Tips for winter driving

25 Oct

What is the difference between a regular driver and a good driver?

• An ordinary driver responds to road situations that arise.

• A good driver anticipates problems and avoids them.

How to prepare a vehicle for winter driving?

Winter driving in snow, ice, water and cold is a real challenge for both vehicles and drivers. Keeping your vehicle in good condition reduces the risk of an accident or disaster when driving, especially in winter conditions. In order to prepare your vehicle for the winter, submit it to a general check. Pay particular attention to the following points:

Electrical system

• Battery: Recharge or replace the battery if it is weak. Also have the alternator checked.

• Starter: Check the ignition wires of the dispenser cap to make sure they are not damaged.

• Headlights: Check all headlights (front, side, emergency flashers, turn signals, taillights, brake lights and parking lights) to ensure they are working properly.


• Have the brakes checked and adjusted to ensure balanced braking.


The grip of the tires on the road determines the effectiveness of turns, braking and overall vehicle behavior. This is essential for safe winter driving. It is very important to choose the tires of your vehicle wisely.

• Use four winter tires that are the same type, size, speed rating and load rating for better handling, control and stability. In Canada, a pictogram appears on the tires; it consists of a mountain peak with a snowflake. This pictogram indicates that the tire has been designed to meet the specific requirements for traction on snow and can be used in heavy snow conditions.

• Use all-season radial tires only in areas with very little snow.

• Use four-wheel chains or tires when driving on snowy, icy roads. Check with your Ministry of Transportation to see if the use of cleated chains or tires is permitted in the area where you are about to drive.

• Check the tire pressure and, if necessary, adjust it to the level prescribed by the vehicle manufacturer. Tire pressure decreases by 1 psi for every 5 ºC (9 ºF) drop in temperature.

• Check tire wear. The tires include indicators of tread wear or bars that are inside the grooves of the tires. When the tread approaches (within 1.5 mm) the wear indicator or is at the same level as the tread gauge, replace the tire as it no longer provides effective traction.

• Check that the wheels are balanced, otherwise make the necessary corrections.

• Check that the tires are aligned, otherwise make the necessary corrections.

Exhaust system

• Check the exhaust system to make sure it does not leak. A sealed exhaust system reduces the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

• Leave your window slightly open when you are caught in the snow. Run the engine and heater on your vehicle to keep you warm.

• Remove snow that could obstruct the exhaust pipe. An obstructed exhaust pipe could force carbon monoxide into the vehicle.

Heating / cooling system

• Check the radiator and hoses for leaks.

• Make sure your vehicle has enough antifreeze and is resistant to the coldest temperatures.

• Check the defrosters (front and rear) to make sure they are working properly.

Windscreen wipers

• Make sure the windshield wipers are working properly. Replace them if they are old or worn.

• Fill the reservoir with windshield wiper fluid frequently and use a liquid that is resistant to the coldest temperatures.


• Refuel before you leave.

• Do not let the fuel level go down too much. The next gas station may be farther away than you think and if you get stuck in the snow, your engine will be your only source of heat.

What should a winter driving kit contain?

A well-prepared winter driving kit can deal with all emergencies. It should contain:

• chains designed specifically for the tires of your vehicle

• a bag of sand or calcium (or litter)

• tow rope

• traction plates

•             a shovel

• a snow broom

• a scraper

• jumper cables

• Warning devices such as signaling torches or emergency lights

• de-icer liquid from gasoline lines (methanol, also called methyl alcohol or methyl hydrate)

• a few liters of excess washer fluid resistant to the coldest temperatures

• paper towels

• flashlight and portable flashing lights (with spare batteries)

•             coverage

• change of clothes including a toque, wind pants and warm boots

•             a first aid kit

• tender bars (chocolate, fruit, etc.), water and other "relief" foods

• matches and emergency candles - to be used only when a window is open to prevent carbon monoxide build-up

• road maps

• Emergency signage or call signs or devices using bright colors

How to prepare for winter driving?

• Plan your trip in advance.

• Avoid driving when you are tired.

• Check provincial roadmaps for information on the recent state of the roads in your area of operation.

• If possible, postpone the trip if weather conditions are not good.

• Check weather conditions along your route before leaving.

• Plan your arrival time taking into account delays caused by traffic jams, poor visibility, road blocks, abandoned cars, collisions, etc.

• Inform someone of your itinerary and expected time of arrival.

• Dress warmly and wear comfortable clothing. If you need to take off outdoor clothing while driving, IMMOBILIZE the vehicle first in a safe place.

• Warm up your car BEFORE you leave. This prevents fogging on the inner walls of the panes.

• NEVER heat your car in a garage with the door closed.

• Remove snow and ice accumulated on your vehicle. You will have better visibility and you will also be more easily seen by other drivers.

