Drive a Car on Snow and Ice

Edited by Jerry Rivers, Eng, Lynn, Shelley and 1 other


Winter driving can be very hazardous. It is especially dangerous when you are behind the wheel and confronted with snow and ice on the road, a surprise snow squall or extreme Arctic-like temperatures. You might prepare by ensuring that you leave early to allow yourself plenty of extra driving time, and notify a family member or friend before you embark on your trip. You might also take precautions by equipping your vehicle with new snow tires, chains, and a functioning heater/window defroster.

Even with all of those precautions, you also need to know how to drive properly under such extreme conditions before you can maneuver on those patches of snow and ice at any speed. There are many things you can do to prepare for such precarious driving situations. Driving a car in snowy or icy conditions requires many hours of practice and well-developed driving skills, but there are many ways to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

  1. 1
    Practice driving on snow and ice
    Jerry car skidding on snow.jpg
    1. To gain skill and confidence for driving on snow and ice, practice maneuvering at low speeds while on such road conditions in an open vacant parking lot if possible.
    2. According to AAA, if you have a manual transmission, while on snow or ice you should take off in second gear rather than your usual first gear.
    3. If you have an automatic transmission, it is recommended to drive in gear "2" if you have D, 1 and 2.
    4. Consult your vehicle manual for information about your car's brakes and the proper tire pressure for driving on snow and ice.
    5. It is better to have your air pressure lower for such conditions.
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  2. 2
    Maintain a distance
    1. It is essential that you give yourself 10 seconds stopping time between you and the car you are following. It takes twice the stopping distance typically on ice.
    2. As a rule-of-thumb this means that you have a minimum of three large car lengths space between you and the car you are following.
    3. Be very cautious while driving on bridges and overpasses because they are prone to ice over.
    4. Beware of shady and rural areas because the temperatures are usually lower. There may be patches of ice whereas other areas will have no ice on the road.
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  3. 3
    Front and Rear Wheel Drives
    1. Front wheel drive vehicles drive better than rear wheel transmissions on slick roads.  
      1. Drive wheels are in front, so they pull the car which helps prevent fish-tailing and sliding.
      2. All of the heavy engine weight is above the drive wheels, which provide superior traction.
    2. Rear wheel drive vehicles have more trouble on ice and snow.  
      1. There is much less weight in the back over the drive wheels.
      2. The rear drive pushes the car which makes it more likely to slide on the snow and ice.
      3. NOTE: You can get better traction with a rear wheel drive car or truck if you weight the trunk or truck bed with bags of sand. The sand can also be helpful if you place it under the drive wheels to gain traction if stuck.
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  4. 4
    Know Your Brake System
    Jerry-driving on snowy hill.jpg
    1. Check your owner's manual for information of your brake system.  
      1. If you have an anti-lock brake system (ABS), when you must brake on ice or snow press the brakes with steady pressure.
      2. If your brake system is non-ABS, pump your brakes to stop on a slick road. Never press down and hold your brakes with non-ABS or you will skid worse, and possibly even spin your vehicle. At this point, you will lose control totally.
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  5. 5
    What if your vehicle skids?
    Jr-driving on ice.jpg
    1. If you have front wheel drive, take your foot off the accelerator pedal slowly if you skid.
    2. Stay off the brake until you begin to gain traction.
    3. Once you have some traction, steer your car into the direction that you want your car to go only.
    4. If you have rear wheel drive, take your foot off the accelerator pedal.
    5. Gently steer your car in the direction you intend to go.
    6. Use the brakes sparingly, and do not use a steady brake pressure during the skid.
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  6. 6
    What gear to use
    1. The AAA advises to use the "2" if you have the D, 1, and 2 automatic transmission if traveling on snow and ice. This means to keep your speed down, also.  
      1. If you're climbing a slick hill, stay in 2, and use a steady pressure on the gas pedal.
      2. Going down a steep snowy/icy hill, stay in 2.
      3. If you have an ABS, remember to apply a steady pressure if you must brake.
    2. If you have a manual transmission, take steep slopes downhill and uphill is a lower gear  
      1. Wear shoes with dry soles so that your feet don't slip on the gas, brake, and clutch pedals.
      2. Use the second gear when taking off from a dead stop.
      3. Lift your foot off the clutch slower than usual to prevent your wheels from spinning.
      4. Avoid pressing your brakes hard on snow and ice. If your vehicle skids, keep your foot off the brake and clutch.
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Recommendations to drive your best on snow and ice

  1. 1
    Drive well below all speed limits
    Jerry-speed limit sign.jpg
    Those posted are only for the best road conditions.
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  2. 2
    Keep your foot off the brake whenever you are driving on ice
    If you must brake, never stomp down on the brake pedal. This will only throw you into an uncontrollable skid.
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  3. 3
    Clear all snow and ice from all around your car before you drive it
    This will ensure optimal visibility, and it will allow others on the road to see your turn signals and brake lights. You will also be able to see from your mirrors. Taking a few minutes to clear the snow and ice from your vehicle can be a life-saver.
    Jerry clearing snow.jpg
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  4. 4
    If there is any precipitation falling, you must keep your headlights on the low beam setting
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  5. 5
    On all turns or curves, slow down right before the turn
    Then, gently accelerate coming out of the turn or curve. This will maintain control and prevent fishtailing or skidding.
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  6. 6
    Keep your tires at the recommended pressure according to your owner's manual
    Have plenty of tread on your tires. Snow tires or chains will be ideal while you are driving on snow.
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  • Make all maneuvers slow and gradual while driving, even in a four-wheel drive vehicle on snow or ice.
  • Check current weather reports for weather conditions in all areas you plan to drive. If there is a snow or ice storm, stay off the road!

Questions and Answers

2014 ford focus sedan auto with powershift and sports mode?

What is the best gear for snow and ice? I don't see 1st and 2nd like on other cars, thank-you

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Article Info

Categories : Road Safety

Recent edits by: Shelley, Lynn, Eng

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