Winter weather is predicted to impact many areas of the Lone Star State in the coming days. AAA Texas reminds drivers that traveling in winter conditions such as ice or snow can be challenging. During winter weather, drivers are encouraged to stay tuned to weather forecasts prior to a long-distance road trip and before driving in rural areas. Drivers should delay trips when especially bad weather is expected.
Before departing, people should let others know their intended route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
Preparing your vehicle for driving in bad weather
- To optimize visual clarity, clean the outside and inside of your windshield at least once a week.
- Keep your car’s windshield and rear-window defrosters in good working condition.
- Keep your windshield wiper blades fresh. Many drivers change them every six months, especially before driving in bad weather.
- Clear all snow and ice from the vehicle’s windows, roof, hood, trunk lid and any other covered areas. This will reduce risk, because it increases your visibility. Additionally, drivers around you won’t be blinded by snow blowing off your vehicle.
- Use an ice scraper to remove snow and ice from your windshield and all windows, including side and rear windows. This will improve your ability to see other roadway users that may move into your path of travel.
AAA Texas and Discount Tire have teamed up to remind drivers about the importance of well-maintained tires, which are critical to maintain traction on wet roads:
- Inflate Tires to the Correct Pressure. Check your tires’ air pressure when the tires are cool, because heat (from driving or the ambient temperature) can increase tire pressure readings by several pounds per square inch (psi). Check the Tire Pressure Often. Tires lose pressure naturally—typically 1–3 psi per month—because a tire’s sidewall is permeable. Low tire pressure results in poor handling and braking, reduced gas mileage, and excessive wear. So be sure to check your car’s tire pressure at least once a month—especially before a long trip.
- Check the Tread Depth. A tire’s ability to stop within a safe distance becomes compromised when its tread depth reaches 4/32 inch. An easy way to determine if a tire is worn out is to place an upside-down quarter (not a penny) in a tire tread. If you can see the top of George’s head, it’s time to replace the tire.
- Rotate Your Tires Regularly. Ideally, rotate your tires every 5,000 miles—which, coincidentally, is a required service interval for many cars today.
- Check the Tread Pattern. If you’ve kept your car’s wheels balanced and aligned and its tires rotated and properly inflated, the tread should wear evenly across the width of the tire. Check your tires periodically for uneven wear patterns and replace tires if necessary.
- Know the Tire’s Age. As a tire ages, its rubber becomes hard and brittle, losing elasticity and strength. Therefore, the older a tire, the higher the risk for failure. We recommend replacing any tire that’s six years old or older.
- Check Your Trunk. An increasing number of new vehicles today come with tire-inflation kits instead of spare tires; some vehicles are equipped with run-flat tires and no spare tire. Check to see which option your vehicle has. If it does have a spare tire, make sure to keep it properly inflated. Small temporary spare tires—a.k.a. donuts—typically have the correct pressure stamped on the side of the tire.
- Don’t Overload Your Vehicle. The combination of underinflated tires and an overloaded a vehicle is one of the most dangerous conditions, because the tires can overheat and possibly fail. Check your car’s owner’s manual for your vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating, which is its maximum operating weight, including the weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo (but excluding a trailer).
On the road
- Make sure your headlights are on. In fact, it is a good idea to turn on your headlights any time you drive, because you will increase your visibility in any condition.
- Reduce your speed and leave plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the vehicle in front of you.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding.
- Do not use cruise control on any wet, snow-covered or icy roads.
- Be aware of possible icy roads. Be especially careful on bridges and overpasses, which freeze sooner than roads. And even at temperatures above freezing, if conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
- Be careful on infrequently traveled roads, which may not be cleared as often as other roads.
Leaving the roadway
- If you must pull off the road, wait for a safe opportunity and pull off the road as far as you can.
- It is best to pull into a rest area or parking lot, rather than on the road’s shoulder.
Know When to Brake and When to Steer
- Some driving situations require abrupt action to avoid a crash or collision and in winter conditions the decision to steer or brake can have very different outcomes. When traveling more than 25 mph, AAA Texas recommends steering over braking to avoid a collision in winter-like conditions, as less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop. In slick conditions, sudden braking can lead to loss of vehicle control.
- However, sometimes steering is not an option. Braking on slippery surfaces requires you to look further ahead and increase following and stopping distances. Plan stopping distances as early as possible and always look 20-30 seconds ahead of your vehicle to ensure you have time and space to stop safely.
Stay in Control Through a Skid
- Even careful and experienced drivers can skid on slippery surfaces. When a vehicle begins to skid, it’s important not to panic and follow these basic steps:
- Continue to look and steer in the direction you want the car to go.
- Avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.
Additional Winter Driving Safety Tips from AAA Texas:
- Use your seatbelt every time you get in the vehicle.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage. In fact, modern vehicles do not require idle time prior to driving.
- 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.
- Never leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
- Additional information on driving in winter conditions can be found at How to Go on Ice and Snow.