wikiHow to Drive in the Snow

Three Methods:Driving and Operating Your Vehicle in SnowAvoiding Potential AccidentsWinterizing Your Vehicle Before the Snow Starts

Driving during winter weather warnings where roads are snow covered and slippery isn’t typically recommended to drivers. However, learning the skill is necessary because sometimes driving is unavoidable, especially in areas where inclement weather is more often than rare. Winter snow driving can be dangerous, but knowing how to properly operate a vehicle in this weather will lower the risk of an accident.

Method 1
Driving and Operating Your Vehicle in Snow

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    Prepare your vehicle for driving. Clear the windshield, side windows, headlights, and rear brake lights of all snow and ice with an ice scraper and brush before you drive. Stop the car and clear the windows and lights as needed while driving during snowfall.[1]
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    Turn on the front and rear defroster to keep windows clear while you drive. Turn the air conditioning on and set it to the fresh air option to keep the inside window clear of condensation.
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    Turn on your headlights at all times as you drive. This means you have to have your headlights on when driving during daylight hours too. This makes your vehicle more visible to other motorists while the snow is falling.
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    Drive slowly while the roads are covered in snow or ice. Drive using the lower gears in a manual vehicle to increase your traction on the road. Do not use the cruise control option and do not attempt to pass other vehicles.[2]
    • Vehicles need traction in order for the brakes to work properly, which is why slower speeds, gentler turns, and stops are necessary to make traction remain possible.[3]
    • Reduce the vehicle’s speed to at least half the speed posted on as the speed limit. Be extremely cautious of how much traction your tires can achieve against the road as you drive.
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    Keep the appropriate intervals in between your car and the car ahead of you. Leave at least 2 to 3 car lengths between your car and the one ahead of you. This is the most effective way to deter common rear end accidents.[4]
    • This will give you enough room to stop and lower the risk of sliding into the car in front of you when driving at a slow speed.
    • Driving at a speed over 25 mph (40 km/h) may require leaving more space between the vehicles.
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    Avoid making sudden movements while you drive. When you stop, don’t jerk the steering wheel. Instead, touch your brakes gently. Don’t lock brakes on ice either because it might result in losing the control and steering of your vehicle.[5]
    • Accelerate more gradually than you’re accustomed to. Don’t rev up to the speed limit like you’re used to when the roads are clear, get up to that speed slowly but surely.
    • Decelerate more gradually than you’re accustomed to. Anticipate your stops before you actually make them. Slow down to stops slower than usual.

Method 2
Avoiding Potential Accidents

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    Watch out for potential road dangers. Be on the lookout for slippery spots that might be in the road. Ice is common on bridges, even when the rest of the road made be clear, so approach bridges and shaded areas with the proper caution.[6]
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    Do not push the accelerator and spin the car tires when stuck in a snow-filled area. Dig loose snow out from under the tires and pour sand or kitty litter under the tires to create traction. Gently rock the car to help the tires make contact with the ground, if possible.
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    Recover from the rear end of your car beginning to skid. If you notice despite the distance and precautions of safe winter driving that the rear end of your car is starting to skid, you have to avoid the hazard as gently as possible.
    • Remove your foot from the accelerator if the rear end of the car begins to skid while driving on snow or ice.
    • Steer out of the skid by turning the steering wheel in the direction you want the car to turn.
    • Turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction if the car over-recovers from the skid.
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    Recover from the front end of your car starting to skid. Remove your foot from the accelerator if the front end of the car begins to skid. Do not brake while in the skid.
    • Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the car to turn.
    • Shift the car into neutral if driving a manual transmission.
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    Push the brake pedal gently when you need to stop. If you can avoid stopping altogether, that’d be even better. Gradually slow down your car almost to a complete stop when you are nearing a red light. It might turn green without you even having to stop at all.[7]
    • If you see a line of cars stopped in front of you, start pressing your brakes several feet back to avoid rear ending anyone accidentally.
    • If you notice that your tires have locked up, take your foot off of the brakes completely.

