Driving in Snow & Ice

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it. Don’t go out until the snowplows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work. If you must drive in snowy conditions, allow yourself extra time to reach your destination. Make sure your car is prepared for winter driving.

Start With a Car Checkup
  • Checking the battery
  • Checking the tires for air, sidewall wear and tread depth
  • Checking antifreeze levels and the freeze lines
  • Checking the ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts
  • Checking the air, fuel and emission filters, and the PCV valve
  • Changing and adjusting the spark plugs
  • Inspecting the distributor
Your car should have a tune-up to ensure better gas mileage, quicker starts, more pickup, and faster response when passing.

Driving Safely on Ice
  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Don’t pass snowplows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
If Your Rear Wheels Skid
  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle under control.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse which is normal.
If Your Front Wheels Skid
  • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch and accelerate gently.
If You Get Stuck
  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a light touch on the gas to ease your car out.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle (check your owner’s manual first since it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
Sources for this traffic tip came from the National Safety Council, New York State Motor Vehicles, and Washington State Government Information and Services.