How To Drive Through An Ice Storm

Be prepared for slick winter roads by following these extreme weather driving tips.

By Jordan Mendoza

Ice storms can be beautiful and dramatic, because they deliver super-cooled rain that freezes on contact, coating everything with a shimmery glaze. But for drivers they can also be incredibly dangerous, covering streets with treacherous layers of ice. It’s best to stay off the road if an ice storm is forecast. But if you’re already driving and rain starts turning into ice, follow these tips.

SLOW DOWN
Slow down and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, to allow more time to react in slippery conditions.

HIT THE GAS AND BRAKE SAFELY
Apply the gas slowly to avoid losing traction and skidding on the ice. And start braking earlier because it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

LOOK OUT FOR PATCHES OF ICE
Steer clear of glossy ice patches on the road—be especially vigilant on bridges, exit ramps and roadways near bodies of water, because these areas freeze first.

IF YOU START TO SLIDE:

  • Take your foot off the gas.
  • Stay calm.
  • Don’t slam on the brakes. That could cause you to skid and lose control.
  • Steer in the direction you’re sliding.
  • Find traction. Steer toward a snowy, salted or sanded patch; or an empty field; or even a snow bank. Wait until you've regained traction before gently applying the brakes.

 

DON’T USE CRUISE CONTROL
On slick patches, even a light tap of the brake pedal to deactivate cruise control can cause you to skid.

WATCH OUT FOR TREES AND POWER LINES
Ice can make branches up to 30 times heavier, so keep an eye on overhead trees. If you see a downed power line, do not drive over it.

BE PREPARED
A little advance preparation can help a lot when it comes to extreme-weather driving. Before you head out:

  • CHECK YOUR TIRE TREAD: Before you head out, make sure your vehicle’s tires have adequate tread by looking for the tires’ built-in wear indicators, which will appear level with the tread when it’s time to replace the tires.
  • INFLATE TIRES PROPERLY: Tire pressure drops considerably in cold weather. Check the pressure monthly and inflate tires to the proper level as listed on the label found on the driver’s side doorjamb.
  • INSTALL TIRE CHAINS: In extremely snowy or icy conditions—when the road’s surface is completely coated—install tire chains to get better traction. Ideally use them on all four tires, but if you have only one pair, mount them on the rear wheels.
  • FILL THE WINDSHIELD WIPER FLUID RESERVOIR: Use fluid with the necessary freeze protection for your area.
  • EXAMINE YOUR WIPERS: Replace them if the rubber is cracked, broken or falling off.
  • CHECK THE COOLANT LEVEL: It’s important to check your coolant, or antifreeze, whenever you fill your gasoline tank. Running low on coolant can be catastrophic, potentially ruining your engine.
  • CLEAR OFF SNOW AND ICE: Before you hit the road, clear ice from your vehicle’s windows and lights. And brush snow off the hood and roof, so it doesn’t blow off while you’re driving and impair visibility.
  • TAKE AN EMERGENCY KIT: Prepare a winter emergency kit for the trunk and check it regularly, making sure your portable jump starter and spare cell phone are charged. (Often 911 calls will go through even if the phone has no service plan.) The kit should include: Tire chains, road salt or kitty litter for traction, jumper cables, jump starter, cell phone, phone charger, small shovel, ice scraper, flashlight, rags or paper, towels, blankets, flares, bottled water and energy bars.
  • MONITOR THE FORECAST: Always keep on top of your local forecast and stay off the road when ice advisories have been issued. It may look like a frozen wonderland out there, but driving in slick conditions can be perilous. Stay safe!

 

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