Method 3
Winterizing Your Vehicle Before the Snow Starts

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    Check your tire pressure. When temperatures drop, your tire pressure drops in response. Check to see if air pressure in your tires need to be recharged, especially in cold climates of 30 degrees and below.[8]
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    Check your actual tires. Traction is always important when operating a vehicle, but become even more crucial to cars in inclement weather of snow and ice. Inspect your tire threads thoroughly to gauge their efficiency.[9]
    • Use a penny to help you determine the depth of your tires’ treads. Insert a penny with its head toward the tire tread into the groove. If the back of the penny is covered, your tire tread is in the clear. If you can see the entire back of the coin, it’s time for new tires.
    • Additional signs that you should consider buying new tires include: nicks and holes, uneven wear, and bulging sidewalls on the tires.
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    Change out your year-round tires for snow tires. Snow tires are better than regular tires because they are made with special materials that stay soft to provide tires with maximum traction in below freezing temperatures. They also have tread patterns that grip snow covered and ice covered roads.[10]
    • Install winter tires in sets of fours to maintain the traction, safety, and control of your vehicle. If or when the weather warms up, it is important to change out the tires for all-season or summer tires.[11]
    • Carry a set of snow chains for your vehicle while you travel. Although it might not be necessary to install them on a car that has snow tires installed on it, having snow chains are a requirement when passing certain roads throughout the winter season.
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    Fit your car for snow chains. Place the snow chain over the tire, holding it at the top and letting it fall evenly over the front of the tire and wheel. Once the chain is evenly and securely placed on the three quarters of the wheel not touching the road, place the snow chains onto the rest of the tires.[12]
    • When the snow chains are on three quarters of all of the tires, get into your car and drive forward for less than a meter. This will expose the part of the tire that was touching the ground previously.
    • Put on the brake, get out of the car, and finish securing the remaining chains to the rest of the wheel. Use a closer link to tighten the chains where they close.
    • Adding snow chains to your vehicle might be necessary during drives in some states, but often times if you have snow tires installed, you can save yourself a little trouble and not have to bother adding snow chains to your vehicle at all.
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    Replace windshield wiper blades. Inspect the blades of your wipers ahead of the winter time to ensure that your wipers will have a quick response to whatever may potentially obstruct your vision while you drive. If your blades don’t sweep across the windshield cleanly or are cracked, replace them immediately.[13]
    • Also make sure that your windshield defroster is up to par. Replacing your blades will be an insufficient move if your defroster isn’t in working order.
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    Inspect your coolant system. Make sure the fluid levels in your radiator are adequate. Confirm that you have the proper coolant in the car’s system. Check to see that all of the hoses are in good working condition and do not have any obvious indications of wear.[14]
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    Assess the condition of your battery. Cold weather can deplete an older battery at an accelerated rate. Look at the top of the battery for the installation date.[15]
    • If the date on the battery is older than two or three years, think about purchasing a new one before winter begins.
    • Remove any signs of whitish powder that might have gathered on the terminal connections. Clean away the buildup with an equal parts baking soda and warm water solution.
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    Schedule a tune up for your vehicle. Ensure that your engine is performing at optimal performance level by having a mechanic or auto service. If you’re good with cars, feel free to conduct your own inspection at home.[16]


  • Know the type of brake system in your vehicle. Standard brakes require that you pump the brake pedal when the road conditions are slippery. Anti-lock brakes pump automatically and do not work properly when you pump the pedal.
  • Always keep a spade in the boot. Cars always get stuck in the snow especially in car parks and on the drive of your home. So if your car gets stuck, get the spade from the boot, and clear off the snow from your front wheels. Then your car should be able to move forward or backward. This can be applied to ice as well.
  • Create a winter safety kit and store it in the vehicle. Make sure the kit includes sand for traction, a wool blanket and emergency food. Always wear a hat, mittens and boots or store them in the vehicle.


  • Slow your speed when crossing bridges and overpasses. Ice builds up quickly on these structures and stays frozen longer because cold air can pass underneath.
  • A four-wheel drive vehicle is not able to drive faster on icy roads. Use the same cautions as you would when driving a front or rear wheel car to stay safe during snowy conditions. Four-wheel drive is for getting unstuck. Recall that a four-wheel drive vehicle will not stop much better than an ordinary car, because every car has four-wheel brakes.

Things You’ll Need

  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Sand or kitty litter
  • Wool blanket
  • Hat
  • Mittens
  • Boots
  • Spade
  • Snow tires and/or snow chains

Article Info

Categories: Defensive Driving Skills & Safety