Driving Safely on Icy Roads


Everything you need to know about managing icy road conditions

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When do You Need to know How to Drive on Ice?

Not everyone in the USA will deal with icy roads in their daily lives. However, for those living in areas prone to heavy weather conditions, or even the occasional flurry, knowing how to drive on ice or icy roads is a vital life skill. Naturally, the best thing to do is avoid driving on ice altogether, but sometimes, that simply is not an option. When this is the case, driving as carefully as possible is essential. Luckily, modern technology helps to ease you through this difficult process, along with a few tips from experts, too.

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How to Prepare Your Car for Winter Roads

Before you get your car out and start driving on an icy road, there is some preparation that needs to be done. Winter tires are definitely a big help, though if it is likely to be a very infrequent concern, the cost may not really outweigh the benefit. Regardless of what you wrap around your rims, you should not settle for RWD or FWD if AWD is an option. Even better for driving on ice is 4-wheel-drive, but daily drivers equipped with such are relatively rare. As such, one of the best cars for driving in ice and snow is an SUV, especially a 4WD like a Jeep. If you have met one or more of these requirements but still don't feel confident, or if you have met neither, the last thing you can do is wrap each tire in chains. This adds an extra level of traction, though it does add a risk of damage if they should come directly in contact with the pavement, which is why it is a last resort.

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Best Cars for Driving in Ice and Snow is an SUV unsplash.com
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Helpful Tips for Driving on Ice

Once the preparations have been made and you are ready to be on your way, there are still some things to keep in mind. Here are a few tips to ensure you drive safely when dealing with icy road conditions:

  • Go slow - Whenever control is compromised, the best way to ensure safety is to slow all the way down. Speed kills in the best of circumstances, but when driving in snow and ice, it is a veritable death sentence. This does not apply to just how fast you are going, though; it is just as important to accelerate and brake slowly.
  • Spread out - Following on from the above, maintaining a larger following distance is just as important. Even when traveling at lower speeds, you need to account for the fact that cars sliding on ice or in snow can lead to a far longer brake time. The more space you leave between yourself and those in front of you, the more time you will have to react.
  • Avoid steep inclines/declines - Both of these situations run the risk of serious loss of traction. Going uphill requires more power, but when wheels spin quickly, grip is reduced, and you may find yourself going backward instead of forward. Going downhill does not run quite the same risks, but if the tires lose their grip, gravity will quickly make the matter worse.
  • Maintain visibility - Be sure that your windshield does not get foggy or frosty by ensuring your defroster is set to a high enough temperature. Also, if snow is currently falling, be sure to have your headlights on.
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Maintain Visibility Pexels.com

Driving Assistance Technologies for Winter

While driver skill and technique plays a huge part in managing the risks of driving on icy roads, there are quite a few tech features that help to avoid a crash, with several specializing in dealing with such challenges. These include:

  • Stability and traction control
  • Forward collision avoidance
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Sign recognition that includes icy road signs
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What Not to do in Winter

Just as there are tips for helping you deal with the problems presented by cold weather, there are also several things you should avoid doing:

  1. Do not rely on your vehicle's onboard thermometer to tell you how cold it is. Since roads take longer to gain heat, they may still be iced over even when the readings show that the air has warmed up.
  2. Do not use standard cruise control. More modern, adaptive systems are far more reliable, but it is still best to take a more hands-on approach.
  3. Avoid traveling in the dark. This includes both nighttime and early morning periods, where visibility is compromised.
  4. Never overtake. Other drivers may be impatient and tailgate you, and while you should make it easier for them to get by, it is still safest to avoid passing in situations where your control is reduced.
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How to Remove ice from Your Car

If your car is left out during cold weather, there is a good chance that you'll have to deal with some frost or even fully iced over windows. This should always be dealt with before you get underway. If there has been snowfall, you should brush off any that has settled on the vehicle. If you are dealing with actual ice, a firm tap on the metal surfaces can help break it up and make it easier to remove. Once you have gained ingress to the vehicle, you should start the engine and turn on the heater, setting it to defrost and giving it time to clear up the windows. Some cars come equipped with remote engine start and climate control to make this easier. Turning on the headlights and taillights also helps to melt any ice that has formed over the covers. For more stubborn ice, you could use an ice scraper (plastic not metal), or a solution of water and alcohol to loosen up and remove the problem. Check out our guide on how to remove ice from your car windshield and deal with frozen car doors for more information.

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Does driving in low gear help on ice?

Definitely. You should always carefully manage your speed carefully, and never exceed 45 mph.

What gear should you use when driving on ice?

Second gear is best. Starting in second may seem counter-intuitive, but it means the wheels turn slower at first, offering more grip. Most vehicles offer the most torque at the end of the power band, too, which is most important when dealing with resistance.

What’s better in snow, manual or automatic?

Both work just fine, but manual does offer a greater degree of control. It also means you can take advantage of the starting in second gear tip mentioned above. However, many of the cars sold in the US today do not actually offer the option of a manual transmission.

What should I do when my car gets stuck in ice or snow?

Remove the snow from around your car with a shovel, which includes underneath. Then switch between drive and reverse to gently "rock" the vehicle free of any snow that is still clinging to the tires. It is essential not to apply too much gas in these situations, or you may just dig yourself deeper. Getting a little help from the family or neighbors does not hurt either. A few extra hands can help you push your vehicle clear. Just remember to return the favor. For more, read our post on getting your car free when it's stuck in the snow.

What is the first thing you should do if your wheels move off the pavement?

Maintain a firm grip on the steering wheel, but do not panic. Instead of applying the brakes, rather just lift your foot off the gas. Your first impulse may be to steer out of the slide, but the best way to maintain control is to steer in the same direction as the rear of the vehicle is sliding.

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