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Winter Driving Tips

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On: Sun, Sep 25, 2011 at 4:06PM | By: Peter C Sessler

Winter Driving Tips

Winter is definitely upon us now and it doesn't look too good for the next couple of months. Forget about driving a shiny or clean car. The best you can hope for is a wash here and there to get all that road salt off the body and chassis.

A clean car shouldn't be the emphasis right now, anyway—good driving is where every driver's focus should be. I'm sure everyone has seen the pile-ups on TV resulting from the past few snow storms. I can tell you one thing, they are all due to driver error. You can blame the snow, ice, and so forth, but the reality is some drivers don't really know what they are doing.

The best thing you can do about winter driving is to avoid it all together, especially during storms. Limit your side trips, too. The less often you're on the road, the smaller the chance of getting into an accident.

The most basic problem is lack of anticipation. You can be driving along peacefully but hit a patch of ice and be done in a few seconds. I'm sure a lot of accidents could also be avoided if there was always enough distance maintained between cars. Too many people follow the guy in front as though the roads are still OK.

Keeping a greater than normal distance between you and the next car gives you more time to consider alternatives in case the car in front of you runs into trouble. You can start to slow down sooner and more slowly, even if your car has ABS brakes, or you may be forced to pull off the road.

One of the more frustrating things about driving in snow is how most people deliberately slow down when they approach going up a hill. I don't believe it makes it any safer to slow down because you need all the momentum you can get to go up some hills. Giving yourself extra space between you and the car in front allows you to at least maintain momentum, and if the car in front gets stuck, you may still be able to drive around it. There have been times when I'm going, literally, three miles an hour just as I get over the crest of the hill.

If you are driving over the same route, go over in your mind where the upcoming shoulders are and where the normally grassy, flat spots on the side of the road are. Notice where water usually collects because these will probably be bad spots. Remember how the road tilts and how it curves—it's all part of anticipating.

Also be ready to do the opposite of what you'd normally do. If a car is coming at you, out of control, concentrate on avoiding it by using whatever part of the road is available—and that may even mean speeding up. Just braking hard will probably get you in trouble.

One thing I've noticed is how overconfidence affects some people. Just because they are driving a four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle with ABS is absolutely no guarantee they won't get stuck. I've seen too many Jeeps and Blazers, and the like, stuck and off the road—most likely because the drivers were driving too fast. Most people forget that four-wheel drive works only when you are accelerating. When you're off the gas, you're just like everybody else.

Front-wheel drive is no guarantee you won't get stuck either. I've passed many front-wheel drive cars in ditches, and on the side of the road with my rear-wheel drive 1972 Pontiac—I normally don't make a point of driving it in the snow, but sometimes it can't be helped.

Finally, make sure you've got plenty of washer fluid in the reservoir, your wipers are in good shape, and always make it a point to keep your gas tank full.

And, of course, there's always luck!


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