Minivan and passenger care safely driving on a snowy road.

Tire maintenance & safety

Winter driving tips to stay safe in inclement weather

Wait the storm out. Unless the situation is dire, there's no reason to risk the safety of you and others by driving in the snow. Throw on something warm, toss in your favorite movie, and relax until the roads are clear.

That's easier said than done for many folks. You may live in the part of the city that plow drivers can't reach until the more populated areas are taken care of. It can be days until roads are clear for driving, and life in town goes on.

You need to pay your bills, stock the fridge, and get the kids to school. Some slush on the roads is just another obstacle to overcome. You might even just be punching out or packing up after work or class when the snow really starts to pile up outside.

Although you may not want to, you'll most likely have to drive on snow-covered roads at some point. Whether it's simply to function or due to circumstances out of your control, you need to know the proper course of action to take when you do.

A big part of that is preparing your vehicle, as well as knowing how to handle that automobile on snowy roads. Here are tips for each.

Snowy cars parked on the side of a snowy street

Preparing your car for winter

Knowing how to drive in the snow is a big deal, but making sure your vehicle is ready for winter weather is the most important part of it. The better you set your car up, the less you'll need to accommodate for slick roads while you're driving.

In fact, it's not entirely out of the question to have your car handle as it normally does in mild conditions. Still, things can get out of hand fast, and you need to know what to do when it does.

Before we get to that, let's cover some tips to help you winterize your vehicle.


Run the right tire type.

Tire technology isn't what it used to be, and this is one of the situations in the industry where that's a good thing. All-season or all-weather tires are far more capable than what people had to work with ten years ago or better. If you live in a region where winter conditions are relatively mild, and roads are well-kept, they can get you through the year without much issue.

Winter tire considerations.

Selecting a set of winter tires is a good idea if you live in an area where an inch or two of snow regularly sits on the roads and temperatures stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the season. Make no mistake. Even the most basic set of winter tires can make major improvements in driving.

In the case that winter conditions are severe in your part of town, studded or studdable winter tires are the route to take. Studdable tires are pre-drilled for dozens of metal studs that dig into ice and slush to gain traction. The reason you might consider studdable over studded is simply that it gives you the option to opt to take a more aggressive approach when necessary.

Just remember to consult local and state laws before purchasing a set of studded tires, or studding your studdable tires, as studs are not legal in all 50 States.

Inspect tread depth.

No matter the tire type you have, it isn't doing you any favors without ample tread depth. The tread on your tires is carefully crafted to handle a variety of road conditions. Sipes and grooves on the surface of the tread blocks work to remove moisture, slush, and other elements that could come between the rubber and the road. So, you need to make sure the tires can do that before winter hits.

As a rule of thumb, tires require a minimum of 2/32 inches of tread depth to be legal. That's not the best model to follow in wintertime, though. In fact, anything less than 4/32 inches of tread depth is unacceptable. Fortunately, checking your tread depth is very easy and can be done rather quickly. A tread depth gauge is a useful tool for this, but the change in your pockets can work in a pinch.

Take out a quarter or penny. Place the Penny in the grooves with Lincoln's head pointing to the inside of the tire and the backside facing you. If the tread reaches the Lincoln Memorial, you have roughly 6/32 inches of tread depth, and you're good to go. Using a quarter, follow the same steps only with Washington facing you. If the tread just reaches George's head, you have 4/32-inches of tread and should have the tires replaced.


Be sure to check your tread depth at least once a month to avoid balding, cupping, spotting, and other uneven wear issues. Doing this should let you know when it’s time for an alignment or rotation, which can save you hundreds of dollars.

Pulling up on a snow filled road

Keep pressure in check.

Tire pressure is essential to gaining and maintaining traction. If you've been practicing proper pressure maintenance, you already know to check and adjust the pressure at least once per month. Things change as temperature drops, though.

You can expect tire pressure to fluctuate by 1-PSI for every difference of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with pressure dropping as temperature decreases. This can make it necessary to adjust tire pressure a few times per week.

You can avoid underinflation issues as temperatures drop by over-inflating your tires by no more than a few PSI during the warmest part of the week or day.

Ready the spare.

Don't forget the spare tire; you just may need it in the dead of winter. Considering these offer little traction on even the best days, you certainly don't want to take any risks when snow, slush, or ice is on the road.

If your spare tire has more than 50-miles on it, replace it. The same thing applies to spare tires that show any signs of dry rot. If you have room in the budget and your vehicle, you might even consider investing in a full-size spare to minimize risks.


Steering, brakes, and suspension checklist.

Tires are your first line of safety and defense, and proper selection will provide the biggest difference in performance in the wintertime. Still, you don't want to focus all of your attention there.

The steering and suspension components along with the brake system work equally as hard to maintain control over the vehicle. Pay attention to the way your call is pulling on a straight road, how bumpy your ride is, squeaking and other odd sounds when you try to brake, and signs of uneven wear on your tires.

Be sure to take the car to a service tech who can inspect them for you before winter starts if you notice any of these warning signs.

Freshen up the engine.

The last thing you need is for your engine to start struggling on you when there's a layer of snow on the ground. That's why it's essential to give the engine a good tune-up before the snow starts falling, and you can either do this yourself or take your vehicle to a trusted technician or shop.

Making sure the spark plugs are in good shape and that you have clean oil and filters throughout gives you a fighting edge against potential maintenance issues in the dead of winter.

