The cold winds are blowing, and Jack Frost is making his appearance on car windows. Every Canadian knows what that means: winter is coming. While we’re all aware that winter brings its own perils, when it comes to driving after months without snow, and sleet, it can come as a shock to suddenly have to navigate tricky road conditions. Here are some tips to help you drive safely this winter:
Be Winter Ready
Before you even think about driving through Old Man Winter’s weather conditions, get your vehicle winter ready.
Take Your Car in for a Maintenance Check
Making sure your vehicle is winter ready means making sure it is road ready, period. Anything that might be wrong with your vehicle could worsen because of the cold weather. Bring your car in to your local mechanic to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Invest in Winter Tires
Despite their name, All Season tires are really three season tires. Their traction is usually only effective to temperatures of about 7°C. Here in Southern Ontario, our winter temperatures usually hover around the freezing mark, but the last few years we’ve seen cold snaps where temperatures have been consistently at -20°C. Your all-season tires aren’t going to cut it, making you a hazard on the roads. Invest in winter tires; they will make you safer on the roads and will also qualify you for an insurance discount!
Prepare an Emergency kit
We all know to keep an ice scraper in the car, but there are some other items you should keep in the car during the winter months. Create an emergency kit that includes: gloves, blankets, warm clothes, booster cables, windshield washer fluid affective to -40°C, a charged cellphone, a cellphone charger, a flashlight, water, non-perishable food (that doesn’t require heating to be edible), a lightweight shovel, traction mats or sand, a first aid kit, and a reflective vest. Having these items with you when you drive will not only give you peace of mind, but can really help you out in an emergency, or if your car gets stuck at the bottom of your extra-long driveway.
Keep Emergency Numbers Handy
Calling 911 when you are in or have witnessed an emergency is standard, but there are other numbers you should have programmed into your phone before you hit the road this winter.
OPP non-emergency number
- If it’s not an emergency, but you need assistance, call the OPP non-emergency number: 1-888-310-1122.
Ontario Road Conditions
- By dialling 511, you can get up-to-date road conditions, including closed and dangerous roads.
CAA or your favourite local towing company
- If you’re a CAA member, make sure you have their number saved into your phone. Even better, keep it on a piece of paper inside your car in case you need to use someone else’s phone to make the call. CAA also has an app you can download!
- If you’re not a CAA member, make sure you have the number of a local towing company (local to your home AND your work) to help get you out of those minor emergencies like a dead battery.
Driving in winter
Take it slow
Give yourself extra time to get where you need to go. Also make sure you don’t tailgate, speed around corners, or make any sudden or jerky moves—it could endanger everyone around you. Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, and make sure you give yourself space and time to change lanes or turn corners. While you may be an extremely confident winter driver, not everyone around you is, and making sudden movements or cutting into a new lane could really distract other drivers. Not only that, but you might find yourself skidding.
Know what to do when you find yourself skidding
You make a turn or go down a hill, and suddenly your car is not in your control. Everyone should know how to re-gain control of their vehicle when they find themselves in this situation. Every vehicle is different; some are front-wheel drive, some rear-wheel drive, and others four-wheel drive. Each will act differently when skidding or sliding, so be sure to know what to do.
When skidding, if you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), use them. Hold the brake pedal down. You will feel vibration, but just keep holding until you come to a complete stop. For those without ABS brakes, use the old press and release method. Pump the brakes gently until you regain control of the vehicle.
If your back wheels are slipping and sliding everywhere: don’t panic. Slamming on the brakes or overturning the wheel will just make it worse. Instead, take your foot off the gas and turn your wheel in the direction you’re sliding. When you start straightening out, straighten the wheel. Then take a deep breath and continue on your way.
- Turn on your headlights in snowy conditions.
- Do not use Cruise Control in wet or snowy weather.
- Keep the gas tank half full. It will help reduce moisture in your fuel system and adds extra weight to your vehicle.
- Keep tires inflated.
- Make sure your mirrors and windows are cleared of ice and snow before you drive and clear off all the snow from your roof. You don’t want it flying behind you or tumbling onto your windshield and blocking your wipers while you drive.
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