This one thing will make a huge impact on how your car handles in snow and ice

How to drive in snow and ice?

A good set of winter tires will go a long way in getting you home safely

How do you drive a vehicle in winter when roads are wet and slippery and covered with snow and/or ice? Sure, common sense tells us that you should drive carefully and slow down, but what if that is just not enough?

A few years back a question like that wouldn’t have even crossed my mind! But moving to the east coast, I’ve learn’t a few tricks on driving in snow without getting myself killed!

Prior to moving to the east coast, I had never driven in snow. I was blissfully unaware of what it takes to drive in snow. I still remember that day. A cold wintery morning, no snow, but icy conditions and I had to attend an interview. I turned on my gps, put on some music and hit the gas!

The GPS told me to take a steep, cobble-stoned road that was covered with ice. And I did. The car went up a bit and then got all floaty and started slipping! Lights I’ve never seen in my car started flashing (stability assist)!

My first instinct was to hit the breaks and park the car. Luckily I didn’t, I was halfway there, and even though the car was slipping, it was moving forward. But I did make it!

So what went wrong? I wasn’t speeding, the tires were new, the car had traction control and stability assist and yet it was a struggle and potentially dangerous to go up that road. How do you climb up a steep road covered with ice?

Winter tires. That’s what was missing. My tires were actually pretty new, but they were sporty, summer tires meant for California roads. Winter tires make a huge difference. A lot of science goes behind the materials used and the treads for better traction and grip on icy roads. This one thing will make a huge difference on how your car performs in slippery conditions. Get your tires changed before the start of winter and change all four tires. (I know this post is a little late for that!)

Climbing up a steep, slippery road

If you are climbing up a steep slippery road and your car starts slipping but keeps moving forward, don’t hit the breaks! Once the car stops, you will start slipping backwards with pretty much no control. For me, I kept going till the road started leveling again. Of course, avoid steep roads if possible, but if you do have to take them, keep this in mind.

Climbing down a steep, slippery road

Going downhill is always harder than climbing uphill when roads are slippery. Breaking may or may not work depending upon how good your tires are how slippery the road is. If you break too hard, your car has the potential to skid, if you break too slow, it may or may not stop. Once again, a good set of winter tires helps a lot.

Negotiating a turn when roads are wet

When you make a turn, your car is pulled towards the edge of the turn by what’s called the centrifugal force. Slushy and wet roads magnify this effect. Slow down! That’s the best advice I can give (and it works)!

Saving money on tires

Now tires are not cheap and prices vary greatly between retailers for the exact same set of tires. Here’s how you can get a good deal on a tire:

  • Never buy tires from a dealership. The quote I got for a set was somewhere in 4 figures. Got the same set of tires for 30% less including labor at a local auto shop
  • If you have a Costco membership, that is a good place to get tires
  • You can order tires online and get it shipped either to you or to a auto shop near you. You cut the middleman and the savings are significant and worth your effort. Amazon has a limited selection, Tirerack and Discount tires are other well known tire dealers
  • Once you purchase the tires, go to the manufacturer’s website and look for rebate forms. A number of tire manufacturers provide significant cash backs in the form of mail-in-rebates
  • Haggle! When getting your tires installed, haggle on the price. These costs are not set in stone!
  • PRO-TIP: When you are getting your tires changed, ask the mechanic to check your brakes as well. Usually, there is no additional charge for this

If you own a 4WD/AWD, you may think you are covered. But remember, a four wheel drive provides control and stability but your tires provide traction. Go with a good set of tires because no 4WD can defy laws of physics!

Share your winter driving stories, tips and tricks!

38 thoughts on “This one thing will make a huge impact on how your car handles in snow and ice

  1. I havent had to deal with those types of situations in a long time.  I remember having to drive on frozen roads and for the lack of better words it was just scary.  Now living in FL i dont know what it is to have to really deal with those elements.  Are people still using the chains over there tires?

  2. Yeah!

    I haven’t been good about this. I have found first hand just how dangerous this can be unfortunately. It is easy to take things for granted with respect to driving during inclement conditions (I know this was not your intention, as you had good conditions when you left); however, as the recent fatal Florida pile up illustrates yet again, it is best to be safe! I’m so glad you did slam on the breaks too!

  3. We live in Canada where winters can get pretty brutal. We have invested in a good pair of snow tires with studs. We also have learned to slow down. We see so many accidents this time of year, it’s nuts. If people just gave themselves a bit more time, many of them could be prevented.

  4. We rarely get snow in Portland and when we get 3 inches, watch out. The whole city shuts down and there are accidents all over the place. I usually stay home or take public transport when that happens.
    I would avoid going down any icy slope period. That’s where all the pile ups happen.

  5. Great tips MC. I confess, I really don’t like driving in icy / snowy conditions. I grew up in a part of Australia that never saw frost. I know a thing or two about maneuvering on unpaved rural roads, but cold weather driving is too much.

  6. Good stuff here.

    I live in Florida now because I hate cold winters, but I’ve spent most of my life in Michigan. I work in the auto industry and Bridgestone Blizzak are some pretty solid winter tires. Those are a good choice if you need something that grips supremely even in the harshest of conditions.

    Best wishes!

  7. Years ago, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I learned from a friend that if your car skids, best thing to do is not to push break peddle. That advise has worked well for me.

  8. Driving in snow I don’t mind so much, it’s the ice that’s a pain in the neck. There are plenty of bad drivers that forget that (as you say) the laws of physics still apply. Mass still has momentum, no matter if it’s 2WD or 4WD.

