Driving in the Winter

by Susan Evans

Winter weather heading your way? These tips will help you safe on the road!

Before You Leave

If at all possible, avoid driving until conditions improve.

  • Listen to your radio for weather and traffic information.
  • Plan to move your car off the street if a large amount of snow is expected.
  • Check to see if a snow emergency has been issued and what to do for your area.
  • Use public transportation, if possible.

WHN TIP – Don’t Drive Alone: Traveling some distance from home? It’s better with a buddy, just in case. At the very least, let someone else know the route you’re taking and expected arrival time. Then, check in when you get there.

Check the following before you leave:

  • Your car emergency kit. Replace missing items and make sure it is INSIDE your car, in case you get stranded.
  • Check antifreeze and oil levels, battery status, and tire tread and pressure. Fill wiper fluid reservoir with a de-icing solution.
  • Make sure your spare tire is in good condition and properly inflated; carry a jack and other tire-changing tools with you.
  • See and be seen; clear all snow from the hood, roof, windows and lights.
  • Fill your gas tank so if you do get stranded, you will have enough gas to run the motor and heat the vehicle.
  • In cold weather, take it easy as you begin to drive. The car will still be warming up.

While Driving

  • Drive carefully and defensively. Don’t try to save time by traveling faster.
  • Monitor weather conditions and seek shelter immediately if the storm seems severe.
  • Pay attention to gauges, unusual noises and other sights and sounds coming from your car. If something seems unusual, be sure to have a professional check it out.
  • Refuel once your gas tank indicator shows that you have less than a 1/2 tank. A full gas tank will be helpful if you are stranded and also helps prevent the fuel line from freezing when parked.

If You Are Stranded

Attract attention

  • Use hazard lights and flares.
  • Do not attempt to walk out of your car in a blizzard. You are much more likely to be found by staying in your vehicle.
  • Keep watch for traffic or searchers. Do not permit all occupants to sleep at once.
  • Turn your dome light on at night, but only when running the engine. (Don’t wear down your battery!)
  • Tie the red cloth from your car emergency kit to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Raise the hood (after snow stops falling) to indicate trouble.

Stay warm.

  • Exercise frequently to keep blood circulating and to keep warm, but avoid over-exertion and exposure.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide build-up – keep fresh air in your vehicle – especially if you are using a candle, solid fuel or another type of heating device.
  • Run the motor and heater sparingly and only with the down-wind window open for ventilation. Make sure snow has not blocked the exhaust pipe.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Wear a hat! You can lose up to 60% of your body heat through your head.
  • Huddle with other passengers and use your coat as a blanket. In extreme cold use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering – anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.

Prepare for Winter

Pack a car emergency kit with extra items for winter.

Items for winter conditions may include:

  • Additional warm winter clothing for each passenger (hats, boots, gloves, jackets)
  • Brightly colored cloth to tie around antenna
  • Extra blankets
  • Jumper cables
  • Small sack of sand
  • Snow scraper; snow shovel
  • Tire chains or traction mats for generating traction

WHN TIP — Inside Your Car: Make sure that the survival items (food, water, blankets, flares, matches, etc.) are INSIDE your car, in case you do get stranded.

Prepare for flat tires and dead batteries.

  • Learn how to change a tire and jump start a car (ask your mechanic or a car-savvy family member or friend).
  • If you already know how, consider reviewing each procedure.

Plan for alternate transportation.

  • Consider joining a carpool or vanpool to ease the stress.
  • Have bus, train and subway schedules for your routes at home and at work, in case you can’t drive.

Anticipate “Snow Emergency” declarations.

  • When a significant amount of snow falls, a snow emergency may be declared by city or county officials.
  • Snow emergencies are a set of parking regulations and routes that allow for easier plowing of streets and roadways.
  • Learn about the snow emergency routes and procedures in your area. To avoid parking tickets or being towed, you may have to move your vehicle if a snow emergency is declared. Plan ahead and look for areas out of snow emergency designated areas to park your vehicle.
  • Contact your city hall administration to find out about snow emergency regulations, routes and procedures in your city.

Systems Check-Up

Get a complete systems check-up in the fall.


  • Cold weather starts require a fully charged battery. Recharge or replace weak batteries.
  • If your battery is 4-5 years old, you may want to replace it.
  • Have your whole charging system checked out by a professional.


  • Have your brakes checked by your mechanic.

Exhaust system

  • Have the exhaust system fully checked for leaks.

Fluids and Filters

  • Check fluid levels, battery posts, voltage regulator and alternator or generator.
  • Change your oil to a winter grade oil to help the engine deal with the cold.
  • Change your oil filter as well.
  • Replace the fuel filter. The fuel filter separates the fuel from dirt and water – this water can freeze and stop fuel from reaching the engine.
  • Change your air filter. Don’t know how to do this? If you purchase an air filter from your mechanic, they might replace the filter for free.

Heating and Cooling System

  • Check your radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks.
  • Make sure the radiator cap, water pump and thermostat work properly.
  • Test the strength of the anti-freeze.
  • Anti-freeze should be changed at least every two years. Have it changed now if you didn’t do it last year.
  • Test the functioning of the heater and defroster.

Ignition System

  • Look for and replace damaged or worn out wires, caps or plugs.


  • Make sure all lights and fuses are functioning properly.
  • Put in extra fuses for your headlights, brake and turn signals in your car to have just in case.


  • Traction is the key to good movement, turning and stopping on wet surfaces.
  • Also, check the tires and tire pressures at least once a month when the tires are cold and remember that tire air pressure decreases in colder weather.
  • Check your owner’s manual or door frame for the maximum pressure amount for your tires. Do not go above that pressure point.
  • Make sure to have the same tires on all four wheels. This will keep your car stable.
  • Check your spare tire regularly.

Snow Tires

  • If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, you may want to consider purchasing snow tires. Tires marked with the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake meet specific snow traction performance requirements and have been designed specifically for use in severe snow conditions.
  • One general rule of thumb is to use snow tires from Oct. 15-Apr. 15 – some cities and states might have laws designating when snow tires are allowed – check with your local administration.

Windshield Wipers and Washer

  • Make sure there is enough windshield washer fluid in the reservoir and that it is rated in the -40°C temperature range. Carry an extra jug in the vehicle.
  • Make sure wipers are in good condition. Blades that streak should be replaced.
  • Snowblades or blades with a rubber cover are better at pushing snow and preventing water damage.

Photo Credit: NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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