Winter Weather Driving Guide: What You Need To Know
- Preparation Is Key And It Should Happen Before It’s Required
- Getting Your Vehicle Ready For Cold Weather
- Snow Tires Or Winter Tires: What's The Difference
- How to drive in winter conditions
- All-Wheel Drive: a blessing or curse?
- Driving Smoothly
- Driving With Your Headlights On
- Looking Down At The Road
- Decrease Speed
- How To Use The Brake Pedal
- Leaving Room
- What Does Black Ice Look Like
- Check Spare Tire Health
- Blocking Radiator With Cardboard
- Carrying Emergency Supplies
- Surviving the winter weather
Preparation Is Key And It Should Happen Before It’s Required
Living in a cold environment, preparation can be a daunting task if left unattended. However, it comes around every year and is second nature for most of us. If you plan on visiting a location that regularly gets below freezing or is laden with snow it can be a whole new experience added to your trip. When moving to a city or area that has an annual snowfall or is below freezing for an extended period of time, you should do your research into all the expected climates that you will now be experiencing.
Throughout this winter driving guide, we’ll give some winter driving tips and Suggestions that have served us well. Owning a HeavyDuty Dodge Ram proves to have the traction capabilities covered but this is just one aspect of the winter driving journey. Unless you’re still rockin 'a horse and buggy there will be some boxes that if checked, will get you by just fine while winter driving this season and we’ll go beyond winter tires and slower driving speeds.
Getting Your Vehicle Ready For Cold Weather
Most cold-weather environments start kicking off Mid-November and last through mid to late February. That gives you 8 months to prepare your vehicle for the colder temperatures. If you’re a diesel owner, review our Prepping Your Diesel Truck For Winter article to get ready!
Cold weather/temperatures affect battery life and could leave you all dressed up without a chariot to get you to work. Testing your battery before the temps drop is a good idea so you can get a new one if necessary. Most auto parts stores will test your battery for free.
Take the time to investigate the recommended coolant ratio and ensure you have serviced (flushed) the coolant at the recommended intervals. Not all vehicles are created equal and what your buddy runs in his Honda more than likely won’t be suitable for your Dodge Ram 3500.
When visiting an area that is under freezing temperatures or has a decent amount of snowfall on the roads, the current tires installed will most likely suffice for the duration of your trip. If the snow or ice gets a little too much for your tires to handle it could be advantageous to lower your tire pressure for additional traction.
Once you’re back on solid ground and under higher temperatures, make sure you inflate your tires back to the manufacturer's recommended PSI rating. This practice of lowering your tire pressure can be a controversial topic so please ensure you make an educated decision and drive slowly and safely.
If you’re able to have a separate set of rims and winter tires or snow tires, it would be ideal (and save a bit of money) to install them yourself but for a nominal fee most tire shops will swap out your summer tires for your winter tires.
All-season tires will work well if you are not regularly experiencing snowy conditions. Check tread depth is deeper than 2/32th of an inch for maximum contact patch while driving. All-season tires at a lower pressure will work well in icy conditions but may not be ideal for snow and slush covered roadways.
If you have mud tires on your truck, and it’s not a soft compound (competition tire), expect terrible performance in icy conditions. Getting in the deeper snow/slush environments will be a walk in the park for mud tires of all compound variations.
Studded tires could also be necessary and do serve a purpose if the environment is harsh enough. Research how aggressive you might want to go before taking it too far and regretting your purchase.
Under normal driving conditions on the dry pavement during the warmer months, your tire PSI (pounds per square inch) increases under normal use due to the rise in temperature. The exact opposite is true for the winter weather. Your tire pressure could be reduced simply by driving and this is not necessarily a bad thing while driving in winter conditions.
Check your pressure and maintain a lower than normal pressure setting to keep a good contact patch on the road. It’s not necessary to take drastic measures regarding tire pressures unless you are regularly driving in the snow. Treat snowy conditions much like that of muddy conditions in that you’ll want to maintain a lower pressure so you get the most traction out of your winter tires, snow tires, or all-season tires.
Your wiper blades are one of those components that will become extremely frustrating and dangerous if they do not work when you need them to. We highly recommend that you replace them well before the rainy/snowy/winter months.
