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Snow Season Has Arrived

I recently relocated to Vancouver, Canada; we had a great summer that was unlike any other year previously, so I’m told by the locals. But we’re in January now and we had a dump load of snow just a few weeks ago when I experienced Vancouver winter driving for the first time, followed by constant rain. It was interesting, to say the least. The rain is normal for the province of British Columbia where Vancouver is located, but this quantity of snow is also unlike any previous year, so I’m told by the locals, again.

Driving in the snow is fun, but it can be challenging if you’re not experienced. The roads can be slippery and visibility can be reduced. It would be stereotypical to think that Canadians are experienced with driving in these conditions where it’s more common to find four-wheel drive and appropriate tires. All weathers at the very least. But it turns out a lot of drivers are unprepared or simply don’t know how to drive safely. As someone who is confident at driving in the snow, I thought I could provide some tips to help you drive safely in the in poor weather conditions:

Choose your weapon wisely

If you have more than one vehicle, use your most practical vehicle that is suitable for the conditions, not your favourite.

Distance yourself

Slow down and increase your following distance. Snow and ice can impact your stopping distance and steering maneuverability significantly, so it’s important to give yourself more time to react.

Your gears are a tool

Where possible, use lower gears when going uphill (e.g. use 4th gear where you might usually use 3rd). The key is to reduce wheel-spin. Lower RPM’s will help with this significantly. It will give you better traction and control on slippery roads. As most vehicles here in North America have automatic transmissions, I’d recommend trying to use the manual mode if you can. If your vehicle has different driving modes, more specifically a dedicated snow and ice driving mode, switch to that. This will usually alter the throttle response and change your steering speed.

Engine Braking > Foot Braking

Use your gears will help you slow down, you might know it as engine braking; using the engine and drivelines mechanical resistance to reduce your speed. By engine braking, you will be able to maintain a controlled deceleration and not go too fast, reducing the chances of skidding. Just don’t shift down too many gears at once or you could cause your wheels to slow too fast, causing you to skid.

Be smooth

Use your brakes gently to avoid skidding. If you do start to skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer smoothly in the direction you want the front of the car to go.


porsche 911 991 gt3 touring rs snow
© Nathan Van Egmond

Increase your visibility

Use your headlights and turn signals. This will help other drivers see you and anticipate your actions.

Look ahead

If you see any debris or chunks of ice ahead of you, you won’t have as much time to react as you would if the conditions were good. Keep your eyes peeled.

Proceed with caution

I’d love to tell you to follow the tracks left from another vehicle, but they could be from the night before and are now icey. I would suggest you shouldn’t assume tracks are always safe. If you aren’t sure, pull onto the road slowly and do a 5 mph / 8 kph or so brake test before getting too brave.

Skip the tech

Avoid using cruise control or lane assist technologies. They can cause you to lose control of the car on slippery roads. The systems are designed for clear roads, where traction is good and systems can detect objects or markings on the road.

Prepare your vehicle

Clear your vehicle of snow and ice.

Get your engine running with the heaters set to the front windshield and turn your rear window heater on. Make sure you have a good snow brush/ice scraper. Clear all of your vehicle of snow and make sure your windows are clear and smear free. Yes, that includes removing the snow from your roof. When you brake or accelerate, that island of snow on your roof can come sliding down your windshield, blocking all visibility of the road. Having your wipers on won’t save you.

mitsubishi lancer evo 7 8 9 vii viii ix snow rally car castrol motors
© Ferhat Deniz Fors

The right tires are essential

All-Wheel Drive, Front-Wheel Drive, Rear-Wheel Drive, you need appropriate tires. Your tires are the only thing between your vehicle and the road, regular or summer tires won’t work in poor conditions. The End. Just go skiing if you want to fly down a hill. If you’ve ever used snow tires, you’ll agree with me when I say they’re witchcraft because they drastically change the performance of your car on the road.

Vehicle maintenance

If your battery was faulty in the summer, it’ll sure as hell be dead in the winter. Get it tested or replaced if you’re not sure.

Ensure your fluids are topped up, your coolant has the right ratio of antifreeze-water ratio and your washer fluid has an adequate amount of winter additive to prevent it freezing. Most reputable garages will be able to test your coolant level or you can buy a tester on Amazon for yourself.

Pack the essentials

Keep an emergency kit in your car. This should include items such as a shovel, blanket, flashlight, a drink and extra warm clothing. It’s easy to think you won’t get stuck, but I’m sure you’ve heard of people even being stuck in traffic on the freeways for 10 hours etc.

Get your gloves on

If you get stuck in the snow, try rocking the car back and forth to help get it out. If that doesn’t work, you can try using a shovel to clear the snow away from the wheels and tires.

Stay safe

Always be aware of the conditions and drive cautiously in the snow to ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road. If you don’t feel confident driving in poor conditions, don’t put yourself or others at risk. Find another method of transportation or stay at home.

If you think you’re a rally driver, go compete, save it for the private roads or a clear parking lot. You can have fun, but there is a time and a place.

Please remember to share these tips with anyone and everyone you know out in poor conditions. Even the best can sometimes get caught out.


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