It’s still a few months before the mercury really starts to drop, but now’s as good of a time as any to prepare for cold-weather driving. Even if you’re based in a warm Sun Belt state, chances are you’ll run across inclement weather when lining up shipments across the country. Winter driving safety tips are even more important for transporters inexperienced driving in cold and icy conditions.
You may have been driving for decades, but there’s no way to be fully prepared for winter driving until you’ve experienced it. The keys to safe driving during the winter months is to prepare ahead of time by “winterizing” your vehicle, make an emergency kit and of course, drive safely and deliberately.
Prepare Before You Hit the Road
1. Create a Checklist for Your Car
First, create a winter safety checklist. Don’t start a transport before you’ve completed each task. As the temperature drops, certain components and features of your vehicle will perform less efficiently. Creating a checklist ensures that you have everything in order and won’t experience an unexpected surprise.
This should be completed by a certified technician — especially if your battery is more than three years old. The difference between a fully-charged battery and a discharged battery is very slight. In fact, just one damaged cell can affect the entire battery.
When the battery is fully charged, it won’t freeze until it reaches -76 degrees Fahrenheit. A discharged battery on the other hand, freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
You need traction when driving on wet, snowy or icy roads. The tread on your tires is what helps the rubber grip the road. If the tread grooves aren’t deep enough, you’ll have a hard time with traction and could slip and skid on the road.
Your tread depth should be at least 2/32” deep. There’s a famous hack for identifying whether your tread depth is sufficient using just one tool: a penny. Place the penny into the tread groove with Lincoln’s head facing downwards. If you’re able to see the entire head, then it’s time to replace the tire.
When the temperature drops, so does your tire pressure. Before you hit the road, check the vehicle’s recommended tire pressure. You can usually find this information on the door jam sticker. If you don’t see it there, the information can also be found in the owner’s manual.
Check your spare tire. Ensure it’s properly inflated and you have the tools to remove a flat tire and install the spare.
Clear and Clean Mirrors and Cameras
While mirrors have been important features of the automobile for decades, cameras are a relatively new addition to the driving experience. It won’t be hard to remember to clean your side mirror, but don’t forget to clean your external cameras!
You should also clear off any sensors that control features like crash prevention or auto emergency braking. Sometimes these sensors are blocked by dirt or ice, reducing their functionality.
Other Items to Check
There are many other small things to check before you start a winter driving trip. Verify each of these prior to hitting the road.
- Ensure your windshield wiper blades are working properly. Check the windshield wiper fluid levels and be sure you’re using fluid rated for -30 degrees fahrenheit.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full. This prevents a gas line freeze.
- Check the coolant levels — using a 50/50 mix of coolant and water prevents freezing up to – 34 degrees fahrenheit.
- Headlights and brake lights should be clear of any dirt or grime. Make sure they’re working properly. When visibility is low, your car’s lights are an extremely important tool for alerting drivers around you.
If you’re on the market for a new car for transportation work, some features to look for include traction control and an anti-lock braking system.
2. Make an Emergency Preparedness Kit
While it’s important to check every box above before hitting the road, sometimes the unexpected can happen and it won’t matter how prepared you are. If your car breaks down or you’re in an accident, one of the most important winter driving safety tips is to pack an emergency preparedness kit. These items could prove to be invaluable if something goes wrong.
- Jumper cables
- Tool kit or a multipurpose tool
- Extra batteries
- Reflective triangles and brightly colored cloth
- A compass
- Water for you and the animal if you’re transporting a pet
- Extra non-perishable food for you and the animal
- Car charger for cell phone plus additional charged plus a few charged external batteries
- A signal booster for your cell phone
- Rain poncho
- Duct tape
- Ice scraper
- Changes of dry clothes
- First aid kit with gauze, tape, bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, a blanket, non latex gloves, scissors, hydrocortisone, thermometer, tweezers and instant cold compress
- Reflective vest in the case you need to walk — but we strongly advise you to not leave your car unless absolutely necessary.
3. Route Planning
In most circumstances, driving through extreme weather conditions will be unavoidable. But if you’re able to plan ahead, plan a route around storms or freezing conditions, you may actually end up saving time despite driving further. Winter weather conditions cause closed roads, accidents and unsafe driving conditions that often lead to traffic congestion.
4. Snow Tires and Tire Chains
Tire chains are a bit tricky. While you probably should have a pair in your car when driving in wintry conditions, you don’t want to put them on every time it’s snowing.
- In order for tire chains to work properly, there needs to be a consistent pack of snow or ice on the road.
- If the road has been plowed and salted, don’t drive with chains.
- They’ll damage your tires and the road itself.
You can also consider snow tires, which are specifically designed to withstand freezing, icy and wet conditions. The rubber is formulated to stay flexible in the winter, conforming to the road.
It’s not recommended to drive with winter tires year round. You’ll need to swap the winter tires out for summer tires or all-weather tires.
Here are a few reasons to not use snow tires in normal conditions:
- Because the rubber in the tires is more flexible, it will quickly wear down when the weather is warmer.
- Your car’s performance suffers. Again, because the tires are softer and more pliable, it makes the car less responsive to quick turns or swerves.
- The added wear and tear on winter tires during summer months is so significant that you’ll actually save money switching back to summer or all-weather tires.
While You’re on the Road
At the end of the day, winter driving safety tips are important and it’s smart to follow them. However, the most important recommendation is to be cautious while driving.
5. Avoid Using Cruise Control
Who doesn’t love cruise control? Especially for transporters who are driving long distances, often through flat and featureless rural terrain. Did you know that your car manufacturer specifically states that during the winter when roads can be icy or slippery you should never use cruise control?
