Winter Driving

Drive Safely with Tips from AAA

Winter is a beautiful time of year. However, it also brings a variety of inclement driving conditions to our roadways. AAA wants to make sure you’re prepared for safer winter driving.

Winter Driving Tips
Driving in Rain
Driving in Fog
Driving in Snow and Ice
Be Prepared – Know the Conditions
Tire Chains – What you should know
In Front-Tire Skids
If Rear-Tire Skids
If you get stuck

Winter Driving Tips: back to top

• Drive at a speed that matches the prevailing visibility, traffic and road conditions and be prepared for challenging situations.
• Allow enough time and get an early start. Avoid driving while you’re fatigued.
• Keep your gas tank full—fill up when approaching mountain passes. You may need to change routes, idle or turn back.
• Slow down and wear your seat belt. Most winter crashes are the result of driving too fast for the conditions.
• Turn off cruise control so you can react to sudden changes.
• Be observant—visibility is limited, keep a constant watch for other vehicles.
• Keep windows clear—passing vehicles can spray mud and slush.
• Stay with your vehicle if you get stuck - try to conserve fuel while maintaining warmth. Put on flashers when vehicle is running and be aware of exhaust or carbon monoxide. Keep exhaust tail pipe clear of snow and debris.
• Turn on headlights for extra visibility—stop periodically during a long trip to clean your headlights of mud and dirt.
• Steering in snowy or icy conditions require smooth, careful movements. Avoid skids by anticipating lane changes, turns and curves, slowing down in advance. Practice steering in icy conditions in an open lot to see how your vehicle handles.
• Skids—don't panic! Slowly take your foot off the gas pedal, do not use your brakes, and steer your vehicle in the direction you wish to travel.
• Braking on a slippery surface requires more distance, so increase your following distance and allow for long slow and steady stops. Focus your eyes as far ahead as possible.

Driving in Rain: back to top

• Reduce speed and drive at a speed appropriate for the weather conditions.
• Drive in the middle lanes to avoid pools of water.
• Increase distance between your car and the car in front of you.
• After driving through standing water, lightly apply the brakes to dry them.
• Don't speed up when driving through standing water. Doing so may cause tires to lose contact with the road (hydroplane).
• If you're following another car, drive in its tracks.
• If it's raining so hard that you can't see the road or the car in front of you, pull over and wait it out.

Driving in Fog: back to top

• Slow down to aid visibility and drive at a constant speed.
• Drive with headlights on low beam—never use the high beams.
• Use the boundary lines on your right as a guide.
• Crack windows to listen for traffic.
• Use wipers and defroster as necessary for maximum vision.
• Use your signals in advance before turning.
• Consider postponing your trip until the fog clears.
• Be patient! Don't pass lines of traffic.
• Don't stop on the side of the road unless absolutely necessary.

Driving in Snow and Ice: back to top

• Listen to weather reports for changing conditions.
• Increase distance between cars.
• Drive slowly and smoothly, adjusting to changing conditions and turn on headlights.
• Brake early and avoid unnecessary stops.
• Make turns gently and cautiously, take curves at slower speeds and don't brake while in curves.
• Don't power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning.
• Don't stop going up a hill. There's nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road.
• Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
• Bridges, underpasses and any low or shaded area surrounded by landscaping can have icy spots—drive cautiously.
• Watch for snowplows, as well as salt and sand trucks, and give them plenty of room.
• Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

Be Prepared – Know the Conditions: back to top

• Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected.
• Call 511 to check road conditions before you depart.
• State road conditions:

California: 1-800-427-7623 or
Nevada:  1-775-888-7700 or
Utah: 1-866-511-8824 or

Tire ChainsWhat you should know: back to top

• Tire chains are essentially "traction aids" and may be an actual chain, cable with lugs or a combination of plastic and metal designed to assist with traction on snow covered or icy roads. These devices are mandatory on snow covered highways and freeways when designated by the Department of Transportation. Be sure to check your local agency or the areas you may be traveling.
• Many vehicles today have tight tolerances in between the tire and the suspension and may not be able to accept "chains" in a traditional sense. Your owner's manual will specify the type of traction device approved for your car. This is important because you can damage your vehicle and potentially void your warranty.
• Buy before you go. Some automotive parts and tire stores carry devices and my even offer a refund if not used. Be sure to ask about the return policy-most do not allow returns at all.
• After selecting the proper type, it is recommended to try the devices on at home before you need them. This way you’ll confirm that you purchased the proper size. All traction devices are sized for specific tire measurements. You'll appreciate the dry run. There is nothing like reading the directions when you're on the side of the road while the snow is blowing around and your hands are freezing.
• Traction devices must be installed on the drive wheels. Another reason to check your owner's manual.
• "Chain" installers are found on most busy roads. This is good to know in case you don't feel like installing them yourself. They usually charge $30-$45 provided you have the "chains" with you. California requires permits for installers and they do not sell "chains."
• Once you're driving with the chains on you must stay at low speeds. Typically 25-30mph. Do not make abrupt maneuvers. You can easily lose traction with the road and spin out or worse.
• Safety first: go slow, give yourself room to stop, watch for signs and be ready for anything.

Additional Tire Chain Tips: back to top

• Wear heavy gloves to protect your hands.
• To help keep dry, carry a waterproof mat or plastic sheet to work on. Pull over to a safe and level area to install or remove chains.
• Carry some type of tire blocks to prevent vehicle movement while you are working.
• Make sure to set the emergency brake prior to installing chains.
• Don't lie with your legs pointed toward traffic while installing or removing chains.
• Keep children and pets safe in your car to avoid distraction and injury.
• To prevent loosening, re-tighten your chains after you've driven a short distance.

In Front-Tire Skids: back to top

(your vehicle pushes wide through the turn and tends to run off the outside of the turn)
• Continue to look and steer toward your intended path of travel. Keep your eyes focused on where you want the vehicle to go.
• Smoothly ease up on the accelerator. This will transfer more weight to the front wheels, increasing the front tires’ traction. If you lift off the accelerator too quickly in a skid, the weight may shift rapidly such that the rear of the vehicle may slide sideways (oversteer skid).
• You may need to smoothly apply the brakes a bit to regain enough traction to turn the vehicle toward your intended patch of travel.

In Rear-Tire Skids: back to top

(the rear of your vehicle begins to slide sideways; the front of the vehicle may deviate from your intended patch of travel - if you do not take corrective action, the vehicle may spin around completely)
• Continue to look and steer toward your intended path of travel. Keep your eyes focused on where you want the vehicle to go.
• Avoid using the brakes.
• As the rear tires regain traction, continue steering toward your intended path of travel.
• You may need to make a number of counter-steering corrections before traction is fully regained.
• Counter-steering means steering in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go, toward your intended path of travel. Most drivers tend to steer this way instinctively in their attempt to correct a rear-tire skid. When you counter-steer, straighten the wheels as soon as you feel the rear of the vehicle begin to realign with your intended path of travel.

If you get stuck: back to top

• Apply power slowly. 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.
• Keep front wheels pointed straight ahead so the vehicle can move in a straight line. Or, try backing 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 by using second gear in a manual transmission and low gear in an automatic transmission. (Check your owner's manual first—it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again, moving ahead a little more each time. Use minimum power to keep the wheels from spinning until the vehicle gets going.

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