Winter Driving and Car Maintenance: How to Be Prepared and Stay Safe

Right around the end of January, it starts feeling like winter will go on forever. Snow, ice, freezing temperatures, just short glimpse of daylight… It will end eventually, but for now we have a few more solid months of winter.

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That means extra care while driving. Winter conditions can make even a simple drive much more challenging and dangerous.

Your car also will need some extra love to keep running at its best.

Here’s a brief guide to preparing yourself and your car for winter, and what to do if things go wrong. Stay warm out there and be safe!

1. Bring supplies

Pack a winter survival kit for your car. This should include an ice scraper, snow shovel, and abrasive material (sand, salt or kitty litter) at the minimum. This will come in handy if you get stuck, and as a bonus, a heavy bag of sand in the trunk will give your back tires more traction.

To be safe, also bring jumper cables, blankets, warm clothes, a flashlight and warning devices. Flares, reflective cones or even a brightly colored cloth tied to the car antenna can help other rescuers find you – and other cars steer clear of you in poor visibility.

If you’re going on a long trip, bring food, water and any urgent medications you take. Make sure your phone is charged and you have any numbers you might need.

Your car should always have at least a half tank of gasoline. If you get stuck, you’ll have to run the engine to stay warm.

2. Check the weather before you leave

Driving conditions can change rapidly in the winter. A sudden shift of temperature or precipitation can turn a passable road into a slippery, low-visibility nightmare in a matter of minutes.

Check how the road is right before you’re ready to leave, not four hours in advance!

Always look at the weather forecast before you go on a longer drive, both for your current location and your destination.

3. Drive carefully

Winter weather calls for extra care while driving.

  • Drive slowly. Unexpected obstacles, difficulty seeing, and compromised braking and turning might be in the cards.
  • Act slowly. Be aware that braking, accelerating and turning take longer on snowy roads. Hitting the gas or the brakes can even make your car veer out of control if the road is very slippery.
  • Increase following distance. Three to four seconds between cars should be enough on a dry road, but take at least eight to ten seconds in wintry conditions.
  • Know your brakes. Apply firm, steady pressure (threshold braking) to keep your car under control. If the brakes don’t catch, stomp on antilock brakes and pump on non-antilock brakes.
  • Steer into the skid. If your rear wheels skid to the left, steer left. If they skid right, steer right. When the car starts to recover, the rear wheels might slip in the opposite direction. Keep following until the vehicle is straight again.
  • Be steady on hills. A steady foot on the gas will help your car make it uphill. Never stop halfway: you probably won’t make it without momentum. But also don’t try to power up a hill, since extra gas will just set the wheels spinning.
  • Don’t use cruise control. In uneven conditions, you should be fully managing your car’s speed at all times.

Sometimes the safest driving is not to drive at all. If the weather looks really bad, respect it and stay home!

Seriously though, snow and ice can get the best of even the most careful and experienced drivers. Even if you feel secure, you may run into some surprises out there, including other drivers struggling with the same difficult conditions.

4. Be safe if you get stuck

If you get stuck, first try to get out by easing the car forward, using a light touch on the gas. You can turn your wheels from side to side a few times to clear away snow.

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Don’t spin the wheels. (This happens if you hit the gas too hard.) It will dig your car in deeper.

You can also try rocking the vehicle from forward to reverse a few times.

If the car is really stuck, break into your emergency winter kit! Shovel the snow away from your tires and pour sand, salt or kitty litter in their path, so your car has some grip.

Worst case scenario: your car just isn’t moving – or it’s broken down – and you have to call for help.

Bundle up and insulate yourself with whatever’s available while you wait. Run the engine and heater to keep warm, but for just as long as you need it, to save gas.

Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow and ice! A clogged tailpipe can leak deadly carbon monoxide into the car while the engine is running.

Stay in your car and mark the vehicle with whatever you have to make it more obvious to rescuers.

5. Keep your car in peak condition

To minimize the chance of problems on the road, stay on top of car maintenance and get your car ready for winter.

First off, check your battery. Cold weather is tough on batteries, compromising their chemical reactions and reducing their capacity. Plus, in cold weather your engine needs a bigger jolt from the battery to get running. So have a mechanic run a volt test, clean up any corrosion or replace it if necessary.

Check tire tread and tire pressure. For every 10 degree drop in temperature, tires will lost about 1 psi. A properly inflated tire will make the best contact with the road, so it’s an important safety element.

In areas that are snow-covered for most of the winter, you might consider getting snow tires. Snow tires have special tread patterns for gripping ice and snow, and softer rubber that allows them to retain flexibility even in extreme cold.

Make sure the windshield wipers work and fill the washer reservoir with a no-freeze fluid. Windshield wiper blades should be replaced every year, especially if they look worn out.

Oil also gets thicker in low temperature, so switch to a lower viscosity. The owner’s manual for your car should tell you what viscosity level is best for different climates.

6. Consider safety features for your next vehicle

Many new cars this year are packed with extra features to keep you safe in difficult weather.

Antilock brakes and stability control, now required by government regulations, will help with smoother and safer driving. Adaptive headlights, forward collision avoidance and lane departure warnings are some more high-tech solutions available in many new vehicles.

All-wheel drive can be found in many sizes and classes of vehicles. It helps your car maintain traction even on slippery surfaces.

Remote starting, activated by a button on the key or a phone app, allows you to get your car warmed up from the comfort of your home.

Contact Capital Motor Cars to learn more about the all-weather safety technology today’s cars offer, and to find the car with the right features for you.


Winter weather makes it so much more appealing to stay wrapped up in a blanket at home. However, we can’t spend the whole winter like this. So get your car ready, be careful on the roads and expect the unexpected.

If you’re looking to buy or lease a new car this season, call Capital Motor Cars to get the best deals on the hottest models of 2018. Our experts will take all the stress out of finding your dream car and getting it ready for winter.


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