The best winter driving tip we can offer is don’t drive unless you absolutely have to. We know that’s not always possible (um, more snow days for adults, please?), so here are some things to bear in mind when the call of duty forces you to venture out on snowy roads.
Check your local weather and TV stations for up-to-date road conditions to gauge the possible threats on the road before heading out. You can also get this information through weather and road trip apps on your smartphone. As the ski patrol likes to say about avoiding avalanches, know before you go.
Service your vehicle regularly and winterize it early in the season (before trouble strikes). Ask your mechanic to check the heater and windshield defroster, battery, brakes, brake fluid, ignition system, lights and emergency flashers, tires, exhaust, oil, radiator, and power steering fluid.
Keep an emergency vehicle kit in your car at all times, not just the winter months. Emergency essentials include a flashlight with extra batteries, a tool set, nonperishable foods, and a first aid kit. Whether you buy a ready-made kit or put one together yourself, check out our article on emergency car kits for a checklist of what should go in one.
Even if you aren’t mechanically inclined, you can easily check windshield washer fluid, tire air pressure, and fuel levels yourself.
Keep your gas filled above half a tank so you don’t get stranded on the side of the road, and if you do get stranded, you’ll have enough fuel to keep your heat running.
Get winter or all-weather tires. Summer tires just won’t cut it on icy roads. In climates that bring extreme winters and extreme summers, some folks have two complete sets of tires—one for freezing cold, one for scorching heat—and rotate them throughout the year as weather dictates.
Keep your tires properly inflated. Four, eight, sixteen—no matter how many tires you have, you need to keep them filled. Crack open that vehicle manual clogging up your glove box to see what your tire pressure should be and check your tires regularly to make sure they meet the specified level.
Temperature fluctuations will affect air pressure, so tires that appear deflated in the cold morning may return to ideal pressure levels as they warm up during the day.
Consider buying snow chains for your tires. In some snowy, mountainous regions, chains are required to travel certain roads (usually the ones that go to fun places like ski resorts, sledding hills, and grandmother’s house). We recommend that you first practice putting them on in good weather—that way you won’t have to figure it out mid-blizzard at the mouth of a snowy canyon.
Engage your 4WD. If you have four-wheel drive, use it. But just because you have a 4WD vehicle doesn't mean you're immune from slipping, so play it safe and slow down to the speed of a one-horse open sleigh.