17 February, 2013

Driving in snow

***This blog entry is based on my experience and for guidance only. I cannot be held responsible for the actions of others. If you disagree with the below, please leave a comment.

Living in the warm and comfortable temperatures of Southeast Asia, we’re not used to driving in snow. But while some of us regularly visit the US and Europe, others of us might also visit colder Asian countries like Japan. And snow did fall in Hong Kong in 1975 (ok, only on the mountain tops, but still).

It’s useful to know how to handle snow, especially for those either out of practice or who are virgins to driving on freshly laid snow.

// These tips are for those driving normal, manual cars. If you have snow chains, then you shouldn’t have any major problems, but always watch out for other drivers who might be less practiced or confident at driving in snowy conditions. //

Before you drive
You should fully defrost your car, before setting out. With a scraper (which you should always keep in your car) remove as much of the snow as you can before driving – wind-blown snow coming from your vehicle creates a cloud of snow, which reduces visibility for those behind you. Use the defroster on your rear window to help along with the internal AC system.

Make sure that all of your windscreen wipers have mobility. Use de-icing spray if you need to. It’s also a good idea to make sure that all of your lights are in full working order and that your license plate is visible.

**It is always advisable to keep a warm blanket inside the car (not the boot) when driving in wintry conditions in case you become stranded.

**Prepare to take longer than usual to get to your destination and don’t rush.

Starting out
When driving in snow, you should never use first gear. To start out, use the clutch and gas pedal to hit the bite point in second gear.

Do not over-rev. This will cause your wheels to spin on the spot, either creating a slushy base or a smooth pad beneath your tyres. If you do get stuck like this (even after you’re started out) don’t hit the brakes hard or you might skid. Try to steer gently to fresher snow or a snow-free area of road. Allow the engine to naturally slow.

While driving
Remember that beneath the snow there can be a surface of ice.

**Black ice is another hazard. It is not usually visible, which is what makes it just so dangerous.

Never drive too fast and watch how the cars around you are behaving. This can be an early warning for icy patches. On top, you can never rely for the safety or skill of those around you.

In general, try to drive in the path of those in front of you if it doesn’t appear to have become icy. Note that as the sun goes down, those slushy patches easily become icy so take note of the weather, sun and time of day.

While slush can seem like a safer path, remember that it also hides ice. Driving on slush is also different to driving in simply wet conditions, so remain careful until you reach roads which are well-thawed and only wet.

Hills and slopes
It can be difficult to go up or down hill in snow. While you might assume that upwards would be awkward, downhill is actually more challenging especially if there are cars in front of you, because in slippery conditions, the last thing you should do is hit the brakes or push down the clutch.

When moving downhill, if you need to slow, allow the engine to naturally rev down by removing your foot from the gas. Steering over fresher snow (as long as it’s not too deep) will also help to give traction and create a friction to slow you. Move down to second gear if you can.

Should you think that a crash is possible, try to steer towards the curb (assuming you are not moving too fast and there are no pedestrians walking by or trees to hit head-on). If you are at a safe low speed and only skidding, the curb will help to slow you.

If you do need to brake in the snow, remember that you could skid. Press on the brake gently and allow the car to slow. Then, release the brake and reapply. Don’t hit the brakes with sudden force and don’t push down the clutch until you are nearing a stop because a sudden force on the brakes with the clutch down is more than likely to let you skid.

If you do skid, particularly while braking, then remove your foot from the brakes. Check that you have not automatically pushed down the clutch. If possible, move to a lower gear – if engaging the clutch won’t make you skid more.

Don’t try to steer the car, this will encourage the wheels to spin on the spot, which is why you are skidding. As above, press on the brakes lightly and at short intervals to allow the car to slow.

Once you have reached your destination, try to store the vehicle in a covered area or garage.

Remember that countries susceptible to ice and snow tend to grit roads, using salt among other things. Salt and water will quickly irritate the metals on the underside of your car, causing rust spots, so it’s advisable to regularly wash your car in a proper car wash during the winter months.

Travel safe and take care! 

1 comment:

chowwithchow said...

In Canada, where there is snow on the ground 6 months of the year, we make sure cars have winter tires (studded or not), maybe a pair of steel recovery tracks for emergencies, and definitely chocolate bars to reward passers-by who help push your car out when it's stuck on ice.