Winter weather seems to be striking in the most unexpected places these days, which means that you might find yourself driving in snowy conditions just about anywhere.
With this in mind, we're bringing up 10 great tips to help you make your way where you need to go as safely as possible. We spent some time behind the wheel of a GMC Terrain in Colorado's high country, where we learned some great winter weather tips from a group of trained rally drivers well-attuned to snowy and icy weather driving.
While not every vehicle is as well-equipped right from the get-go for wintry weather as our all-wheel-drive Terrains with snow tires, these tips are applicable to whatever is sitting in your garage.
Five ways to prepare your car
1. Do you need snow tires? The answer to this depends on where you live and where you plan to drive. Modern snow tires, like the Bridgestone Blizzaks that were on our Terrains, are high-tech grip masters that will last more than one season for most people. Be prepared to put them on before the first sign of snow (what good are they otherwise?). If you decide against snow tires, be certain your car has all-season tires with excellent tread depth. A more worn tire that might be fine on dry pavement will become a racing slick when it's packed with snow.
2. Make sure your car is in good operational order. The last thing you want is to be stranded in the snow because something that could have been prevented has gone wrong with your car. It's a good idea to have a mechanic or a dealer properly inspect your vehicle before, during and even after the winter weather season. At this point, you should also replace your windshield wipers with durable winter-ready units since you'll be using them often.
3. Make sure your gas tank is full. Should you get stuck in the snow, you might be forced to run your car for an extended period to keep yourself warm until a storm passes and you can safely go out for help. At the very least, make sure your tank is half full all winter long. In addition, keeping a full tank will help prevent gas lines from freezing in extra-cold weather.
4. Prepare yourself. Dress properly for winter driving. Amber-tinted sunglasses will dramatically aid your vision. Just because it's cold out doesn't mean you should drive bundled up in a jacket; you'll overheat in your car and you'll restrict your ability to carefully steer the car or shift gears. The same goes for heavy, insulated boots, which can hamper pedal access. Instead, keep a heavy jacket and boots nearby in the passenger compartment where they can be easily reached.
5. Have a winter driving kit in your car at all times. While winter driving kits are available from various retailers, it's probably more cost effective to build your own. You'll want things like a basic aid kit, duct tape, winter gloves and hats, a couple of thick blankets, a proper tow strap, jumper cables, an ice scraper, a shovel, cat litter, flashlights and extra batteries, nutritious food and extra water. And don't forget to carry extra medications if you need them; you never know how long you'll be stuck.
But you're not going to get stuck in the snow, right? Careful driving will help keep you and your car on track. Here are five tips we learned from GMC's winter driving instructors.
Five ways to stay on the road
1. Ice is your worst enemy. Our winter driving instructors stressed to us that ice is the "most unpredictable surface you'll ever drive on."ť If you're on a road with both ice and snow covering it, stay on the white stuff because it will be significantly less slippery. You'll often want to avoid others' ruts if you're on a road that is relatively heavily trafficked but hasn't been plowed.
2. Watch the temperature. Road conditions are generally the worst between 28 and 34 degrees Fahrenheit because the uppermost level of snow on the road is likely to melt, which makes it become a lubricant that will work against even the grippiest of tires.
3. Talk to your tires. When the situation is safe, you'll want to carefully test the level of grip you have by carefully but firmly applying the brakes. This will give you an idea of how slick the surface is; if you start to slide, you might want to reduce your speed. Conversely, don't spin your tires when you're accelerating as this only serves to melt snow and make the situation more slippery.
4. Be gentle. Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Apply the brakes as gently as possible, but be aware that it will to take you a long distance to come to a stop. Excessive speed or unnecessarily hard braking will induce understeer, which can be corrected before you go off the road by reducing all of your inputs to let the wheels find traction. If you car begins to oversteer its way into a spin, let your instincts take over. Steer in the direction of the skid and add a little throttle to transfer the vehicle's weight to the rear.
5. Extraction. Even if you follow the four suggestions above, there's still a chance you'll end up in snow that's too deep. Don't simply spin your wheels with the hope that they'll eventually find traction; all you'll do is melt the snow around you. Instead, rock the car back and forth by moving forward and reverse. Spin the steering wheel from side to side to help the front wheels gain extra traction. But if you're not getting anywhere after a few forward and reverse motions, quickly and safely get out of the vehicle to fully assess the situation to decide if a snow shovel or a call to a tow truck will be most effective.