Depending on the environment you live in it’s a good idea to fill your wiper fluid reservoir with -30° fluid so you won’t arrive at your vehicle with a busted reservoir or frozen wiper fluid that won’t exit the sprayers. After all, the -30° fluid operates much like the average fluid, only it won’t freeze as easily.
Try to maintain a full fuel tank as often as possible to keep from freezing and having diesel fuel gelling. Stop by our Preparing Your Diesel Truck For The Winter blog entry for more diesel-specific guidance during the chilly months.
Snow Tires Or Winter Tires: What's The Difference
When looking for snow tires or winter tires, tread depth and the compound of the rubber are the two most important factors when determining how well your tires operate under winter conditions.
Tires have come a long way since their inception and can be tailored for any particular application or road condition. The point to understand is you should avoid (given the conditions in your area) keeping the summer tires on your vehicle to maintain traffic safety as the snow starts falling.
Early tire design was simply called a winter tire and leaned more towards that of a mud tire with deeper grooves and an aggressive design but it’s not that simple nowadays. The label of a snow tire is still commonplace but it’s much more in-depth than simply being a snow tire.
Development and chemistry have come a long way and there’s much more of a separation between a snow tire and what's known as a winter tire these days. Remaining flexible and pushing away the snow are attributes that can be found with a winter tire on the market. Ask your friends and family about their experiences on snow-covered roads and the tires they use.
When determining what tire suits you best in cold temperatures, be sure to ask a lot of questions. Do your research so you purchase the correct compound and type of tire for your area during the winter months. Try to refrain from leaving your summer tires installed during the colder months.
How to drive in winter conditions
Not all cold environments are created equally, here in the Pacific North West (PNW) we can experience the gambit of conditions and all be within a 25 minute drive of the next iteration of cold, snow, wet, etc. Maintaining vigilance and driving cautiously is commonplace or rather should be for the ever-changing environments.
All-Wheel Drive: a blessing or curse?
Confidence while driving is always good except when a false sense of security is established. All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles can feel invincible but this is far from the truth.
The problem with this impressive sense of sticking to the road surface is that it does not improve your turning ability or stopping capabilities. This is where confidence while driving can be hazardous. It gives you excellent drivability up hills, especially with turns, but the thing to remember is that all vehicles have four wheels and braking conditions are the same. Drive slowly and brake early while the vehicle is straight so you can maintain traction while turning.
The road conditions fluctuate constantly while driving in snowy, icy, winter weather environments. Constantly assess the road surface and stay vigilant because when you need your AWD or 4WD vehicle to stop or turn it's too late to know how it’s going to react.
Smooth is safe. Period. Keeping your movements smooth and controlled is key when driving under normal conditions but especially while driving in the snow or icy environments.
Check the surface often while driving in a straight line by gently pressing on the brakes. If the road surface is icy or slick, you will feel the vehicle skid for a short amount of time but because you’re checking the road conditions while in a straight line it will be manageable. Your tires can stick to the road and provide the proper amount of feedback to make turns and stop but everything has its limits.
Quick jerky movements in the steering wheel can translate to removing the traction from your tires and riding on the slick surface without control. Brake slowly and controlled well before the turn ahead. Deliberate movement is crucial when stopping, steering, and accelerating. It doesn’t take much to lose control so driving cautiously and smoothly will ensure you arrive at your destination without incident.
Driving With Your Headlights On
Oftentimes visibility is an issue when the snow falls or the raindrops. As a simple courtesy, driving with your lights on so other drivers can see you is recommended. This is often a law under normal conditions in certain corridors of the highway for safety reasons.
Visibility is key for both you and other road goers and driving with your lights on can make a huge difference.
Looking Down At The Road
The road could be wet, covered with snow, or laden with black ice, but it can also tell the tale of how bad or good the conditions are. Look at the road while maintaining a safe distance from the driver ahead of you.
Shady areas can be a trick! The local area can be warmer and it’ll be a pleasant day but the shady areas could still maintain freezing temperatures. When the sun warms particular surfaces, these surfaces can drain into shaded sections of the road causing black ice to form. If you’re not ready it can spell disaster for you and your vehicle.
Do you see water spraying from the tires of the vehicle ahead? This usually means the road is not frozen over and you can have some more confidence that you will have the proper traction needed to drive safely. This is not to say that wet roads can not be slippery but icy conditions require a different driving style.