Cruise control is mainly designed for use during long stretches of driving along relatively straight, flat roads with little congestion and cooperative weather. That means if you expect traffic jams, hilly terrain or windy roads, you should stick to driving the good old fashioned way.
Despite the temptation to give your legs a break and use cruise control in wintery conditions, you shouldn’t take the risk.
- When it’s icy or slippery and you’re in cruise control, your car may continue to accelerate even when the tires have no grip on the road.
- Even worse, because you don’t have your foot on the pedal, you may not even realize what’s happening before it’s too late.
- When the accelerating car actually does grip the road again, it could propel you into an uncontrolled skid.
- If your foot is on the pedal and you start to skid, there’s more time to recognize the issue, react to it and correct.
6. How to React to Skidding
While we’re on the topic of skidding, we should discuss how to react. Many drivers are unfamiliar with standard winter driving safety tips, especially those inexperienced with inclement weather conditions.
Skids can be avoided with cautious driving, but sometimes you can do everything right and still find yourself sliding across the road. Whether the skid ends in a crash or just a brief scare is in the hands (and feet) of the driver.
- If you feel your car lose traction or start to skid, the first step is to not panic. Your panicked instincts are likely to make the situation worse.
- Identify an object further down the road. Keeping your eyes focused on this target makes it easier to get your car redirected.
If possible, identify whether it’s a front wheel or rear wheel skid.
Front Wheel Skidding
A front wheel skid typically occurs when you enter a curve too quickly. The front of the car will begin to drift in an unintended direction.
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Keep your eyes on the object in front of you and try to steer the car back to the correct course.
- If after a few seconds you haven’t regained control, hit the brakes lightly. Tap the brakes if you’re driving a vehicle that doesn’t have anti-lock brakes.
If you brake too hard or suddenly, it could cause the wheels to lock — meaning the wheels stop spinning but the car continues to slide on the slick roadway.
Rear Wheel Skidding
Rear wheel skidding is also known as fishtailing. The rear of the vehicle will swing out to the right or left of the vehicle.
- Just like with a front wheel skid, keep your attention focused on an object in the far distance.
- Then, slightly turn into the skid. So, if the rear wheels fishtail to your right, turn the wheel right as well.
- Don’t turn the wheel sharply, especially if you’re going at a high rate of speed.
- While you turn the steering wheel, ease your foot off of the accelerator.
- No matter what, don’t brake suddenly.
7. Drive Cautiously
It may seem obvious, but one of the most important winter driving safety tips is to stay cautious and patient. Drive slowly in icy, snowy and wet conditions — this will decrease the likelihood of skidding or otherwise losing control of your vehicle.
Give the driver in front of you extra space! Remember, the larger the vehicle, the longer it takes to come to a complete stop. The general rule of thumb is to leave four car lengths for every 10 miles per hour. This gives you plenty of room to brake slowly — this also decreases the likelihood of skidding from slamming on the brakes.
Important — if roads are closed or it’s simply unsafe to continue driving, be sure to communicate this to your customer. Chances are they’ll understand and even express appreciation that you’re looking out for their valuable items or pets. Communication is key.
If You Break Down
It seems like every year we hear a story about someone getting stranded in wintery conditions, often in freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, these situations often have deadly consequences, in part because the occupants of the car weren’t prepared.
If you have your emergency preparedness kit, you’re already ahead of the game. Blankets, water and extra food will keep you comfortable as you wait for help. Call for help immediately; if you don’t have cell service, try calling 911 because carriers are required by law to put a call through if they have a cell tower nearby.
8. Don’t Leave Your Car
The most important piece of advice is to stay with your car. Your vehicle provides shelter from wind and snow, offers some degree of warmth and keeps you dry.
- Turn on your emergency flashers and only exit the car to place road flares.
- If you’re going to run your vehicle to stay warm, make sure the tailpipe is clear and keep the window cracked. Otherwise, deadly carbon monoxide gas could build up in your car.
- Keep your windows clear of snow and ice so passersby can see that there’s someone stranded in the car.
- Avoid falling asleep.
- If you’re stuck in a snowdrift, don’t expend energy digging the car out. You need to focus on staying warm.
Winter Towing Tips
9. Take Extra Caution When Towing a Trailer
If you’re hauling cars, motorcycles or other large items, you’re likely hauling a trailer. This presents a whole new set of challenges for drivers.
- For one thing, a trailer adds weight to your vehicle, meaning it will take longer to slow down. Any advice about speed and distance between you and the car in front is even more important when you have a fifth wheel.
- You should consider changing your all-weather tires for more specialized snow tires.
- Trailer brakes increase your control on wet and icy surfaces and makes fishtailing less likely to occur.
- You should log a few trips in clear weather conditions before attempting to drive your trailer in the winter.
- Bring extra equipment like snow tires, your emergency preparedness kit, extra food and clean water and extra charged batteries.
One of the best things about transporting through CitizenShipper is the opportunity to travel across the country, meeting new people and having new experiences. It’s also more likely than not if you drive between late fall and early spring, you’ll experience some inclement weather.
Instead of passing up transports that require winter driving, prepare yourself so you have the flexibility to bid on every transport.
With these winter driving safety tips in hand, you can bid with the confidence that you’ll be able to complete any trip, no matter what the weather is. Sign into CitizenShipper today and start bidding on transportation jobs around the country!
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Content Writer at CitizenShipper. I’ve also been published on The Penny Hoarder, Mommy Poppins and mxdwn.