How To Drive Like A Pro In Snow

Perfect your road skills with tips geared to every level and region.

By Jordan Mendoza

Beginner: Austin, Texas

Snow in Texas? Yep. Austin gets a light amount of the stuff, and a frosty coating can make highways slicker. In these conditions, be mindful of three fundamentals:

Keep clear: Visibility will be an issue as flurries and diminished daylight obscure your view. Be sure to clear the snow off all your windows before you drive, keep extra wiper fluid handy and leave your headlights on (which will also make you more visible to other drivers).



Slow it down: Increased moisture from snow and melting ice will make your tires lose traction, increasing your braking distance. So maintain a safe space between yourself and other drivers. Steer calmly and deliberately, and try to maintain a consistent, slower speed.





Brake right: Gentleness is key, especially on corners or turns. If you have ABS (anti-lock braking system), keep applying firm pressure to the pedal while steering gradually into a safe zone. If you feel a forceful throbbing, this is just the ABS doing its work. If you do not have ABS, you could pump your brakes: Apply pressure until the tires lock, release to let your wheels rotate, then repeat as you steer toward a safer area.



Intermediate: Kansas City, Mo.

Moving deeper into the Snow Belt, winters can be bitterly cold with spine-chilling winds, but major blizzards are seldom a concern. Snowfall averages about 19 inches each year. Your major worry is likely to be traction, as the accumulation of snow and ice will decrease your car’s ability to grip the road.

Master the uphill battle: Your main objective in driving uphill in snowy, slippery conditions is to maintain momentum and the right amount of tire spin. When approaching the hill, build up enough acceleration to maintain speed and grip when you begin the climb. If possible, shift into the highest practical gear to reduce wheel torque and the likelihood of spinning out. While four-wheel drive might help get you going on snow and ice, it does not add traction for steering or braking. So watch your speed because you will likely have to go downhill soon after you reach the top. Which brings us to…

Get downhill safely: Braking on a decline strains brake pads significantly and could increase your chances of slipping. As you approach a steep slope, slow down in anticipation of the acceleration caused by gravity. Select a low gear to allow engine braking and help prevent wheel lockup, then coast down the hill while lightly and progressively braking only as necessary.



Advanced: Syracuse, N.Y.

Syracuse consistently ranks among the snowiest places in the U.S. The city boasts the biggest snowplow in the world and has won Upstate New York’s Golden Snowball—for accumulating the most snowfall in a season—in 11 of the last 12 years. Roads are incredibly slippery, and blizzards can bring down six inches of snow an hour. These extreme conditions require a different approach.

Maintain momentum: Basically, take advantage of it while you have it. Accelerate gently, and stick to a steady pace, even if just crawling. Once you stop, it might be hard to get going again.





If you stall out: Keeping in low gear and with your wheels straight, hit the gas lightly. If you feel your wheels slipping, stop, then go in reverse until they start to slip again. Repeat this until you rock yourself out of position. You might want to turn off AdvanceTrac ESC to let your wheels spin and give you full engine power to get out of the situation. Helpful hint: Antifreeze will also help melt the ice beneath your tires.



Know when and how to wait: Sometimes road conditions can be so severe, your best solution is not to drive at all. Find a place where you can rest your vehicle without getting snowed in. Plows usually clear exit ramps and rest areas first; you can also try the parking lots of large businesses, hotels or gas stations. Once parked, stay in your car (it is easy to get disoriented in a blizzard), and wrap yourself in winter clothing and a blanket. Running the engine occasionally will also help keep you warm, but make sure you free your tailpipe of snow to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Leave your lights on to maintain visibility for other drivers. As soon as it’s safe enough, drive home.


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