Winter Driving Tips
Some tips on driving in our unpredictable Lower Mainland winters:
1. Winterize your vehicle.
- Make sure your car is properly tuned and serviced, and the exhaust system has no leaks.
- Ensure you have anti-freeze, and a de-icing solution in the windshield washer tank.
- Make sure you have good windshield wiper blades. Blades that streak should be replaced.
- Install tires appropriate for winter conditions. Regularly check the tread.
- Check your tire pressure at least once a month. As temperatures drop, tire pressure decreases. Check when the tires are cold, this will give you the most accurate pressure reading. (Check your spare tire regularly too.)
- Installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide a greater amount of traction and control for driving in winter conditions.
- Wide, high-performance, or low-profile tires, other than those specifically designed as snow tires, are not suitable for use on snow-covered roads.
- Do not mix snow tires. Use the same make, size and type on all four tires. Different tread patterns can reduce the stability of your vehicle.
- Choose snow tires marked with a pictograph of a snowflake inside a peaked mountain. This indicates that tire has specifically been designed for use in severe snow conditions.
- Check the battery.
- Inspect the brakes.
- Check head and signal lights.
- Ensure all engine belts and hoses are in good shape.
- Make sure the heater and defroster are working properly.
- Keep your gas tank full to prevent the gas line from freezing and to maximize traction on slick roads.
2. Carry winter safety essentials
- Keep some emergency items in your car at all times, including an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, first aid kit, jumper cables, a flashlight and fresh batteries, warm gloves, a warm hat, boots, a good blanket, and some extra winter clothing.
- If you can afford to purchase snow-chains, do so.
- Traction mats (such as bits of old carpet) are also useful. So are bags of salt, sand or kitty litter.
- If you live in area where bad winter conditions are likely, your kit could also include a towing cable, flares, matches and a "survival" candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink or use as an emergency light). Plus non-perishable foods such as granola bars.
3. Check weather and road conditions along your route before travelling.
- Environment Canada has Lower Mainland weather forecasts.
- Several radio stations offer regular traffic reports (such as AM730, CKNW 980, News 1130, and CBC 690).
- TransLink offers information on the state of bus and SkyTrain services.
- For those coming from or heading for Fraser Valley areas east of Burnaby, check the BC government's DriveBC website.
- Give yourself extra time for travel and if weather is bad, wait for conditions to improve.
- Avoid driving in poor weather conditions whenever possible.
4. Before you start the car:
- Let others know about your route and your expected arrival time.
- If you have a cell phone, make sure you have it with you, and its battery is charged.
- Be sure all windows, lights, mirrors and licence plates are free of snow and ice.
- Clear snow off the hood and roof, too.
5. And use special care when driving:
- Drive with headlights on.
- When driving on ice or snow, allow plenty of room to stop and start. Maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and others.
- Do not use cruise control on slick roads. (More on this below.)
- Stay on well travelled roads if at all possible.
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Be aware that a four-wheel drive vehicle has no more traction on ice than any other type of vehicle.
- Slow down. Slow down even more before curves and corners.
- Carefully test your braking and steering at a very slow speed. Brake gently.
- Accelerate gently and steer smoothly. Be sensitive to how your vehicle is steering.
- Go down icy hills in a low gear.
- Avoid passing.
- If your wheels lock, ease off the brakes then re-apply them to maintain steering control.
Turn off cruise control
- When the road is slippery, turn off your cruise control system. Snow, ice, slush or even rain can cause wheel-spin and loss of control. The only way to stop this wheel-spin and maintain control is immediately to reduce power. However, an activated cruise control system will continue to apply power, keeping the wheels spinning. By the time you disengage the cruise control, you may have lost control.
Hidden dangers at zero degrees
- Black ice: Normally, you can't see black ice. However, if the pavement looks shiny and black instead of grey-white, be suspicious.
- Shaded areas: There could be ice there.
- Bridges and overpasses: Ice tends to form on them before it does elsewhere.
- Intersections: Car exhaust and packed snow can cause intersections to ice up quickly.
How to handle a skid
Getting out of a skid can be a little tricky. For one thing, the recommended techniques depend on whether your car has front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive.
The best bet is to consult your vehicle's owner's manual—before the first snow—and see what advice it gives.
You need to steer gently "into" the skid by turning the wheel in the direction that your vehicle is skidding. This sounds counter intuitive, but it's the best way to regain control of your vehicle during a skid." Should you accelerate or not? Should you brake or not? This is where you need the advice from your owner's manual or manufacturer.
Once you have regained control, proceed with caution.
If you are stuck in snow
- If you become stuck in snow, you must first carefully and safely assess the situation.
- In reduced visibility you should make sure your emergency flashers are on, to alert other drivers.
- Get out of your vehicle—while being very aware of the traffic around you. Determine if you can get your vehicle unstuck on your own or if you will require assistance.
- If attempting to get unstuck on your own:
- Clean snow away from the drive wheels.
- If possible, enhance the traction to the drive wheels by using traction mats, old carpets, salt, sand or kitty litter, spread along in the direction of the drive route you plan to use.
- Make sure the way is clear and accelerate the vehicle gently. (Do not gun the accelerator, thus causing - the tires to spin rapidly).
- If this doesn't work, you may want to gently rock the vehicle back and forth by shifting from forward to reverse, gradually increasing the distance travelled with each rock.
[Note: Check your owner's manual prior to beginning this procedure. If the instructions are different, follow the steps outlined in your manual.]
If you are stranded
- Stay in your vehicle. Do not try to walk for help.
- Run a stranded car sparingly, for short periods only, first ensuring snow is not blocking the tailpipe.
- Open a window slightly (on the side of the vehicle sheltered from the wind) when the engine is running. Odourless and tasteless carbon monoxide gas can kill—and you won't know it's building up.
- A candle can provide a little warmth, but, again, keep a window open slightly.
- Do stretching exercises to maintain blood circulation, and don’t fall asleep.
- Wear a hat; you can lose body heat through your head.
- Cover exposed skin to avoid frostbite.
- Do not use alcohol, since this hastens the loss of body heat.
- During the day, tie a brightly-coloured cloth to your antenna or roof rack (if you have such) to alert police or rescuers to your predicament. At night use your vehicle's emergency flashers.
- Overuse of headlights will run your battery down.