Driving in the ice and snow can be annoying, frustrating and nerve-wracking. Winter temperatures often sit below freezing, and with a shorter amount of daylight, roads can quickly become slick with any kind of precipitation. But driving during the winter doesn’t have to be totally dreadful. There are a number of relatively simple things drivers can do before taking their vehicles on the road to increase their safety.
The first thing drivers can do to make themselves less nervous about driving in snowy conditions is to allow plenty of time to make it to the destination. Accepting the fact that snowy roads mean slow driving is important, Nicholasville police Sgt. Scott Harvey said.
“Everything needs to be slowed down — turns, stops and overall speed,” he said. “Don’t change lanes too quickly, and make sure to allow proper stopping distance.
“People think they can drive in the snow and ice like they normally do, and it creates a real problem. Just slow down and allow more time.”
It’s also important to allow enough to time prepare the vehicle itself to travel in the snow. And that process begins with removing all snow from the windows before pulling out of the driveway.
Cleaning the snow from the windshield wiper blades before turning the wipers on will save the rubber on the blade from excessive stress, local mechanic Van Edmundson said. Edmundson owns Van’s Automotive in Wilmore and said he has worked on cars for nearly 20 years. He said it’s also important to use a below-zero windshield washer fluid and to use it sparingly.
“Don’t hit the fluid when the wind-chill is below zero, because that can freeze on the spot and blind you,” Edmundson said. “When you’re going 40 or 50 mph, your windshield can get pretty cold.”
He also recommended checking other fluids in the car, such as antifreeze, oil and fuel levels before driving. He said keeping at least half a tank of gas in the car will keep the fuel lines from freezing and is also enough to keep a car running for a while, should the driver run off the road.
But fluid and fuel levels aren’t the only important inspections to make. Checking a car’s tire pressure is another important precaution to take when preparing to travel in winter weather. Local auto shop owner Jim Smith, who’s been at Jim’s Quality Service in Nicholasville for 23 years, recommends checking the tire pressure often in the winter. He said it’s also important to have tires rotated frequently, so the two best tires can stay in the front of front-wheel drive vehicles.
Most tires sold today are considered “all-weather tires” and are designed to handle snow and mud, so it’s not as common to see snow tires or chains, Smith said.
Smith’s best tip for drivers is to mind the position of their windshield wipers when they park cars.
“When you turn off your vehicle for the night, the wipers should be completely off; otherwise, they’re likely to freeze and when you go to start your car, the blades will still be trying to move, and those arms just break,” he said. “We see a lot of broken wipers this time of year.”
Car care expert Dave Bailey, who owns DB Auto Services in Nicholasville and has been working on cars for more than 40 years, said one of the best ways a driver can prepare his or her car for winter travel is to read the manual. Every car is different, he said, but reading the manual will give drivers a leg up on knowing what the car is capable of.
“Reading the manual will tell you what you need to do and what your expectations should be,” Bailey said. “About 90 percent of the people I talk to haven’t read their handbooks, and that tells you more about what’s going on than anything.”
But even the most careful preparation doesn’t always prevent accidents from happening when roads are slippery.
Harvey said it’s important to know what to do if your car starts to slide, as well as what items to keep in an emergency kit, should the vehicle exit the road.
Most vehicles are equipped with anti-lock brakes, which means drivers don’t have to pump the brakes when sliding. Instead, they should just press down firmly on the brake pedal and “let the brakes do their job,” Harvey said.
“If you’re taking a turn and you start to slide, first, let go of the gas. If your foot’s already on the brake, keep it there and press down,” he said. “Try to keep turning, and you should be able to turn your way out if the anti-lock braking system does its job.
“Just try not to panic.”