• Wear sunglasses on sunny days.

• Bring a cell phone with you if you have one, but do not leave it in the vehicle as the batteries will freeze.

How to drive in winter conditions?

• Keep your seatbelt buckled at all times.

•             SLOW DOWN! The speed limits displayed are based on ideal road conditions. Reducing your driving speed is the best preventive measure against the problems that can occur when driving on a slippery road. The "black ice" is invisible.

•             Stay alert. The black ice makes the road appear as newly asphalted and the pavement becomes a whitish-gray color.

• Do not use cruise control. In winter driving mode, you must have full control of your vehicle at all times.

• Slow down when approaching an icy or snowy intersection.

• Do not hesitate to take more time to make the trip or simply postpone your trip if the weather is not warm.

• Drive with the dipped headlights on. They are brighter than daytime headlights and the rear lights are on at the same time. Your vehicle is thus more visible.

• Leave a greater distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. The braking distance on an icy road is twice that on a dry road. For example, it is approximately 45 meters (140 feet) at a speed of 60 km / h and 80 meters (260 feet) on an icy road.

• Stay in the right lane, except when overtaking, and use turn signals when changing lanes.

• Point by applying slow and precise movements. Too fast lane change and jerky steering during braking or acceleration can cause skidding.

• Be alert and slow down when you see a sign announcing a bridge. Steel and concrete bridges are usually ice-cold, even when the deck is cleared of snow (because open decks cool faster than the road, which tends to be isolated by land).

• Remember to park on the side of the road before being distressed if weather conditions deteriorate.

• Be patient and overtake other cars only when it is safe to do so.

• Keep a safe distance between your car and snowplows and salt and sand and anti-ice spreaders.

• Never go past a snow plow because of the whiteout conditions and snow ridge produced by the snow plow.

What to do in case of skidding?

• Above all, STAY CALM!

• Look in the direction you want to go and point the steering wheel in that direction.

• DO NOT BRAKE! Raise your foot off the brake pedal if your vehicle starts to skid when you brake.


Should the shift lever be in the neutral position when skidding?

Experts agree on the importance, during a skid, limit the progression of the vehicle to immobilize more quickly.

Many sources of information that recommend putting the shift lever in neutral place the following technique:

• Deactivate the coupling of the driving force applied to the wheels by doing one of the following maneuvers:

o If your car has an automatic transmission, set the shift lever to neutral (Neutral). If you can not do it immediately, do not touch the gearbox.

o If your car is equipped with a manual transmission, disengage.

Other sources suggest leaving the shift lever engaged but not pressing the accelerator pedal while skidding. At the end of the skid, it may be necessary to accelerate slightly or you may need to avoid an obstacle.

Winter tire placement and speed reduction are the most important factors in determining the stopping distance of a vehicle.

How to brake on a slippery road?

If the emergency does not require crushing the brakes as much as possible, lightly press the brake (also called threshold braking) and disengage (in the case of a manual gearbox); braking will then be more effective.

Braking without anti-lock brakes

• Use the tip-heel technique. Keep the heel on the floor and use the tip of your foot to firmly press the brake pedal, but do not block the wheels.

• Release the pressure on the pedal and press again in the same way.

• Repeat this procedure until the vehicle is completely stopped.

Braking with anti-lock brakes

Also use the heel-toe technique, but do not remove the foot from the brake pedal until the vehicle is fully immobilized.

What to do if you get stuck in the snow?

•             Stay calm!

• Avoid grueling efforts and overexposure to cold. Cold can contribute to heart stress and exhaustion. Clothes soaked with sweat and which mold the skin lose their ability to insulate and can increase the feeling of cold. Change and put on dry clothes whenever possible.

• Stay inside the car if you are unable to clear it from the snow.

• Stay inside your car in case of blowing snow. Do not get out of your car to ask for help unless you can get that help nearby and only if you can walk safely. One can easily be disoriented in the blizzard.

• Operate your turn signals or use signaling torches. You can also place a piece of brightly colored fabric on the car's antenna to make it more visible during the day.

• Run your vehicle's engine occasionally (about 10 minutes per hour) to warm up (and save gas). Make sure that the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow and leave the window on the opposite side to the open wind to prevent carbon monoxide build-up while the engine is running.

• Curl up under a blanket. If there is more than one person in the car, share the blanket. Two people who share the same blanket will keep warm more easily than if everyone is wrapped in their own blanket.

• Wear a hat and scarf. The head and neck are the main points of heat loss of the body.

• Pay special attention to the first signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

• Do not sleep. If there is more than one person in the car, take turns sleeping.

• Do not keep the same position too long. Do exercises that promote circulation. Move your arms and legs, rub your hands, etc.

• Monitor traffic and be alert to emergency vehicles.

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