  9. It’s true: 4WD or not, good tires help you stay on the road in poor weather conditions. If I can, I try to stay off the roads or take the side streets. I’m not as worried about my own driving as I am concerned about poor drivers – or overly confident ones – on the streets! Good points on saving money on tires. Thanks!

    • Where I live, the roads all have a gradient making driving quite dangerous without proper tires. Though the city does clear the main roads promptly, it takes time to get to the side streets and hence it is best to stick to the main roads when possible.

  10. Definitely – good tires make all the difference! I live in the Colorado mountains, where chains are often a necessity for making it down to the main highway. We were lucky to save a bunch on our last set of tires, but in the shopping process, I was amazed to find that a good set of tires can cost nearly $1k for our Jeep! Make sure to do your homework and shop around to save money. Thanks for the terrific tips!

  11. I don’t have a big issue driving in most winter conditions. I get only get anxious when 18-wheelers get too close.

    My wife is a different story. If there’s any snow or ice- she simply refuses to drive. She totally freaks out! But I’d rather her be calm & at home…than panicked & on the road.

  12. Driving in the snow can be scary, especially when there is black ice. More often than not, people tend to drive too fast for snowy weather conditions. Snow tires definitely help! Nice post MC.

  13. I’ve lived in New England my whole life, and I’ve never owned a 4×4 vehicle nor have I used snow tires. I don’t feel there’s a definite need for them, although I know they help. I also lived in areas where roads are plowed and I don’t typically have to climb huge hills, so I realize that it’s different for people in other parts of New England.

    My tips for winter driving: Don’t drive in blizzards, be careful going around corners (and expect that you’re going to lose traction), and otherwise, drive as you normally would. I think some people are overly cautious when driving in winter, and I think that makes driving tougher and more dangerous.

  14. I remember the days of putting chains on our family’s big van, good times! We also would put sandbags in the back of our old station wagon to get better traction with more weight.
    My advice would be to avoid rear-wheel drive cars if at all possible. They just do not handle wintery conditions well at all.
    My final solution was to move from Wisconsin to Florida for college, where 50 degress is considered cold. :)

  15. I just got tires from Costco a few months ago…nice to spend less than you might have otherwise!

    Last year, during this same week, we were hit with a storm bringing over 20 inches of snow and massive winds off Lake Michigan, here in Chicago. Worst winter weather I’ve been a part of, though thankfully I stayed home from work that day. That week, seeing how many people downtown were stranded overnight in their cars with nobody to help them or reach them, served as a great example of how we should make good decisions with winter driving.

    The best move: don’t drive during really bad weather! Stay home.

  16. In the northeast you will find that cars are sold with what are called ‘all season’ tires. If you have a front drive car, these are adequate. I think a manual transmisson helps too but these are less commonly available now

  17. Great tips on winter driving and scoring deals on tires. I’ve driven in rough weather all my life, and I swear by four season tires. You don’t have to switch them out and they can handle anything Mother Nature throws at them (as long an you drive carefully). Good luck driving on the east coast!

  18. Hey MC, my trick is to practice! I’m an east coaster and I remember when I turned 16 my parents encouraged me to go to a big empty parking lot after a fresh snow. You’d be amazed how much more confident and skilled you get after learning how snow feels. Just do a few donuts and practice sliding around the lot (but avoid being near curbs and poles). Knowing how to handle snow in a controlled environment really helps when things get out of control.

  19. I used to ride with someone to work who was an excellent driver in snowy and icy conditions. She also knew some alternate routes to avoid hills and bridges as much as possible when it got bad. Often it’s the other drivers who cause the most problems & avoiding the most crowded roads is a huge help.

  20. AWDs can lead to a false sense of security because they can accelerate much better in slippery conditions, leading drivers to overestimate how much control they have. These cars won’t brake any faster than another car!

    That said, FWD without limited slip or traction control can become frustrating, especially going uphill. Even with winter tires, it effectively becomes a 1WD with power going to the tire with the least traction. This can make it difficult to get moving, as most of the weight is also off the tires that get you moving.

  21. One good thing about Florida living is you don’t need to do anything for cold driving. And roads are all flat.

  22. I know they are getting rarer but I rather drive with a rear propulsion car than front wheeled propulsion. I think it’s easier to control your car when you can decide when to slide or not ;-)

    I’ve never tried to save on winter tires thought. I think that you need the highest quality possible to make sure you have a safe ride. Mind you, I live in Quebec, Canada; we get a LOT of snow!

  23. When I first moved to Texas I was amazed by how poorly people drove in snow. Now that I’ve been here nearly 3 years, I get it: they never see snow so it’s brand new.

    Great tip on getting brakes checked while at the shop. I’ve learned my time is valuable and the less trips to an auto shop…the better. I’ve never considered buying tires online.

  24. Here in OK it snows and/or ices up at least once per winter season. Invariably, we’ll see 4x4s driven off the road and into ditch. I do believe that drivers get overconfident in the 4×4 concept and and forget about mass and velocity.

  25. Driving in the snow is no fun. For me, living in the state of Ohio means it’s inevitable. This time of the year is especially bad. Funny thing is: because it’s normal, kids barely get school called off. If one flake of snow hits the ground down south drivers freak out and everything is immediately closed!

  26. Do you know how I know not to hit the breaks on ice? Because I know first hand what happens when you hit the breaks on ice. :)

  27. Man, am I glad I don’t have to drive in bad weather. I think I’d be a basketcase. :)

  28. Thanks for the reminder…I live in Wisconsin and I do not know if we have winter tires or not…I need to check with my husband.

  29. Very helpful post. One thing we found last year was to turn traction control off when stuff in the snow in our subdivision.

    Also, never use cruise control on wet (or slippery, of course) pavement!

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