Can you hear the snow crunching under your tires? This is a good sign that you will have additional traction at slow speeds because your tires will bite into the snow and provide proper feedback while driving.
Look far ahead to anticipate oncoming road conditions or warnings for what’s coming. The more time you have to react the better. Is the road shiny or a matte look? Are you approaching a shaded area or is the sun beating down on the road? These are all situations that you should be aware of and prepared for.
You’ve heard the phrase “Speed Kills”? While driving under winter, icy, or snowy conditions it becomes even more prevalent to reduce your speed.
At 45 miles per hour, it takes 13:20 to travel 10 miles. That same distance of 10 miles at 25 miles per hour will take you 24 minutes. An eleven-minute time difference could mean arriving alive versus having an incident or accident. Take your time, save money, save fuel, and reach your destination in one piece safely.
How To Use The Brake Pedal
As we mentioned above, smooth is safe and this goes for using your brakes as well. Driving a heavy diesel truck means that the same weight needs to stop as well. Braking further in advance will ensure you will come to a complete stop by the time you reach the Stop Sign or destination.
Leave room between the vehicle in front of you beyond normal driving distances in case they need to stop abruptly so you’ll have plenty of time and space to react to their actions. Always look to the left and right of the vehicle ahead of you for exit plans. Running onto the curb or shoulder is far better than hitting the driver in front of you.
What is the proper distance while driving behind the vehicle ahead of you? Rear-end collisions are the most common form of an accident during normal driving conditions and even more so when the weather is in winter conditions.
During decent driving conditions, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to give yourself a 3-second delay behind the vehicle in front of you. If you’re driving a large vehicle, the conditions are wet/snowy/icy, you can account for that and more by looking ahead and finding a fixed object. When the vehicle ahead of you reaches that object, start counting…one-one-thousand…two-one-thousand and so forth.
Three seconds or more should give you a sufficient amount of room to react or adjust to the conditions or whatever moves the driver ahead might do. Remember that you can’t control other drivers but you can control your driving.
What Does Black Ice Look Like
Quite simply, a shiny road…most of the time but is not always black. That expression sounds ominous and only applies if the road surface you’re driving on is black.
During wet conditions, it will appear shiny or glossy but you will notice a spray of water coming from the vehicle ahead of you. This means that the road is not frozen yet and you can maintain fairly good traction.
Understand that one of the most hazardous times while driving is when the outside temperature is between 29° Fahrenheit and 34° Fahrenheit. As vehicles drive across the road surface, the radiant heat from the underside can melt the ice on the road surface. Causing water to sit on top of the ice and provide a slick and dangerous condition.
If the road appears shiny and there’s no spray coming from the tires ahead beware and be cautious. As mentioned, the road will not always be black asphalt so the best option to anticipate what lies ahead is to look far down the road, maintain a safe distance, and look for water spray.
Check Spare Tire Health
Getting a flat tire doesn’t make anybody's day better and it’s even more annoying when the weather is cold and wet. Why compound the situation into a full-on headache by having a spare tire that’s not serviceable. Check your spare tire before you need it and all will be right as rain - or snow in this case.
Carrying Emergency Supplies
Planning is never a bad idea unless you fail to do it. It’s better to have an item and not need it than to need it and not have it. A small duffel bag in the bed of your truck or the trunk of your car can mean the difference between staying safe and getting out of a sticky situation versus the battle of the elements without proper equipment.
Here are a few suggestions for your emergency kit that we quickly found on Amazon:
- Duffle bag
- Road flares
- Magnetic LED safety lights
- Roadside tool kit
- Battery Jump Starter
- Tow Strap
- Traction boards
The above is a basic kit and can always be added to should you feel the need. We’re in no way affiliated with Amazon or its partners. Please do your research before purchasing.
Surviving the winter weather
As we endure whatever the weather brings, most if not all of us will need to go out into the elements. Being prepared and ready for the conditions while driving is paramount to arriving in all forms intended. Driving a large heavy dodge truck can be your best advantage but also your worst nightmare if you’re not prepared.
Take care while driving and reduce your speed during these winter months. Recognize the elements you may be in and get out there to experience the different surface conditions. Sometimes the best training is to immerse yourself into that which you’re not experienced at.