Tips For Winter Driving in Virginia

With the first snow of the winter season in early December, drivers in the Charlottesville area had their first quick taste of the winter to come – one that was confirmed with the most recent snowfall this past weekend. 

The winter season can be hard on vehicles, which is why it’s important drivers prepare well in advance of when the harshest conditions arrive. It’s also good to know what to think about when you find yourself in a snowstorm.

Whether you’re on the highway or warming up the car in the driveway, the winter season can cause trouble in a variety of ways.

Here are some ways to make sure your car is ready to withstand cold weather for a safe driving experience.

Monitor tire pressure

Check your tire pressure once a month, especially during the winter, since a tire’s pressure can drop as the air becomes colder.

Tire pressure is measured by pounds per square inch (PSI). If uncertain about what level of PSI your tire should be, the proper inflation level can typically be found inside the driver’s door jam.

In addition, there are specific styles of tires that can help navigate wintry weather better than others. A good rule of thumb is to at least have an all-season tire when driving in conditions below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

For those living in regions where temperatures may routinely approach zero, it’s wise to look into winter tires, which are built for superior traction and handling on snowy or icy roads.


Have your battery tested

Battery capacity decreases significantly in cold weather, so it’s important to have a mechanic examine it to ensure it’s at peak performance.

Parking a car in a garage, out of the freezing cold, is another way to protect the battery. Having jumper cables handy is also important, not only if your car breaks down, but also in case you come across another motorist in need of a jumpstart.

Look for cracks in windshields & make sure wiper blades are in working order

Cracks or chips on the windshield are likely to worsen in extreme cold temperatures, so it’s recommended to get those repaired or looked at by an expert.

Replacing wiper blades to ensure they can handle the various elements and keep the windshield clear is also a great idea. It’s important to use a washer fluid that’s rated for subfreezing temperatures.

Car owners should also make sure their defrosters are in proper working order to assist with maintaining visibility.

Add a coat of wax to your car

Adding a fresh coat of wax before the snow starts falling can help protect a car against damage from salt and dirt on the roads.

Road salt, while an important factor to combat icy roads, can cause extensive damage to vehicles over time because it is corrosive.

Think about waxing the lower parts of the vehicle, including behind the wheels, quarter panels and front grille. This is because ice, snow and salt tend to build up and stay in these areas the longest.

Inspect headlights and brake lights

It’s vital to have fully functioning headlights and brake lights when dealing with thick winter fog or heavy snow – you want other drivers to be able to see you!

Check to see if the plastic headlight covers have a haze on them or look discolored. This can have a negative effect on the brightness of the headlights.

Plastic headlight lens repair kits can be found at various retailers if you choose not to have it serviced by a professional.

Clear off snow and ice from your vehicl

Make sure to thoroughly scrape all windows and brush snow off your entire car, including the roof, before exiting your driveway. 

Accelerate slowly & watch out for black ice

Roads can be tricky and you may be over-confident when taking the wheel in snowy conditions, which is why you should really be cautious when exiting your driveway (black ice, anyone?).

Some cars have traction control or a winter mode that helps. If you have an automatic transmission that allows second-gear starts, select that gear for better traction.

When on the road, reduce your speed to lessen the chance of a skid. Also, avoid any sudden inputs to the steering, throttle or brakes. 

Use lower gears when decelerating to allow the engine to slow the car. Imagine yourself driving with a hot cup of coffee in your lap – this should give you a general idea of how you should be driving during a snowstorm

Give yourself some space

When driving in normal conditions, you should usually give yourself between three to five seconds of stopping distance between your car and the one in front of you. In slick roads, double that amount and adjust that number depending on how bad conditions get outside.

Don’t pump the brakes: Let your car’s antilock brakes do the work for you, unless you’re driving a really old car that doesn’t have antilock brakes. Check your owner’s manual to check if your car has these types of brakes.

If you’re driving under bridges and overpasses, lift your feet off the accelerator. Be extra careful when driving under a bridge or an overpass – there may be ice, snow or both, causing you to spin out and lose control, potentially creating a crash.

Items to keep on hand in case you get stuck

You see the stories on the news of motorists surviving for days in their cars if they get stuck in a snowstorm or go off the road. 

There are many items you can gather and keep in your trunk to help you through an emergency.

It’s a good idea to have an extra blanket or two, extra gloves & socks & other clothing, snacks, water, car shovel, batteries or radio, ice scraper, extra flashlight, kitty litter for extra traction and flares.

Stay focused – do not use any form of social media to document road conditions unless you are at a full stop

If you’re going to heed any of the tips given in this article, this should be the most important one to take to heart. Stay safe out there!

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