How to Handle Your Car on Snow and Ice

How to Handle Your Car on Snow and Ice

Not all cars drive alike. And in demanding winter weather, knowing how to handle your vehicle is critical, says the AAA.

Being comfortable with the different winter-weather capabilities of a vehicle can mean the difference between a safe trip and serious trouble, says the AAA.

To become familiar with a vehicle's winter-weather operating characteristics, AAA recommends motorists carefully practice slow-speed maneuvers on an empty snow- or ice-covered parking lot. Read carefully your vehicle owner's manual for information on its equipment and handling characteristics.

Front-wheel-drive vehicles generally handle better than rear-wheel-drive vehicles on slippery roads because the weight of the engine is on the drive wheels, which improves traction. The back end of rear-wheel-drive cars tends to slide from side-to-side during turns on icy roads. While many motorists now drive sport-utility vehicles and light trucks that can be excellent for driving in difficult conditions, AAA warns drivers not to become over confident.

Pickup truck drivers with rear-wheel-drive should be especially cautious on slick roads. Because these vehicles have very little weight over the wheels that propel the vehicle, they are prone to rear-wheel skids on slippery roads. Adding weight to the bed of the truck will help give it stability.

A vehicle's brake system also determines how motorists should operate their cars in winter weather.

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) provide significant stopping advantages on slick roads, but are only effective if properly used. Drivers of cars with ABS should remember the slogan, "Don't Let Up!" When stopping a vehicle with ABS in slippery conditions, motorists should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal. The ABS will automatically pump the brakes to keep the wheels from locking and the vehicle from skidding.

If you don't have ABS, gently apply pumping pressure to the brakes during slippery conditions to avoid wheel lock up.

Whereas ABS works during braking, traction control prevents wheel spin during acceleration. Traction control, featured in many new cars, allows motorists to maintain control while accelerating on slippery surfaces by reducing power to the drive wheels. This allows the car to get a better grip on slippery surfaces.

Driving on ice and snow tests the mettle of any driver. Sharpening your skill in managing the brake, accelerator and steering wheel is critical for safe winter driving, according to AAA.

At Intersections

  • Even two inches of snow can turn intersections into crash zones. Slow down before approaching an intersection. Scan left and right for pedestrians and cars on cross streets. If you're having trouble stopping, they probably will, too.
  • Prepare for drivers sliding into intersections from the side, and get ready to make a decision: Can you proceed safely through the intersection, or should you stop to avoid a collision with an oncoming vehicle?
  • After a stop, press the accelerator slowly to get going again. With manual transmission, start in second gear to reduce wheel spin. If you have an automatic equipped with second-gear start, use it.

On Hills

  • When approaching an icy hill, pick a path that will allow the most traction. Watch the cars ahead of you, and steer clear of spots where they spin their wheels or slide backward. Instead head for unpacked snow or powder, where you'll get a better grip.
  • Build speed gradually while you're still on the level ground. If you have shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, shift into it before you reach the hill. After you've reached the crest, begin your descent slowly, shifting into a lower gear to allow engine drag (rather than brakes) to reduce your speed.

Rounding Curves

  • To maintain control, you must reduce your speed before you enter an icy curve. Any sudden acceleration or deceleration while you're turning will send you into a skid.

Controlled speed and smooth steering and braking will help prevent skidding on an icy turn. If your wheels lose grip, gradually release the pressure from whichever pedal you're using (either the brake or accelerator). Then, smoothly steer in the direction you want the car to go. Smooth steering is essential in recovering from a skid.

Practice driving on ice in a big, empty parking lot after the first storm. If you keep it slow and smooth, you can drive safely this winter and increase your confidence on ice.

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