winter driving tips

Over the River and Through the Woods
The Challenges of Winter Driving

by Gene McGuire


As a child, hearing the lyrics “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”, always projected mental images of snowy winter rides in a sleigh.

I was raised in Dallas/Ft Worth, so those images, for the most part, were fantasy. Mostly, I remember the winter months as fun. Especially in the rare moments when it actually snowed in North Texas . Snowball fights, building small snowmen, hot chocolate, and trying to keep our socks dry by covering them with Mrs Beard’s bread bags.

As an adult, my wonderment changed to winter dread and cold weather woes. Like the task of wrapping the pipes or worrying about travel and driving in winter weather.

The past few winters in Texas have been relatively mild. And by mild, I mean not too many really cold weeks or winter weather snow days.

I am hoping the Winter of 2018-19 is the same. Local weather forecasters are calling for wetter and colder weather because of something called “El Nino” weather patterns. Our local weather man said colder and wetter doesn’t necessarily mean a snowy and icy winter. Phew! I was getting worried.

But then reports from the Farmer’s Almanac says that this winter will be “teeth chattering cold” cold for folks north of us. For the Dallas/Ft Worth area, the Almanac calls for “Stinging Cold, Average Precipitation”.

But WHO really knows?

Nobody really knows; however, to quote a often used cliche, “We can hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.” Pretty sound advice when it comes to winter and being prepared for winter driving.

It is a good idea to have a cold weather game plan. Is your car prepared for the winter? Do you have the necessary cold weather supplies in your trunk or on hand to use on your vehicle? Can you remember safety tips for driving on snowy days? What will you do in the event you are stranded in snowy weather? (You wouldn’t want end up like James Caan in the movie “Misery”, who is saved from a snowy weather crash and subsequently tortured by an evil nurse played by Kathy Bates.)

That scenario is not likely but you should be prepared for a cold weather emergency while driving.


Is your vehicle ready for the winter driving months?

Before the very cold weather arrives, it’s a good idea to know that your car is prepared for the drop in temperatures. Here are some suggestions before the cold moves in. – Have your car serviced with a tune up.

Have your car serviced with a tune up.

Make sure the belts and hoses are in good shape

Make sure your antifreeze/coolant is topped off and ready for very low temperatures.

Have a local parts store like Autozone run a check on your battery and charging system. This only takes minutes and is usually free. Also, check battery cables for corrosion. Remember that it takes more battery power to start your car in cold weather.

Check tire pressure and inflate for cold weather. When temperatures drop so does the pressure in your tires. It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure and tread monthly during the winter driving season to ensure the best traction with the road.

Thoroughly clean the windshield. Good visibility is a must in driving. Clean the outside as well as inside of the windshield. A very thin layer of grim on the inside of windows is often not detected during day time driving, but at night, the haze of the dirt will make the windshield appear fogged from approaching headlights.

Check to see that your headlights are clean and that brake lights, turn signal lights, and emergency flashers are working properly.

Replace windshield wiper blades every year or when they begin to drag. The rubber wiper blades should be soft and pliable. Top off your windshield washer fluid reservoir with washer fluid, not water. Some companies sell fluid specifically for winter use. It costs a bit more but the price is worth the safety benefits.

Make sure your car defrosters are working properly.


Keep your Trunk Stocked with Winter Emergency Supplies

Properly inflated spare tire

Jumper cables. Spend more money for the heavy duty cables. Also available, are jump boxes (portable charging unit) that emergency tow drivers use to give your battery a jump start.

During winter driving, always have a full tank of gass and carry a fully charged cell phone, with a charger!

Windshield scraper and snow broom

Tool kit

First aid kit

Flashlight with extra batteries


Emergency road flares or bright colored cloth to tie on antenna

Bag of salt or cat litter for traction on ice

Non-perishable high energy food like canned peanuts


Plan your Winter Driving Trips with More Care

Check the current weather forecast and road conditions.

The “Waze” cell phone app will allow you to plan your route and alerts you to road hazards or closings. Some local news stations also have weather apps that can inform you of road closings and weather alerts.

 Allow for extra driving time during cold or bad weather days.

Let others know the route you plan to travel and an estimated time of arrival.

 Clean off any snow on your car. A chunk of ice or snow could blow off and injure fellow drivers. In some areas, it is illegal to drive with snow or ice on your car.


Here are Some More Tips for Dealing with Winter Driving Weather

Whether it’s rainy, snowy, or icy weather conditions, it is harder to control and stop your vehicle, so drive SLOWER.

On a clear day, with dry pavement, following distance should be 2-3 seconds of following distance between you and the car in front. If the pavement is snowy or ice covered, following distance should be increased to 8-10 seconds.

After driving awhile on snow covered roads, drivers tend to get too confident, believing roads aren’t so bad and increase their speed. This over confidence and increased speed can lead to losing control of your vehicle.

When the car begins to skid or slide, gently remove your foot from the gas. Steer the car in the direction you want the car to travel. When you have straightened the car’s direction, gently resume acceleration.

If the roads are covered with snow, begin to decelerate before you reach your stopping point like a stop sign or red light. Lightly apply pressure on the brakes. If you have a manual transmission, you can downshift to the next lowest gear. Don’t’ downshift from the highest gear to the lowest gear, because it will put you into a skid.

When black ice develops on the roadway, it isn’t actually black. It is a thin, clear, glaze of ice that forms making the road appear to only be wet. It isn’t wet, it is icy! Black ice tends to form at night or in the wee hours of the morning and drivers don’t notice it until they have already lost control. Reduce your speed before you reach black ice.

In cold weather, at freezing temperatures, be careful when driving over bridges or elevated surfaces. With cold air passing under these structures, they will freeze before the roadway does. Bridges and overpasses are the first to ice over. On roads where a drainage ditch runs under it, the road will ice there, as well. In residential and business areas, watch for sprinkler systems that are left on overnight creating ice patches.

Don’t drive distracted, like texting and driving. Your complete attention is needed on the dangerous driving conditions. Never drive impaired on alcohol or other mind altering substances.


If You Become Stalled or Stranded on Snowy Roads…

Stay with your car and call 911

Put out roadside flares or tie a bright colored cloth to your antenna to indicate you need help.

Avoid dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow. If snow is up over the exhaust pipe, deadly CO2 gases can back up into your vehicle. Only run your car for short periods of time to warm you up then turn the vehicle off.

DO NOT warm your car up in an enclosed garage. The deadly carbon monoxide levels could kill you and the people in the house.

Use a blanket to stay warm. Munch on emergency snacks to keep your energy level up while waiting for assistance.


The Federal Highway Administration reports that roughly 22% of all car accidents are weather related. Don’t be part of that statistic.

Be prepared for cold or bad weather driving conditions. Reduce your speed and have your car ready for cold weather.

Enjoy the changes in seasons, and be safe.


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