Winter in Minnesota can put a damper on driving conditions, especially when snow and ice are involved. Hazardous storms and inclement weather are a factor in more than half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter in the U.S., according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA urges drivers to slow down, be cautious and prepare their vehicles for the winter season.
“Driving in winter conditions can be challenging,” says Chris Claeson, Manager of Driving Programs at AAA Minneapolis. “Black ice, heavy snowfall, roads that have not been cleared of snow and other bad driving conditions can make it more difficult for drivers to control their vehicle and avoid a crash.”
Stay safe on the road in cold, snowy and icy conditions. AAA provides tips and services to make sure you and your vehicle are winter-ready.
You can also visit the AAA YouTube channel to watch videos on winter driving tips.
- Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather.
The kit should include sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, flashlight, an ice scraper or snow brush, booster cables, a blanket, gloves or mittens and flares or reflective triangles.
- Always keep your gas tank ¼ full.
This is important for safety reasons. If you get stranded, you want to be able to keep your car running to stay warm.
- Wash and wax your vehicle to help prevent rust damage, which costs drivers approximately $3 billion every year.
- Replace worn windshield-wiper blades.
Consider getting beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to help fight snow and ice buildup.
- Inspect your tires.
Make sure tires have adequate tread depth – at least 4/32” – as worn tires can affect a driver’s ability to stop in slick conditions.
- Have your battery tested.
A AAA survey found that two-thirds of American drivers have never proactively had their car battery tested. If a battery is more than three years old have it checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to endure cold weather. AAA’s Mobile Battery Service offers free battery testing for AAA members.
- Do not tailgate.
Normal following distances of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be extended to a minimum of five to six seconds when driving on slippery surfaces. The extra time will provide additional braking room should a sudden stop become necessary.
- Never use cruise control on slippery roads.
If your vehicle hydroplanes or skids, you will lose the ability to regain some traction simply by lifting off the accelerator.
- Slow down and adjust your speed to the road conditions.
Leave yourself ample room to stop. Accelerate, turn and brake as gradually and smoothly as you can.
- Don’t slam on the brakes.
If your car begins to skid, continue to steer in the direction you want the car to go. Slamming on the brakes will only make your vehicle harder to control.
- Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses.
Black ice typically forms first in shaded areas of the roadway and on bridges and overpasses that freeze first and melt last. Although the road leading up to a bridge may be fine, the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.
- React quickly.
Watch the traffic ahead and slow down immediately at the sight of brake lights, skidding cars or emergency flashers.
- Completely brush snow and scrape ice off of your vehicle, so that it doesn’t fly off when you’re on the road. Flying snow and ice chunks are dangerous for both your field of vision and others’.
- Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas.
Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
- Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
- Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
- Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
- If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle.
It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
- Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna
Or place a cloth at the top of a rolled-up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud.
A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
- Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold.
This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
- If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry, and take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly.
Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes.
Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it.
There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills.
Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
- Don’t stop going up a hill.
There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- Stay home.
If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
A car battery loses a third of its power in freezing temperatures because the cold air causes your car’s oil to thicken. The engine parts move more slowly, meaning the battery has to use more power to turn over and start your engine. If the temperature drops to zero or below, your battery only has half its power!
When To Get Your Battery Tested
- Your battery is 3 or more years old
- You can see stains or corrosion on the battery itself
- Your car doesn’t start immediately
- Your car makes clicking noises when you turn the key
Regardless of the age and condition of your battery, there are a few things you can do to help your car start in the frigid temperatures.
- Have your battery checked. It’s never fun to go out and find your car won’t start, especially in the cold temperatures. To see if your car has enough battery to endure the cold weather, have it tested by a professional. AAA’s Mobile Battery Service offers free battery testing for AAA Members.
- Keep your battery clean. If you see corrosion, clean your battery, or have it cleaned by a technician.
- Park your car out of the frigid air whenever possible. If you have access to a garage, try to park your car there as often as possible. If you live in an area without access to enclosed parking, or frequently need to leave it in temperatures below freezing, consider buying an engine heater to reduce the power the battery needs to start your car.
- Turn everything off every time. Turn off your lights, wipers, radio, heater, and everything else that you can each time you reach the end of your drive. This prevents unnecessary drain on the battery the next time you start your car.
- Unplug. While it is smart to keep phone cables in your car to help ensure you have a phone battery in the bad weather, it’s even smarter to unplug them when you aren’t using them. This is especially important for when you shut off your car for the same reason as above.
- Avoid using your car’s heater longer than you have to. Heaters put high demand on your battery.
- Take it slow. When you turn your car on, make sure you leave yourself enough time to let it run idle for 5 or so minutes to help warm up the engine. This will help everything thaw out and run without added stress (the grinding and whining sounds).
- Turn your car on every day even if you aren’t driving. During the snow season, it is important to turn your car on every 6-12 hours and let it run idle for 15-20 minutes so that it reaches operating temperatures. This proves current to the battery, allowing it to regain its charge.
- Wait for warmer temperatures. If you can’t get your car to turn over after a few tries, stop trying. If you can, wait until the weather gets a little warmer, if you can’t wait and are a member, call AAA for a jump.
- Keep a heavy blanket in your car during the winter. If you ever break down and can’t use your heater in the freezing weather, you’ll need it to keep warm until help arrives.
“If you have no choice but to venture out into ice and snow, remember to pack an emergency kit and drive slowly. However, if you really don’t have to go out, stay home. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can.”
-Chris Claeson, Manager of Driving Programs at AAA Minneapolis