Winter wonderlands aren’t exactly the safest environments to rev up the engine. However, just because the roads are blanketed with white fluff or solid ice, that doesn’t change the fact that you still need to drive places! Depending on your region, there are some preventative measures you can take to ensure safe and sound travel through the snow.
Of all the winter driving hazards, the biggest one to look out for is the all-too-terrifying prospect of skidding. In order to take charge of inclement weather, you’ll need to know how to plan for and recover from anything that might fall from above or slip from below.
Read our guide of the 5 most common types of skids, how to recover from each one like a champ, and return safely to your home in time for hot chocolate.
Skid Recovery Plan
Not all skids are created equal. Because a “fishtail” is different from a “wheelspin,” knowing when to apply the brakes, or take your foot off the gas, will steer away the panic. Avoiding quick, over-reactive movements and focusing on purposeful action steps is often the only way to recover from unexpectedly hazardous roadway conditions.
What happens: When you accelerate too quickly for the available traction, you’ll be facing what is known as a “wheelspin.” During a wheelspin skid, the tires will be spinning at a faster rate than the vehicle is traveling.
What to do: The best way to manage this is to take your foot off the gas until the tires can regain traction. As a safety test before you really get going, hit the gas when leaving your driveway. This will help you find out how easily your tires are likely to spin when out on the road. Testing your car’s grip when winter driving is a solid idea.
What happens: Unlike the wheelspin, a “wheel lockup” will happen if you brake too hard or all of a sudden. Your car will be moving, but the wheels will stop spinning. Ah!
What to do: Simply take your foot off the brake until the wheels start moving again. Then, try braking again, but this time, do it softly and not all at once. If you have an ABS, or Anti-Lock Brake System, then this will not happen to you, but you will need to be aware of your ‘margin of safety’ — the distance between you and the car in front of you — because your car is likely to not decelerate as well as a car without ABS on roads with less traction.
What happens: An “understeer” will happen when the front tires lose their grip, making it impossible for the car to turn around a corner. Most likely, you tried to turn a corner too quickly and instead of rounding the corner, you took off skidding. If you’re going way too fast, then recovery might be impossible, and fingers crossed you can get to a soft place safely.
What to do: As you’re skidding off in the wrong direction, take your foot off of the gas and gently apply the brakes. Slightly steer where you want to go. You have the most grip with slight steering inputs. Resist the urge to over-compensate with aggressive steering! It might be the natural thought that you need to turn the wheel hard and fast, but in this case, grip and correction will happen through the brakes, not the wheel.
What happens: If the rear tires lose their grip and your vehicle starts to slide sideways, you’re dealing with an “oversteer.” This happens a lot when going too fast on icy roads, coupled with applying the brakes when hitting a corner. This combination can cause the shift in your vehicle‘s weight.
What to do: In rear-wheel drive cars, take your foot off of the gas. In a front-wheel drive car, take your foot off of the brakes and gently apply the gas. Slightly steer where you want to go. You will have the most grip with slight steering inputs. In general, look down the road where you want to go, release the brakes, and accelerate if needed to stop the rear tires from sliding.
Counterskid AKA Fishtailing
What happens: When an oversteer is met with a failure to correctly straighten out, you’re facing a “counterskid” — also known as “fishtailing” or “tankslapping.” This is perhaps the most commonly known type of skid. Your car might actually swing back and forth, gaining speed with each swivel. The key is to correct and straighten out as purposeful as possible, keeping your eye on the road and regaining control of the steering and your direction.
What to do: Similar to an oversteer, for rear-wheel drive cars, take your foot off the gas. For front-wheel drive cars, take your foot off of the brakes and gently apply the gas. Slightly steer where you want to go. You have the most grip with slight steering inputs.
Winter Driving Tips & Techniques [Infographic]
Additional Winter Driving Tips:
- Winterize your vehicle — Make sure your tires are properly inflated (refer to your owner’s manual) and that your vehicle is prepared for the ice and snow. It’s also important to have certain items in your car in case of an emergency: food, water, jumper cables, windshield scrapers, extra windshield washer fluid, warm clothing and boots, first-aid kit, flashlight, shovel, and reflectors.
- Accelerate & decelerate slowly — As a general winter safety rule, remember to apply the gas slowly when accelerating. If you’re looking to quickly regain traction and avoid skids, this is the best method. Fact: It will always take longer to slow down on icy roads!
- Slow down! — Everything is going to take longer on snow-covered roads versus dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving and turning slowly. Plan plenty of time to get to where you need to go.
- Double the ‘margin of safety’ — Your margin of safety—the following distance between you and the car in front of you—needs to be increased from 3-4 seconds to 8-10 seconds. When you need to stop on icy roads, you should have double the space and time to do so safely.
- Get to know your brakes — Anti-lock brakes (ABS) allow for you to slow down quickly, but you’ll need to press hard on the pedal and be aware of how your car will react in this situation. But really, if you can avoid stopping in the snow all together, do it. If you’re headed somewhere nearby and time it right, you can often get enough speed going to simply keep rolling until the lights turn green.
- Be careful up and down hills — Generate some inertia, enough to carry you up a hill. Reduce your speed as you approach the crest, then go downhill as slowly as possible. Seriously, hills are super scary when it’s icy. Never stop in the middle of going up a hill, and avoid hills completely if you can.
- Can you stay home? — If the weather gets too precarious, there’s always the great… indoors! Roadways during the winter are always a risk, no matter how prepared you are. Trust your instinct when it comes to accessing whether or not to travel in inclement weather.
Check out this video from AAA. Their Winter Driving Tips playlist provides a helpful visual guide to add to your arsenal of winter car safety knowledge:
If you haven’t winterized your vehicle yet, it’s not too late. Read our Car Winterization Guide to prevent winter damage and maintain your vehicle during the colder weather.
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