Even though the weather outside is frightful, your boss still expects you to show up at 9 a.m. sharp. Want to make it into work in one piece? Here's how to navigate the ice (and idiots) of winter driving:
1. Tread carefully.
When driving on slick ice, traction is your friend, says Alex Debogorski, star of History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers. “Winter tires tend to be softer, so you get better traction,” he says, while harder summer rubber can slip. Where you live determines when (or if) you need to make the switch, but be sure to check your pressure before you hit the road. Under-inflated tires overheat and wear down the edges, reducing your tread.
2. Replenish your fluids.
You know water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but cold weather affects other liquids, too. Don’t forget to swap your oil and windshield fluid with winter-specific formulas. Also, keep your gas tank half full at all times. Nearly empty tanks can build up condensation in extremely cold temperatures, which can freeze your fuel line and stall your car.
While your frozen fingers make it tempting to just scrape away peep holes on your windshield and hope for the best, it’s important to clear off all ice and snow. In order to see and be seen, remove the snow from your headlights, taillights, and hood. “Eventually, it's going to come off and you really don’t want it to blind the driver behind you,” says AAA spokesperson William Van Tassel, Ph.D.
4. Don’t blast your defroster.
You’re cold and want heat, stat—but cranking up the defroster actually makes your car cooler, Debogorski says. When you put it on full blast, it will cool your heater to pass more air through the system. Instead, keep your dial at the ¾ mark for a toasty interior and ice-free windshield and wipers.
5. Keep your distance.
An icy road isn’t the place to tailgate. “Back off the vehicle in front of you,” Debogorski says. “Not only for stopping, but if you’re close to them, they're spraying sand, salt, or snow all over you and you’re blind.” Distance yourself from other cars on the road by sticking to the right lane and increasing your following distance to 8 seconds. And don’t forget the cars behind you. If you need to slow down, tap the peddle to warn other drivers that you're changing speed. “The human eye is attracted to motion, so anybody behind you will have a much better chance of seeing you,” Van Tassel says.
6. Adjust to your conditions.
We’ve all seen the a-hole barreling down the freeway at 75 miles per hour (mph) in dangerous slush. Don’t be that guy. Slow down by 10 mph the moment ice begins to pelt your windshield, Debogorski says. Reduced speed gives everyone a chance to react. Also, turn off your tunes to concentrate on the pavement. Everything a white blur? Throw on a pair of polarized lenses to increase contrast and visibility.
7. Never slam on your breaks.
Whether you’re stopping at a light or skidding on black ice, never brake suddenly. Abrupt breaking can upset the balance of your vehicle and make it hard to regain control. If your car starts to skid, AAA recommends simply looking and steering where you want to go. “You’ll have the best chances of staying on that target if you look at it,” Van Tassel says.
8. Pack a preparedness kit.
Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries, warm clothing, gloves, and a jack in your trunk. And don’t forget a shovel in case you wind up in a snow bank—you’ll need it to clear your exhaust pipe to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning.
9. Let the plow do its job.
Trying to pass a snow plow on the road can earn you more than a dirty look. “The snow plows are doing you a favor,” Van Tassel says. “If you pass them by, then you are moving into a part of the road that hasn’t been cleared, and that could be a lot worse.”
10. Stay off the road (if you can).
The first question to ask yourself before venturing off in a storm: Is this necessary? Check your weather listings before you head out. If the conditions are too bad, call your boss and tell him you’re working from your couch. “You can always stay home,” Debogorski says. “Don’t be a hero.”