No-Nonsense Tips for Navigating Wild Winter Roadways

Written by Sally Uchida

Wintertime is especially dangerous, and driving through ice and snow can be a recipe for disaster. Here’s how to stay safe on the road so you make it to your destination.

Check Your Vehicle Before Heading Out

Before you start driving in the snow, make sure that your car is properly winterized. If you’ve never driven in the ice or snow before, you might need to make a trip to your dealer or a tire shop to get your vehicle fitted with all-season or snow-rated tires. If the weather is really bad or if you drive in the mountains, look into keeping a set of tire chains in your trunk for emergencies.

Check your ignition system to make sure that the starter and ignition are firing properly and that you won’t have any problems starting the vehicle on a cold day.

Check the fuel system to make sure that the fuel pump and relay are energizing. Without this system, fuel will not make it to the engine. And, sometimes, cold weather can cause some of the systems to seize or freeze up – particularly if they’re old. In the north, where roads are heavily salted and sanded to clear ice, have the fuel lines checked for significant rust.

Check the exhaust system to make sure there are no leaks that will cause exhaust gasses to leak back into the passenger cabin.

Check your tire pressure and tread. Refer to the tire placard inside the driver’s door for tire inflation information.

Check your defroster, and make sure it’s working properly. Change out or increase the Antifreeze to water ratio if your coolant is not rated for freezing weather. Use an Antifreeze tester/hydrometer to test anti-freeze and anti-boil protection. Some coolant mixtures don’t contain enough antifreeze chemicals to protect the engine’s cooling system. If you don’t have the proper antifreeze mixture, the coolant could freeze – causing engine block damage.

Make sure you have the proper oil in your engine. Refer to your owner’s manual for the correct viscosity for cold temperatures.

Fill Up The Tank On Long Trips

Fill up your gas tank if you plan on going on a long trip. In cold temperatures, keep your tank as full as possible to avoid condensation developing. Condensation can lead to gas lines freezing.

Watch Out for Construction Zones

Also, keep in mind that you may end up in a construction zone at some point during a long trip. According to, your odds of getting into an accident in a construction zone are higher during inclement weather. So, be aware of all posted speed signs, safety cones, and retaining walls and construction crew that are out working on the road.

Keep Winter Supplies Handy

You should pack supplies and keep them in the trunk at all times. These supplies should include booster cables in case your battery dies, two or more wool blankets to keep you warm (wool is waterproof), a snow shovel and scraper, a flashlight with extra batteries, extra clothing, several high-calorie, non-perishable, meals in case you’re temporarily stranded, sand for traction if you’re stuck on ice, road flares, cloth or paper towels, and a piece of bright cloth to signal others.

Maintain A Safe Driving Distance

Finally, make sure you always maintain a safe distance from other drivers. Usually, this means at least 3 to 5 car lengths between you and another vehicle. If the weather is really bad, consider keeping 10 car lengths between you and the other vehicles on the road.

About the Blogger

Sally Uchida current works in promoting driver awareness programs. She likes to share her insights online and has also posted her thoughts across a range of driving and lifestyle websites.

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Auto Upkeep 4th Edition

Michael Gray

Mike has roots in the automotive service industry. He began diagnosing and fixing cars at a young age in his family’s service station. He has worked in automotive parts supply stores, towing companies, and service facilities. After graduating from St. Cloud State University (MN) with a Bachelor’s degree, he implemented and taught a basic car care program at the high school level. During work on his Master’s degree at Illinois State University (IL), he was a curriculum specialist on a National Science Foundation project where he co-authored ten integrated mathematics, science, and technology books designed for team teaching. Mike has also supervised teachers in Career and Technology Education as a school system administrator.

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