Wisconsin winters can be brutal, and so can driving in them. Icy roads, winter storms, and everything in between (such as a wintry mix) can make winter driving hazardous for even the most experienced drivers. No one wants to get stranded in the middle on one of our infamous sub-zero Wisconsin days or when the snow is piling up on our roads. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of winter driving tips that keep you on the road and keep you safe during the cold.
Don’t warm up the car in a closed garage.
Warming up the car is common practice in Wisconsin; it can also become deadly if the vehicle is left running in an enclosed garage. Exhaust gases can build up in an enclosed space and cause serious injury or even death.
Make sure your tires are kept at the proper tire pressure.
Tires are your car’s sole contact with the road, making them a vital part of safe winter driving. Sudden drops in temperature can cause the tire pressure to drop below the recommended pounds-per-square-inch. Flat tires are hazardous during the winter, and can lead to lower gas mileage and premature tire replacement. Often, you can’t see when tire pressure is low and many tire pressure monitor sensor warning dash lights won’t go on until they are 20% under pressure. Know when the tire PSI (pounds-per-square-inch) on your car or tire is low. Check the decal in the driver’s side door or owner’s manual for the optimal PSI. Use a tire pressure monitor to check the tire pressure regularly and when the temperature suddenly drops.
Keep your phone charged.
When you are stranded, a cell phone can be an invaluable way to get assistance. Keep the cell phone charged so it is there when needed. Program in the name and number of a local towing company or keep their number in the glove compartment.
Check your tire tread.
Bald tires do not channel water properly and can be incredibly unsafe on icy or wet winter roads. Visually inspect tires regularly, and do the penny test when the tread seems low. During the penny test, put the penny into the tire tread. If Abraham Lincoln’s head is completely visible, the tire tread is low and should be replaced for safe winter driving.
Vehicle brakes are a key part of safe winter driving, especially when the roads are snowy or icy. Allowing extra distance and time for braking is one of the top cold weather driving tips. For that reason, get the vehicles regularly checked at every oil change and watch for signs of failing brakes. These signs can include: squealing or grinding noises when braking, a pulsating brake pedal, or when the car pulls to one side when braking. Schedule an appointment immediately when any of the signs of failing brakes occurs during driving.
Plan for extra traveling time.
Driving slowly is the safest way to travel during snow storms or when roads are icy. For that reason, watch the weather reports, plan accordingly, and schedule extra traveling time. When driving, allow extra space in front of the vehicle; driving too close can cause an accident when roads are slippery or conditions are hazardous.
Don’t stop on a hill or around a curve.
When conditions are snowy and visibility is low, it can be difficult to stop and see other vehicles. Avoid stopping on a hill or around a curve; the mere presence of a car can cause an accident, a sudden fishtail, or a vehicle into the ditch.
Avoid sudden acceleration.
Slippery roads and sudden acceleration are a dangerous combination. Slowly accelerate at intersections and keep speeds low when encountering vehicles that are stranded or stuck in the snow.
Check the battery.
The extreme temperatures (both cold and hot) of Wisconsin can damage car batteries and lead to breakdowns. Over time, car batteries do not have the maximum power required to start up the car during freezing temperatures. Don’t get stranded because of a dead battery; replace batteries every 3-5 years and watch for signs of a failing battery. Rough starting or an occasional battery jump are both signs that the battery is ready for replacement. Schedule an appointment to get the battery replaced and avoid an inconvenient winter breakdown.
Stock up your emergency kit.
Never head out during winter without a well-stocked winter emergency kit. Before driving, make sure to pack a shovel, first aid kit, window scraper, cold winter gear, flashlight, and blanket. Jumper cables, a lug wrench, and jack are all-weather emergency supplies that should always be on hand for those just-in-case situations.