The East Coast of the US is bracing for a massive snowstorm this weekend. It may be necessary for you to get behind the wheel in you live in this region.
If it comes to that, here are five basic rules to follow to avoid trouble.
1. Don't drive
Yep, leave the car in the garage or the driveway. The best way to deal with the hazards of driving in snow is to completely avoid it.
2. Go slow
Anytime you're up against conditions that destroy traction, you want to drop the speedometer. It might feel silly to be poking along at 30 mph in a 65 mph zone, but speed truly is the enemy in snowbound weather. You'll get there.
3. Know your vehicle
Many newer cars come with antilock braking (ABS) and electronic stability or traction control (ESC). Many older cars don't. These systems are useful in snowy, icy conditions, but they aren't foolproof.
If you have ABS, you have to understand how to use it. Let's say you're driving on a snowy road and you need to brake rapidly to avoid an obstruction. The key is to break HARD, engaging the ABS, which will prevent your wheels from locking up. Then you simply need to steer smoothly around the obstruction and ease off the brakes when clear, being careful to avoid too much throttle.
Traction control can help you avoid a skid, but it won't help you out if you're driving at an excessive speed.
Four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive will assist in maintaining traction and getting through heavier patches of snow. But neither will save your skin if you get into a dangerous slide or skid.
Additionally, if your car is in bad condition or doesn't contain winter-weather supplies, it's better to find another way to get around.
4. Know what to do if your car does skid
Steer into, not against, the skid and let off the throttle to get the car back under control. This "don't fight it" approach should be effective with front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles.
If your have rear-wheel drive, you may need to counter steer to avoid having the back end of the car slide, but this is hard to get right. Generally speaking, rear-wheel-drive cars and snow or ice don't get along well, so it's best to keep them in the garage — especially anything with gobs of horsepower.
And of course the best way to avoid skidding is to drive very slowly in the first place.
5. Be constantly aware of white outs and black ice
Sometimes, you get caught on the road when the snow starts coming down hard. You need to reduce speed and keep your lights on (or turn them on if they're off), maintaining what might seem like an excessive distance — I recommend at least three to four car lengths — between you and the car in front of you. If the snow "whites out" your vision, then you should:
- Immediately slow down and put your hazard blinkers on
- Don't use bright lights — they'll reflect back
- Come to a stop if traffic has ceased moving
- Pull over to the side of the road if possible, or look to safely exit the highway
- Stay in your car until conditions improve — never leave you vehicle in a heavy-snow conditions
Black ice is much trickier. This is ice that's formed on roads and can't be seen. You really have to be aware of the conditions that create black ice. A daytime snowstorm that lets up, allowing for some melting, can lead to black ice when temperatures fall after dark. Mixed snow/ice/sleet can yield black ice. And elevated bridges can ice much sooner than roadways, so you need to take extra caution when crossing them.
Follow these rules and you should be OK, no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.