You know that challenging winter road conditions come with the territory as a BC resident. While access to mountainous terrain and an abundance of winter activities is one of the great things about this province, the trade-off is driving in less-than-ideal, and sometimes even treacherous, road conditions a few months out of the year.
With freezing temperatures upon us and the local mountains gearing up for opening day, it’s time to think about winterizing your vehicle for the season if you haven’t already. Our winter driving guide covers everything from preparing your vehicle for snow season to best practices for navigating wintery road conditions.
Keep a Cold-Weather Emergency Kit in Your Vehicle
Storing an emergency kit in your vehicle is recommended throughout the year, but keeping a few additional items on hand during the winter could prevent a dangerous situation, even saving your life or the life of someone else.
Suggested items to keep in your car throughout winter:
- A glass scraper
- Water and non-perishable food
- Warm clothing
- A flashlight
- A bag of sand and small shovel
Quick Tip: When clearing snow off your vehicle, don’t just clear the windshield. Make sure to remove snow and ice from the lights, rear window, side windows and as much from the roof as possible.
Take Precautions If Driving Long Distance
If driving long distance is unavoidable, make sure to have your car checked by a mechanic prior to setting off. In fact, it’s a good idea to have your car tuned up regardless of how much driving you anticipate doing this winter.
Here are a few other ways to prepare for a safe trip:
- Check your tires. Tire pressure fluctuates with the temperature, so ensuring your tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread is essential.
- Check your battery and charging system. To avoid the risk of being stranded with a car that doesn’t start, your battery and charging system must be in good condition.
- Check your fluids. That includes your oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze and brake fluid.
- Check the weather before hitting the road. If a storm is expected to hit while you’re en route, postpone your departure until it passes.
- Always alert a friend of your route and destination beforehand.
Don’t Drive on Empty
Aside from the obvious risk of running out of gas on a long stretch of deserted highway (not to mention a damaged fuel pump), driving on a low tank of gas in the winter increases the risk of freezing your gas line. A frozen gas line will stop an engine in its tracks, and the more room in your gas tank for water vapour to form, the higher the chances of your gas line freezing.
Check The Exhaust Before Booting Up
A frequently overlooked, but potentially fatal, part of starting a vehicle that’s been parked outside is checking to make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t obstructed by snow or ice. A blocked tailpipe can send exhaust into the car’s passenger compartment with deadly, odourless carbon monoxide. If your car is idling in the snow, make sure to keep your window slightly open.
On The Road
Slow Down and Back Off
Winter conditions can dramatically affect the braking distance of a vehicle. To accommodate the variance, increase your following distance to six or eight seconds to broaden the safety margin in case you need to stop.
On the subject of braking, it’s advisable to drive in a lower gear if the conditions are hazardous. Instead of relying on the brakes, gearing down slows the transmission and reduces the risk of sliding on ice.
Quick Tip: Don’t drive with your brights on in a snowstorm. Doing so will actually decrease your visibility.
Accelerate and Decelerate Slowly
Slowing down while driving in winter conditions isn’t restricted to your cruising speed. Quickly accelerating or decelerating your vehicle can cause you to lose traction and lose control. To minimize the risk, accelerate and brake with care.
Avoid Stopping on Slopes
Bringing your vehicle to a stop on an uphill slope will cease your momentum, making it difficult to pick back up. If there is any sign of ice on the road, your vehicle risks drifting back into the cars behind. With this in mind, it’s also a good idea to leave a few metres between you and the car ahead when stopped on a slope.
Quick Tip: Your emergency brake cable can freeze when engaged in cold temperatures. To make sure your vehicle is drivable in cold weather, avoid using the emergency brake.