Safe Winter Driving: Accidents Aren’t the Only Hazard

Major storms and extreme low temperatures have been creating some major driving problems. While snow and ice cause an increased risk for collisions on the roads, the cold temperatures also leave your vehicle vulnerable to damage. Cautious winter driving means not only being careful on the road, but also paying a little extra attention to car care.

You may avoid cold weather problems that could leave you stranded by watching these three things:

1. Weak or Dead Batteries

Extremely low temperatures strain your car battery because the chemical reactions needed to make it work happen more slowly. If you already have an old battery, this can cause it to fail even more quickly. Have the battery tested. If it needs replacement, do it right away!

2. Thickened Fluids

Freezing temperatures cause thickening of fluids your car needs to run properly, including transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, oil, and antifreeze. Making sure these fluids are maintained at proper levels will help you avoid trouble.

3. Lost Tire Pressure

Tires typically lose 1 pound per square inch (psi) for every 10 degrees of temperature drop.  Under inflated tires do not perform well, plus the tire pressure loss can eventually result in a flat tire. Be sure to check inflation more frequently as the air gets colder.

Along with following these preventive measures, it is a good idea to always be prepared for a road emergency. This is especially true in frigid temperatures. You may want to throw some winter items in your trunk, along with your roadside emergency kit, such as blankets, gloves, boots, packaged hand warmers, and a folding shovel. You may also want to keep bottled water and snacks in the car, just in case you find yourself hungry and waiting for a tow!

Snow Tires for an SUV?

Dear Tracy,

I thought that having a 4-wheel drive vehicle meant that I would not need snow tires, but my SUV’s handling on icy roads is not as great as I thought it would be. Would having snow tires installed help?

Rob T.

Dear Rob,

An SUV does offer many winter driving advantages. When you drive on snow covered roads, or try to get up  an unplowed driveway, you will be especially appreciative of that 4-wheel drive. Unfortunately, when it comes to slippery ice and slush, the power advantage of the 4-wheel drive system does not provide much benefit.

SUVs and other 4-wheel drive vehicles usually come equipped with large, wide all season tires. While great for driving in most conditions, these standard tires are less than ideal for winter driving conditions. The type of rubber used does not grip well in cold temperatures, and the tread pattern is not designed to channel large amounts of water on the road. Also, tires with a larger surface area may not cut through snow effectively, and be likely to hydroplane.

Snow tires, or winter tires are developed from a softer rubber than all season tires. This allows them to provide better road grip and handling. Winter tires also feature an open tread design, which gives them better handling capability on slush and snow. When it comes to stopping and cornering on snow and ice,  winter tires will give you a definite advantage, especially with four-wheel drive vehicles, which tend to be heavier and take longer to come to a stop.

If you are doing a lot of driving in slick and icy conditions, winter tires are well worth the investment. Using them will also help you extend the usable life of the your all season tires!