Driving in Snow FAQs

December 10th, 2021 by

Cars and SUVs Driving on a Highway in Snow

Snow presents several challenges when it comes to driving from one place to another. The staff at Thompson Sales wants you to be safe when enjoying your vehicle in the winter.

We’ve answered several frequently asked questions about driving in snow to help make your in-vehicle experience better when the flakes fly.

How do I drive in snow safely?

Take several steps to drive in snow safely, including:

  1. Check the weather forecast and continue to monitor the situation. There are many weather apps available, so there are plenty of ways to stay on top of winter weather such as sub-freezing temperatures, ice, and snow. Know the forecast before you leave for your destination, whether it’s driving a mile to work or 500 miles to grandma’s house. 
  2. Stay put if possible. Don’t travel in snow or ice unless you absolutely have to. It’s better to stay safe and stay home until the storm passes and roads are passable.
  3. Leave extra time to get to your destination. Add an extra 30 minutes to your drive time in snow, which means departing earlier than normal to get where you’re going.
  4. Drive slowly. Lower your speed to 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. This is because it takes a longer distance to stop on slick roads.
  5. Accelerate and decelerate gradually. Never gun the engine to pick up speed, and never slam on the brakes to stop. You might end up skidding.
  6. Increase following distance. The normal following distance is two seconds behind the car in front of you, no matter what speed you travel. When driving in snow, increase that time to five to six seconds because you need extra time to stop. 
  7. Don’t stop if you can avoid it. It takes more power to move your car forward when it’s completely stopped versus going slowly. If you can avoid stopping altogether, it’s better to slow down gradually as you come to a traffic light if it’s about to change to green.
  8. Don’t increase the power going up a hill. Rather than hitting the accelerator going up a hill, gather momentum on a flat stretch of land before you go up the hill. Applying extra acceleration on a hill only makes your wheels spin rather than move you forward. Also, don’t stop on a hill. You might start to roll backward uncontrollably. 
  9. Don’t turn the steering wheel suddenly. Your tires might lose traction if this is the case. You could also end up in a skid.

Traffic Jam Caused by Snow

How fast should I drive in snow?

If you have to drive in snow and ice, reduce your speed by half. For example, if you normally drive 60 miles per hour on a highway, reduce your speed to 30 miles per hour.

How do I drive with snow chains on tires?

Snow chains represent one option for driving in snow. However, you shouldn’t travel more than 30 miles per hour with snow chains, and they are just a temporary solution. Take the snow chains off as soon as you can, or don’t drive with them if you plan to travel faster than 30 miles per hour.

What are the dangers of driving on snow and ice?

  1. Light snow is even more dangerous on a road. A light dusting of snow on the road is more dangerous than a few inches of snow because the light snow melts and refreezes into a layer of ice that you can’t see due to the warm pavement. Plus, ice is even slicker than snow and offers worse traction for your tires.
  2. Black ice. Black ice is a layer of ice on pavement at night that is impossible to see because it’s transparent. Avoid driving at night following a snowstorm if at all possible.
  3. Limited visibility. Blowing snow, combined with foggy windows, reduces visibility greatly. If you can’t see where you’re going, chances are good other drivers have the same problem. 
  4. Slippery roads and loss of traction. Losing traction on the road, when the tires are unable to steer or move the car correctly, could lead to a situation where you lose control of your vehicle. This is why you should stay home if at all possible.

Why is 4WD or AWD better for snow driving than two-wheel drive?

All-wheel drive (AWD) is the best option for driving on snow or in icy conditions. The reason comes from how AWD works. All-wheel-drive systems apply power to all four wheels at the same time. These systems engage automatically when needed.

Four-wheel drive is great for deep snow or extreme weather conditions. For most people, AWD works just fine. You still need to take precautions with an AWD or 4WD vehicle, such as slowing down, increasing your braking distance, and leaving extra time to reach your destination.

Red SUV Driving in Deep Snow

What driving mode is best for snow?

All-wheel drive (AWD) is best.

Can front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive cars navigate snow?

Yes, but there are some caveats.

Front-wheel drive works well for urban driving on smaller engines when there is snow on the ground. You should always take precautions when driving in snow. 

Larger engines don’t work well in snow and ice with front-wheel drive because of a phenomenon called torque steer. This tends to pull a front-wheel-drive vehicle to one side when you accelerate quickly. You might find yourself skidding due to front-wheel drive, which is why you need to take precautions when driving in the snow.

For rear-wheel drive, you may need to weigh down the back of the vehicle because the drive wheels are pushing the car (rather than pulling) in an area without a lot of weight. Consider adding sandbags to the trunk of your rear-wheel-drive vehicle when driving in the snow.

Vehicle Tire Driving on Thick Ice

What is black ice?

Black ice is a thin coat or glaze of extremely transparent ice on pavement that makes it very hard to drive on. The ice appears black because it blends in with pavement, becoming difficult to see.

What causes black ice?

Black ice forms on pavement for three main reasons:

  1. Light freezing rain. Freezing rain falls to the ground as a liquid, but the surface is below the freezing point and the rain instantly freezes on contact. When this happens on pavement below the freezing point, a transparent sheen of ice covers the road.
  2. Melting and refreezing of snow, ice, or water on pavement. During the day when the sun is out, ice and snow may turn to water due to the sunlight warming the dark pavement. At night, when temperatures drop and there is no sunlight, the liquid may refreeze into ice. 
  3. Melting and refreezing of snow, ice, or water due to friction and pressure from vehicle tires. When car tires hit the road, they warm up the surface due to friction. Adding weight to snow makes it melt into water. When the weight or friction is removed from the snow, it refreezes as a thin layer of ice.

Why is black ice dangerous?

Black ice is dangerous for driving in snowy conditions because you cannot see it. It’s transparent, but it looks black because of the color of pavement. When you can’t see it, you may not realize you’re entering into a dangerous driving situation.

Skid Marks on Snowy Pavement

What do I do if I skid on ice or snow?

If you skid on ice or snow, follow these steps:

  1. Remove your foot from the accelerator. This stops your wheels from spinning. Put your foot on the brake instead.
  2. Hit the brake pedal using a slow pumping motion. Most vehicles have anti-lock brakes. Your vehicle will detect the skid and start to automatically compensate by gradually turning the wheels as you apply the brakes. You should be able to feel this happen.
  3. Steer away from the skid. If you see your car starting to skid to the right, steer to the left. If you see your car skid to the left, steer to the right. Make sure you don’t oversteer. Gradually and calmly steer the vehicle in the correct direction.

Where can I get more driving tips from Thompson Sales?

Read our blog for more driving tips and car maintenance ideas! Have more questions? Contact Thompson Sales or call (417) 763-6811 for more information.

Posted in Driving Tips