5 Tips for Driving Safely on Winter Roads

There are few sights more beautiful and serene than freshly fallen snow in Minnesota. However, the wonder that comes along with it can quickly fade when you realize you have to hit the road for work, errands, or to visit family and friends during the holiday season.

The average annual snowfall in Minnesota ranges from 36 inches in the southwest to more than 70 along the “snowbelt” along Lake Superior. Whether you’re a seasoned resident of the area or just visiting for the winter, it’s important to take road safety seriously, especially this time of year. These winter driving tips from Kennedy Transmission are aimed at keeping you safe on the roads both this snowy season and beyond.

1. Go Easy on the Accelerator and Easier on the Brakes

Resist the urge to hit the gas when the light turns green and instead slowly press down on the accelerator when you’re ready to move. Easing down on the pedal maximizes tire performance by minimizing traction loss over slick roads due to snow, ice, and moisture. Be cautious, and drive below posted speed limits, but don’t become a hazard to others by driving too slowly.

Likewise, you’ll want to keep the same pace when it comes to slowing down and stopping. Keep your winter braking style slow and steady and leave plenty of room for coming to a complete stop. Otherwise, you risk slamming on the brakes and spinning out of control. Even if you don’t collide with another car or roadside structure, you risk throwing your passengers forward and causing neck and brain injuries due to the sudden jerking motion. Try to stay at least 10 seconds behind drivers in front of you to help avoid sudden stops.

2. Know What to Turn Off and On

Turn off cruise control when you’re driving on icy roads. While helpful to set and control speeds when traveling long distances, it can quickly become dangerous if you begin to hydroplane. The feature reacts by trying to accelerate the car, which can add to dangerous wheel spin and can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle. If you do begin to hydroplane, take your foot off the gas, place both hands on the steering wheel, and steer toward the direction of the skid. This should allow you to take control of your vehicle and get centered back in your lane.

Turn on traction control, especially if you haven’t installed snow tires yet. It can help you stay on the road under severe weather conditions, but it’s no substitute for a good set of snow tires. Once they’re installed on the car, you can turn off traction control again.

3. Listen to Your Tires

Winter tires, or snow tires, are designed to give your vehicle stability as you drive in ice, snow, and frigid winter conditions. These are an investment but can be used many months out of the year in Minnesota. Once they’re on your vehicle, learn to listen to your tires. When you drive through snow, you should hear flops and thuds coming from the tires. If the noise suddenly stops, be very careful. The silence is often a sign that you’re driving over ice.

4. Don’t Put Off Winter Maintenance

Whether you do it yourself or take it to the shop, make winter car maintenance a priority on your list. To prep for Minnesota road conditions:

  • Install snow tires and check the brakes
  • Check the battery and spark plugs
  • Top off antifreeze and inspect the freeze line
  • Make sure wipers are in good condition and wiper fluid is full
  • Clean all debris from your vehicle
  • Make sure your rear-window defroster is in working order
  • Service your vehicle regularly

5. Create a Winter Survival Kit for Your Car

Whether it’s a blinding snowstorm or a blown tire, you need to be ready for any scenario that may leave you stranded on the road. Prepare for the unexpected by keeping emergency gear in your trunk both for your vehicle and for yourself. If you’re not familiar with any of these tools, check with the friendly professionals at your nearest auto service center.

Survival gear for the car:

  • Emergency reflectors and flares
  • Battery booster cables
  • Large flashlights and extra batteries
  • Heavy tow chain or rope
  • Road salt, cat litter, or sand
  • Folding shovel
  • Ice scraper and brush

Survival gear for you: 

  • Bottled water, energy bars, and snack food
  • Cell phone adapter plug for car lighter and charging cord
  • Basic first aid kit and personal medications
  • Pack of matches
  • Spare socks, mittens, hats, and blankets

Winter Road Survival Tips

Preparedness can only get you so far. In addition to keeping up on vehicle maintenance and having a winter emergency car kit in your trunk, you should follow the below guidelines when you hit the road in case you become stranded or need a tow:

  • Make sure the tailpipe is clear before running the engine for warmth. If tailpipes are obstructed with ice or snow, there’s nowhere for the fumes to go and they can be rerouted into your car, causing a potential health hazard. Exhaust fumes can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal and is not detectable by smell.
  • Fill up often. Keeping gas in your tank is especially important in winter for a few different reasons. First, a full tank will reduce condensation and prevent gas line freeze ups. In addition, if you become stranded, your car’s engine may be the only thing helping to keep you and your passengers warm until help arrives.
  • Do not leave your car until help has arrived. Winter storms can bring with them high winds and blinding snow that can make it easy to lose sight of your car if you leave it. Your vehicle is the safest place to shelter from cold temperatures and snow — venturing into the storm, especially when it’s dark, brings the dangers of becoming lost, injuring yourself, or freezing. Once sub-zero temperatures hit, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Kennedy Transmission is Always Here for Your Winter Car Needs

You can’t always stay home when bad weather hits, so make sure your vehicle stays ready with these winter driving safety tips. Our master mechanics at Kennedy Transmission are ready to help at our Minneapolis location and six other auto repair and maintenance shops around the state. Regardless of the weather, we’re always here for you. Stop in today or give us a call to get your car geared up for the weather Minnesota winters throw our way.

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