serious cracks along the sides and that the grooves are at-least 0.2 inches deep. Consider changing to winter tires if possible.
Clean your windshield, windows and both front and back lights – visibility saves lives!
2. Driver’s comfort
Avoid wearing a coat in your car, it will limit your motion range and can lead to accidents.
Heavy-duty shoes/boots mean that you lose some of your sensitivity in your foot, so be more gentle with the acceleration paddle.
Maintain a pleasant temperature in the vehicle, but avoid overheating as it leads to drowsiness. It is also recommended that you keep a window open ajar, to allow for fresh air.
3. Keeping your distance
Braking distance on a wet road doubles, and on a frozen one it’s even greater. Avoid tailgating at any cost and try to keep at least double the distance from the next car.
Keep your eye out for the car behind you, let speeders overtake you. You might think that if they crash into you, it’s their fault, but you can still get hurt and your car will get damaged.
When you stop (in traffic, for example), there’s a chance that when you start again, your wheels will lose traction and spin out. The same goes for the car ahead of you, so keep your distance from it even at a traffic light.
Winter weather can lead to decreased visibility (rain, fog, snow) which means you might not notice obstacles on the road until it’s too late. Drive slower to give yourself more time to react.
In cases of bad visibility, your instinct is to squint in order to see better. This can tire out your eyes quickly and make you lose focus. Practice relaxing your eyes and you’ll be amazed how much better you can see. (This trick is used by professional racers)
The problem: as you turn, the front of the car moves at a greater radius and the car turns less than you intended. This will happen if the vehicle’s speed is higher in relation to the turn radius and the tires’ grip on the road, or when you speed too much during a turn.
Common mistake: your instinct may tell you to turn the wheel more, but that would be a very bad idea – the car isn’t understeering because the wheels aren’t facing the right way, but rather because of low grip on the road.
The solution: move the vehicle’s weight from back to front by slowing down. Sometimes it’s enough to just let go of the acceleration, but I’d recommend applying gentle braking force too. Don’t hit the brakes like in an emergency stop, but be quick about it.
6. Over steering
The problem: the rear end of the car pulls out and your turn is tighter than you planned. This may occur when your rear tires wheels are not sufficiently inflated, when one rear tire (or both) is worn out, or when a rear tire loses grip with the road (because of a rock or an oil spill, etc.). It may also occur when accelerating too much in low gear in a car with rear-drive.
Common mistake: your instinct is to cut the wheel the other way and some people even try speeding up. This reaction requires great skill to accurately correct the oversteer, and the faster you go – the harder it will get. Many head-on collisions happen when people try to correct an oversteer and end up in the opposite lane. Even professional drivers must practice this technique several times, but on the road – we only have one try…
The solution: a quick and decisive brake when you feel the rear of the car starting to slide. I can’t emphasize it enough – brake hard and brake fast, anything less will make the situation worse! That way, your car will stop quickly and you’ll avoid the oversteer. Now that the drama is over, you can slowly accelerate and continue on your merry way.
The problem: flotation occurs when you drive through a deep puddle. The grooves on the tires can’t drain the water fast enough and the tire grip is severely diminished.
The solution: slow down before hitting a puddle, and cross it in low speeds and keep your wheel as straight as possible. If you’re driving a manual, use the clutch during your “boat ride”. As soon as you’re out of the puddle, gently apply the brake for 2-3 seconds to make sure the tires are drained and that grip has been restored.
The problem: in wet and frozen roads, grip is significantly low, increasing the likeliness of your wheels over-spinning and losing grip on the road.
The solution (beginning of a drive): manual cars should start slowly and in low gear. If your car has a rain/snow/ice setting, use it! In any case, accelerate slowly and steadily.
The solution (during a drive): accelerate slowly and gradually in any situation, and especially when coming out of a turn.
9. Gear choice
On a wet or frozen road, you should use a higher gear than the one you’d use on a dry road. This is particularly relevant in turns and road curves, but also in other situations where we’d normally use a lower gear. The reason for this is to reduce the car’s momentum and avoid the tires; losing their grip.
10. Emergency braking
The most important part of winter-driving safety!
The most effective brake for anyone who isn’t a professional racer, is to brake fast and hard. Your vehicle will stop in the shortest possible distance if you’re quick and decisive. Pumping the brakes extends the braking distance considerably.
If your car has ABS (Antilock Brake System), let the system do its job, it will prevent your wheels from locking and your car will remain in your control. If you need to brake in the middle of a turn, the system will cause the turn to be wider, but you need to maintain your braking and keep your wheel in its original direction.
If you don’t have ABS, your wheels will lock and the car will maintain its bearing. If you need to avoid an obstacle on the road, release the brakes half-way before you cut the wheel, and once you’ve passed the obstacle – resume applying maximum pressure on the brakes. If you’re in mid-turn, brake hard but not all the way (about 70% through). If your wheels locked ease up on the brake until you regain control.