The winter landscape can be pretty, but it’s also one of the most challenging environments for drivers. When snow or ice is falling or already on the ground, one of the biggest challenges is compromised visibility – both in terms of being able to see the road yourself and being sure you can be seen by others.
After the Fall
If your car has been parked outside during a snowfall or other frozen precipitation, your first priority should be clearing your entire car of whatever’s fallen. This means more than the front and rear glass: it means side windows, outside mirrors, hood, roof, trunk, headlights and taillights. Be sure you equip your car with a scraper and brush before winter sets in.
Snow or ice on your hood can fly off and stick to your auto glass at the worst possible times; on your roof or trunk, it can blow onto your rear window, or onto another driver’s windshield and cause an accident. On your headlights and taillights, it can reduce your own visibility and make it harder for others to see you, or know when you are signaling a turn or braking.
Also be sure you’ll be able to use your wipers if needed. Before you start to drive, try lifting them to be sure they’re not frozen to the windshield. If they are, turn on the defroster with high heat to melt the ice before trying to free your wipers – you run the risk of ripping the blades or burning out your wiper motors if you try to free them while they’re frozen to the glass.
Avoiding the Foggy Bottom Blues
Once you’ve completely de-iced and de-snowed your vehicle, you’ll want to maintain your visibility for the entire length of your trip. Your heater and defroster provide much more than comfort on a cold day, so make sure they’re in good working order.
Your defroster and a clean cloth can help remove any fog that forms inside your windshield. However, if the air in your car is particularly humid from snow, rain or a 110-pound St. Bernard panting in the back seat, moisture can build up and your defroster alone might not cut it. Experts recommend running your air conditioner with the heater on for a short time. The air conditioner will remove the moisture from the air and clear your windows. As a matter of fact, many newer cars automatically engage the air conditioner when the defroster is turned on.
If your car offers you a choice of bringing in fresh air or recirculating the interior air, click on fresh air when using your defroster. Even the humidity from your own breath can cause stubborn fog to appear on your windshield if the recirculation button is selected.
Icy Clearly Now
Now that your windows are clear of snow and ice, and are properly defogged you’ll have to do your best to keep them that way. The onslaught of salt spray, falling snow, slush and rain will challenge you to maintain visibility. Most of us take vehicle windshield wipers for granted – until we turn them on and are treated to a streaked, smeared or opaque windshield. During the winter months if your windshield wipers are old, worn or cracked, they just won’t cut the mustard, let alone ice and snow.
Most auto manufacturers recommend changing your wiper blades every six months, but it is also a good idea to change them prior to the winter driving season. If you live in a region that is frequently assaulted by winter storms you may want to consider winter wiper blades or even heated wiper blades. This type of equipment literally plows the snow from your windshield and is much more effective against Mother Nature than stock wiper blades.
And remember to keep that windshield wiper fluid reservoir topped off. Be sure to use winterized fluid that contains anti-freeze, and don’t mix it with water if you don’t want it to freeze. Long after the snow has fallen, road salt spray can reduce your visibility to near zero and you can quickly use up the fluid in your reservoir under the hood. It’s highly recommended that you always keep a spare bottle of winterized windshield washer fluid in the trunk.
In a Storm
When snow or ice is falling and you must be on the road, remember to drive with your headlights on low beam, principally so other drivers can see you. Keep your wipers on, but be alert to when they may be icing over or collecting clumps of snow – these will limit the wipers’ ability to keep your windshield clear. Try melting the accumulations by using your heater and defroster, but be prepared to stop at a safe location and clear them off by hand if it becomes necessary. At the same time, check your headlights, taillights and mirrors for accumulation, and clear them too.
Winter Driving Emergencey Survival Kit
The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends keeping these items in your car in case you are stranded in a winter storm:
• Sand or cat litter
• Traction mats
• Tow chain
• Cloth or roll of paper towels
• Warning light or road flares
• Extra clothing and footwear
• Emergency food pack
• Jumper cables
• Ice scraper and brush
• Matches and a “survival” candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink or use as a light)
• Fire extinguisher
• Extra windshield washer fluid
• Fuel line antifreeze