Driving on icy roads? Know these driving tips

Posted at 9:51 AM, Jan 13, 2017
and last updated 2018-01-08 12:32:51-05

Icy roads can be perilous and navigating them safely can be challenging, not to mention frightening. But being educated can make all the difference between being in a crash and arriving at your destination safe and sound.

Before icy weather strikes overnight Sunday and into Monday, make sure your vehicle is in good shape in the following areas: 

  • Battery
  • Antifreeze
  • Fluid levels
  • Ignition
  • Lights
  • Thermostat
  • Oil
  • Wipers
  • Defroster
  • Tires

According to AAA, these are some specific things you can do to get your car ready for ice:

  • If possible, park inside a garage or under a cover like a carport.
  • Wipe down and dry weather strips and surfaces around your vehicle's doors and windows. Apply a lubricant -- WD40, cooking spray and even Vaseline work well -- to the weather stripping to prevent freezing.
  • Pull wipers away from your windshield to prevent them from freezing to the windshield.
  • Make sure your windshield washer solvent is the correct type for winter. Summer-rated solvents will freeze and can cause cracking and serious damage to the washer reservoir.

If your car is already iced over:

  • Never pour hot water on windshield or windows, as this can cause the glass to break. Use vehicle defrosters to melt ice for easier removal.
  • Don’t use windshield wipers to remove ice, as this will damage the blades.
  • Do not continue to push the power window buttons if the window is frozen. It can damage the mechanics inside the door and can also cause the window to break.
  • Never use water to thaw frozen locks. Instead, use commercial deicing products or heat the key and lock with a hair dryer. A lighter can also be used to heat the key.
  • If windshield wipers are frozen to the windshield, use the heater and defroster to melt the ice before turning the windshield wipers on. When you arrive at your destination, remember to pull the windshield wipers away from the windshield to prevent refreezing.

Also, know your route: Consult maps and call ahead to your destination for road conditions. Be sure to have handy the list of road-condition hotlines and even program them in your cellphone if you have one.

Try to keep your gas tank as full as possible -- with a minimum of half a tank, in the event you get stuck -- to prevent fuel lines from freezing and to avoid lines at the gas station.

OK, so now you're in the car and you're ready to go.

AAA recommends the following for driving in winter weather:

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for retraining traction and avoiding skids. Don't try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on ice-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping and turning -- nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • Typically on dry pavement the distance between cars should be about two to three seconds. On perilous roads, this should be increased to eight to 10 seconds. The increased margin of safety in front will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • The best way to stop is a technique called threshold braking: Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Try to avoid stopping in full. It takes a lot of inertia to start moving from a full stop versus to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until the light changes, do it.
  • Don't stop going up a hill. There's nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road from a dead stop. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • Above all, if it's too dangerous, stay home. Avoid going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Here's a handy list of what's streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now this month. Even if you’re skilled at driving in winter weather, not everyone is. Icy roads and winter weather are always more attractive, and safer, from the indoors.

The National Safety Council, and Departments of Transportation for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana give the following recommendations in the event you start to skid:

If your rear wheels skid:

  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid:

  • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return.
  • As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back       again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
  • If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia, use woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy ice can seal a car shut.


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