Top Tips for Driving in Winter Conditions

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Toronto in winter

Whether we like it or not Canada and North America get some petty severe winters. Knowing how to drive safely and responsibly in this type of weather is of paramount importance. So in order to help we have decided to compile a few top tips for driving in winter conditions. So let’s dive right in!

Plan ahead

It might sound obvious but before embarking on a journey, check out weather conditions and plan your route before hitting the hi-way. Remember you should never take unnecessary risks but this point is even more important than during the cold season. Allow yourself some extra time to travel to your destination and if the weather is exceptionally poor then wait for conditions to improve.

Keep a safe distance behind snow plows and other cars

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View from behind a snow plow

On the chance that you find yourself behind a snow plow, just make sure to keep a safe distance. Snow plow drivers will not always have the best visibility and the nature of driving such a vehicle creates clouds of snow which can further reduce visibility. Keep a safe distance, it will make a difference.

In bad conditions, leave two car lengths between you and the vehicle in front of you. Black ice is nearly impossible to spot until it’s too late so when on the roads make sure to leave the space and avoid a possible collision.

Keep a full fuel tank

It’s never fun to run out of juice, especially in winter. A full tank can add extra weight to your vehicle to help slow you down. It can also help reduce moisture in the fuel system that could be liable to freeze.

Clear snow and ice from your vehicle

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Snow covered vehicles

Before you start driving, make sure that you clear all the windows, lights, mirrors and your roof. To make the job easier invest in a show brush and ice scraper. After starting the car also turn on the heating. This will keep your windows from fogging up. Once your car is clear of snow and you have full visibility through all windows then you can proceed with your journey.

Wear comfortable clothes

It’s always a good idea to layer up during the cold season but it’s important to stay warm while not restricting your movement of making you feel cramped by the wheel. Being too restricted can leave you struggling to check your blind spot. Dress comfortably and bring gloves, boots, a coat and a hat with you so if and when you have to get out of the car you are ready for the elements.

Have your car winter ready

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Winter tires

Making sure your car is ready for the winter should go without saying. Check to make sure your car has the following before setting out on a journey:

  • Strong battery
  • Good condition brakes
  • Winter Tires
  • Quality wipers
  • Cleaning fluids

You will quickly realise that that driving in winter conditions can make for a dirty windshield meaning that wipers and washer fluid should be high priorities. Running out of windshield washer fluid will greatly reduce visibility, affecting your own safety and the safety of others. Our best advice is to keep an extra gallon of windshield washer fluid in the trunk of your car. Tires are obviously the most important thing to consider. A good set of winter tires can improve traction, handling and braking. Note that all season tires lose grip below 7 Celsius. Did you also know that good quality winter tires can also shorten your braking distance by up to 25%

PS. If you are driving in Quebec, local law states that all vehicles are to be equipped with winter tires from December 15 until March.

Beware of black ice

It’s easy to think that if the road surface is dry then it’s plaining sailing ahead. This is not always the case, in fact, the surface might be covered with a think layer of ice, nearly invisible to the naked eye. If you are unsure as to the safety of the road surface then driving as though the road is covered in ice will help you adopt safer driving habits. This brings us nicely onto our next point.

Know how to recover from a skid

How your vehicle responds to a skid depends on whether it’s a front wheel, rear wheel or four-wheel drive. Never brake suddenly. If you have to stop quickly, pump the brakes rather than slamming them on. Slow down as you approach a curve rather than braking in the middle of it, which could cause you to lose control of your vehicle. You can always speed up in the turn if you feel you’re going too slow. Also if you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), learn how to use it correctly and let your vehicle’s ABS do its job. ABS will allow you to steer your vehicle even while applying the brakes fully.

Remember if you do start to skid the best advice to follow is to take your foot off the accelerator in order to slow down and regain control of your vehicle. Look in the direction you want to go, and turn the wheel in the same direction.

Slow Down

Again this might seem an obvious point, a lot of people don’t slow down enough when driving in winter conditions. Don’t let other people pressure you into going faster than you’re comfortable with. Stay in the right lane and let faster drivers pass you. And give yourself extra travel time so you’re not tempted to speed.

Stay inside your vehicle if you get stuck

Remain inside your vehicle and use your hazard lights to attract attention. If you do have to get out of your car for any reason then use the door the furthest away from passing traffic. Also, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t keep the engine running more than necessary: beware of exhaust fumes and crack open a window to let in some fresh air.

Finally keep a winter/survival kit in your car

Sometimes things go wrong, while we hope it never happens it’s important to be prepared just in case. We recommend that you make your winter car kit contain the following:

  • Thermal blankest
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Road flares
  • Booster cables
  • Snowbrush
  • Water
  • Torch
  • Candles
  • Matches
  • Fully charged phone with roadside assistance and emergency numbers
  • Mini shovel
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Safety Vest
  • Non-perishable energy foods

Put the kit in the trunk of your car and at least then if you are ever find yourself in some trouble you are already prepared.

What are your top tips for driving in winter conditions? Have we missed anything you feel is important? Let us know what you think.