driving in snow surrounded by trees

Top Tips For Your First Winter Driving Experience

By Isabelle Griesmer

We all get excited after that first sheet of fluffy snow covers the ground leaving you with bright and crisp scenery. If this is your first time experiencing a non-South African winter especially in Canada, there can be added excitement (or not if you don’t particularly care for it, and that’s ok).  However, it can also be dangerous to drive in if not properly prepared. Fear not Saffa friends, there are things you can do to be ready!

No matter what slushy or slick conditions you are driving in for the first time, be prepared for any road condition with these eleven tips:

1.      Signs and Snow

When road signs are concealed in wintery fluff, be sure to slow down and leave plenty of stopping distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. It is also important to clear any snow from your vehicle, including the roof (as a friendly gesture to the cars behind you). Don’t forget to clean off your lights, hood, windows, and mirrors.

2.      Caution, Ice!

Ice is another thing to look out for on the road especially at intersections where vehicles brake and accelerate. Bridges are also susceptible to have ice form due to the cold air beneath the bridge. The biggest thing to remember is to slow down and leave plenty of extra room for safe braking. Keep in mind that roads can also have black ice. Black ice is regular ice but more challenging to spot-hence the phrasing “black” due to the ice being clear allowing you to see the asphalt beneath. Look for a sheet on the road’s surface and drive as you would on ice.

3.       Wet Ground

Something else to be cautious of is freezing rain. Freezing rain can make driving conditions so hazardous that it is most often safest to pull over off the highway and wait. Although, if you do have to drive be sure you have quality winter tires and wiper blades and don’t forfeit to make certain you have plenty of wiper fluid. 

4.      Plow Ahead

Keep in mind, you will find yourself behind a snowplow now and then, and when you do be thankful that the road is being cleared and have patience. Do not attempt to exceed it, as that can be unsafe.

5.      First Responders

If you see emergency vehicles, including tow trucks, slow down and, if you are able, give them extra space to pass by moving over into the neighboring lane.

6.      Fog Ahead

 Just as you would with freezing rain or snowfall if you encounter fog, use your fog lights (if you have them available) or the low beams on your headlights. Do not use your high beams as that will magnify the fog and snow causing faint visibility.

7.     Animal Crossing

 Wildlife will frequently meander near wintery roadways, motivated by salt and other debris tossed up by vehicles. Watch for signs warning of wildlife.

8.      Battery Maintenance

No one wants to be stranded in the middle of winter with a dead battery. So before the low temperatures set in, check the amount of charge remaining in your battery. If you need some assistance, call CAA’s mobile Battery Service. They can come to you, test your battery and, if necessary, replace it with a new one. 

9.      Upkeep

When the temperature begins to consistently drop below seven degrees celsius, install a set of identical winter tires; when you do that you will have significantly more hold on ice and snow. Once that is done, it is time to take a look at your oil. It is always good to be aware of how often your oil needs to be changed according to your maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. Lastly, you will want to make you have well-functioning brakes, lights, and windshield wipers. Remember, car care is just as important as your driving habits especially in inclement weather.

10.      Emergency Preparedness

A good rule of thumb is to be sure you always have a roadside emergency kit filled with a spare cellphone charger, bottled water, granola bars or something similar, warm blankets, lock de-icer, snow shovel, some kind of gas line anti-freeze, jumper cables, sand or sidewalk salts, flares, and a flashlight. 

11.      Towing and Your Rights

The first thing to know is you have the right to decide who can and will tow your vehicle (and where) unless the police specify otherwise. So know your rights as a means of reducing the tension of being involved in a breakdown or car accident. Towing companies are required to give you an itemized invoice before you pay them, and also, it cannot be over 10 percent higher the what was quoted to you. 

You now know the correct steps to take while driving in snow, slush, and even ice as well as how to efficiently equip your vehicle to safely travel your first winter in Canada,  despite the common dangers of this beautiful yet chilly winter season. 

Safe travels!

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Photo by Ruvim Miksanskiy from Pexels

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