Top off coolant and wiper fluid.

You want to make sure you have the right coolant and washer fluid in your vehicle for the winter since too much water content can lead to freezing and performance issues. Now is also a good time to inspect either system for leaks or take it into a shop that can do that for you.

Keep the tank full.

You may usually only top off your fuel when the tank reaches the 1/4-full mark on the gauge. That can be a costly mistake in the wintertime. You should keep your tank 1/2-full or better at all times in case you find yourself sitting in traffic or taking the long way home due to winter weather conditions.

Tools and Emergency Equipment

Jack, stands, lug wrenches.

At the very least, you must be prepared to change a spare tire in the wintertime. There's no guarantee roadside assistance can reach you when conditions are bad. Take the time to make sure you have a jack, jack stand, and lug wrench in the trunk just in case you get a flat.

Roadside emergency bag.

Speaking of roadside emergencies, things happen and you need to be prepared when they do. Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle for safe measures. The kit should include gear for emergency roadside repairs (pliers, screwdrivers, tape, booster cables, and so on), along with items to keep you safe and warm.

An emergency blanket, road flares, hand warmers, flashlights, and gloves are must-have items in the winter. Remember, it might take some time for roadside assistance to get to you in the winter months, so it doesn’t hurt to have water and non-perishable snacks in your car as well.

Winter Kit Checklist

Traction gear for the trunk.

Maybe you just hit a rough patch, and traction is just a few feet away. Proper traction devices like traction boards can help you get there if you have room in your vehicle for them. It's also a good idea to keep tire chains and recovery straps in your vehicle during the winter as they can make all the difference in the world in emergency situations.


If you have room, it can be a good idea to keep a bag of sand or kitty litter in the vehicle -- that can be enough to give you just the right amount of traction to make it out of a snowbank. If you’ve got a truck, a shovel might even be a good thing to have around.

Safe driving starts with you

Even if your vehicle is armed to the teeth to handle wintry weather conditions, it's still important to change your driving habits.

A slick patch of black ice or an unexpectedly deep patch of snow can send any vehicle into a slide, or worse. To make sure that doesn't happen to you, you'll want to put these key tips into practice:

Slow down.

The winter is no time for speeding. The faster you're moving, the faster things can get out of control and the less time you'll have to react. Take your time and stick to the speed limit. If the weather is getting bad, throw on the flashers and drive at a speed that you're comfortable with.


Your parents might tell you to pump your brakes, but that's the old-school way of thinking as modern ABS systems simply don't require it. Brake steadily and lightly when you need to slow down. Also, remember that braking distances are increased when slush or snow is on the road, and you should begin applying the brakes sooner.

If you're in a skid or low traction condition, apply the brakes at an even slower rate to prevent the vehicle from going into a spin. Again, driving at slower speeds will make it easier to manage situations of the likes.

Following distances.

Tailgating is always a bad idea, but it's downright reckless in the winter — even while driving slow.

Don't assume the driver in front of you knows how to drive in the winter or that they set their vehicle up properly. You should actually assume the exact opposite and give them a little more following distance than normal because of it.

Keep in mind, you won't be able to slow down as quickly as normal, and that may lead to an accident if you're following too closely.

Cars Driving in Winter Weather Conditions

High beams vs fog lights.

Don't count on high beams and fog lights doing any heavy lifting in the wintertime. They can actually make things worse as fog lights aren't meant for heavy snowfall, and high beams can reduce vision in those same conditions due to their angle and reflection. Get used to using your low beams for most driving situations. It won't hurt to throw in fresh bulbs and clean the housings before winter hits.

Steady, deliberate throttle.

Don't stab the throttle to get up to speed. Instead, use smooth and steady motions to maintain traction. If you do break traction while turning, try to back off the throttle slowly as you correct the vehicle's trajectory.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles will oversteer, meaning the rear end will try to swing out in a turn, and you should turn against the direction of the rear end to correct it. Front-wheel drive will understeer, which means it will try to keep going straight. When this happens, easing off the throttle and keeping the wheel pointed into the turn will help you regain traction.

Approaching hills

Whenever you're going uphill, you want to use momentum to your advantage. In other words, you want to hit the hill with enough speed so that light throttle can get you to the top. Applying too much gas will break traction, and you definitely want to avoid that.

Going downhill is a different story because you shouldn't apply any gas. You still want the momentum to provide motion. Only your right foot should be on the brake pedal, slowly applying pressure to keep you rolling at a manageable speed.

Icy conditions.

If there's ice on the roads, you should avoid driving altogether. Even four-wheel drive trucks and all-wheel drive applications won't stand up to ice without studded tires, like the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10.

Don't panic if you are forced into a situation where you need to drive with snow on the ground. Keep speeds under 20 MPH, and apply the same driving tips you have under your belt.

It's also worth mentioning the need to keep your eye open for black ice at all times in freezing weather conditions. If the roads look wet, always assume it's black ice and slow down to avoid losing control over the vehicle.

Car driving on snow-covered country road

Again, you will wind up driving in poor winter conditions at some point or another. Don't worry. So long as you keep a cool head and these tips in mind, you will be just fine.

If you're questioning the tires on your car before winter hits, take a look at our selection or give us a call. We have experts dedicated to picking the right tires for any application, which will gladly take the time to make sure your ride is safe and ready for the snowy season.

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