Essential Strategies to Master Winter Driving

Winter brings with it more than just picturesque snowy landscapes – it also introduces new hazards for drivers. Whether you’re a seasoned driver or facing your first winter behind the wheel, the challenges of icy roads and limited visibility can be daunting. It will come as no surprise that the number of traffic accidents increases in the winter months.

In response to these potential dangers, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide packed with essential tips and strategies. This guide will help you tackle winter roads with assurance, making your driving experience not only safer but also less stressful. Let’s delve into these strategies and prepare you for the winter roads ahead.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter

As we dive into strategies for safe winter driving, your first step should be to prepare your vehicle for the challenges of the cold season. A crucial aspect of this preparation is checking your tire tread depth, which is essential for maintaining proper traction on slippery roads. An easy way to do this is through the coin test, where you insert a 20-cent coin into your tire’s tread. If the entire 20 marking is visible when measuring, it indicates that your tire tread is 2mm or less, signalling it’s time to consider investing in new tires.

Additionally, it’s important to have your battery tested. Cold weather can be particularly harsh on weak batteries, increasing the risk of being stranded on a freezing day. Lastly, if you plan to travel to especially cold areas in New Zealand, aim to keep your gas tank at least half full. This is because the more space there is in your tank, the greater the chance of water condensation, which can lead to your fuel line freezing in cold temperatures. At Archibalds, we offer a comprehensive service that includes these checks and more. We’re committed to helping ensure your vehicle is fully prepared for the rigours of the winter season.

Now that your vehicle is winter-ready, let’s shift our focus to what you should keep inside your car.

Equip Your Car with Necessary Items

When it comes to winter driving, a well-equipped toolkit is a must, particularly on some of the South Island’s more remote, unpaved roads. The first invaluable item is an ice scraper, essential for maintaining clear visibility by defrosting your windshield. Alongside the ice scraper, a snow shovel can also become a lifeline, helping free your vehicle if it becomes buried under an unexpected snowfall. But preparation doesn’t stop there. Given the increased likelihood of battery failures in cold weather, jumper cables are another critical inclusion. Each of these tools has a distinct, important role, providing you with a toolkit designed to tackle the challenges winter weather often presents.

But tools alone are not enough. It’s also important to consider your well-being if you become stranded. That’s why blankets should have a permanent place in your car during winter – they can provide crucial warmth in such situations. Likewise, packing some snacks and water can give you comfort and sustenance until help arrives.

Having an emergency kit in your car isn’t a sign of being overly cautious – it’s smart preparation for winter’s unpredictability.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter

Driving on snow or ice calls for specific techniques to maintain safety. Key among these is to avoid sudden acceleration or braking, which can lead to skidding due to reduced traction. Instead, aim to accelerate and decelerate slowly, giving your tires a chance to grip the road and keep your vehicle under control. Remember, if you slide, steer and glide – steer gently into the direction of the slide and let your car regain traction gradually. Additionally, if possible, try to avoid stopping when going uphill. Gaining momentum from a full stop on a slope can be particularly challenging, as the slick surface may cause your tires to spin without moving you forward.

Ensure Good Visibility

Visibility is a cornerstone of safe driving, particularly in winter weather when conditions can obscure your view of the road. Before setting off, it’s crucial to clear your windshield, windows, and lights of any accumulated snow and ice. This not only ensures that you have a clear line of sight but also makes your vehicle more visible to others. 

Your car’s defrost feature plays a vital role in maintaining this clarity, by preventing frost and fogging on the windshield while you drive. However, visibility isn’t solely about what you can see – it’s also about being seen. Since winter weather often means reduced visibility, remember to keep your headlights on. This simple action can significantly increase your vehicle’s visibility to other drivers, enhancing your safety on the road.

Use Snow Chains When Necessary

Snow chains can be a game-changer on snowy and icy roads, significantly enhancing your vehicle’s traction. However, their effectiveness is dependent on correct installation. It’s important to familiarise yourself with this process ahead of time. We encourage you to practice installation in a controlled environment, like your garage. After all, deciphering the intricacies of snow chain fitting on a cold roadside can be daunting, if not dangerous. 

At Archibald’s, we have a selection of high-quality snow chains available. Our team can not only help you find the right fit for your vehicle but also provide practical advice on installation techniques.

Know What To Do In an Emergency

Despite meticulous preparations, emergencies can still arise. In such circumstances, it’s vital to stay calm and recall your winter driving know-how. If your vehicle becomes stuck in the snow, try to gently rock it back and forth to free it. If this rocking motion proves insufficient, you might need to grab your snow shovel and dig around your wheels to create additional traction. In the unfortunate event of becoming stranded, remember that your vehicle is your shelter – it provides protection from the elements and serves as a beacon for rescuers. Always stay with your vehicle to increase your chances of being located and rescued.

Jaguar F-Pace in snow

In conclusion, being prepared for emergencies is crucial for safe winter driving. By following these guidelines and equipping your vehicle correctly, you’ll be well-prepared for winter’s challenges. Remember, the safest option is to avoid driving in severe weather whenever possible. Prioritise safety, practice safe driving techniques and minimise risks on winter roads. 

Stay prepared, stay cautious, and enjoy your winter journeys while staying safe!

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