Snowy weather is often the most treacherous for drivers, as snow can bring any type of weather conditions from sleet to hail and freezing fog.
Snow itself can soon compact into black ice if it thaws and then refreezes on the road. Black ice is actually transparent but can glisten under certain light conditions so that it looks black. Generally black ice is impossible to see – especially at night when there is no sunlight to glint off it – and black ice can also lie hidden on the road under a fresh snow fall, so knowing how to handle your car in the snow can be a lifesaver.
Often snow can fall quickly and if you have parked your vehicle, within half-an-hour in heavy snowfall, you can be completely stuck.
Crawling in traffic when it is snowing is another potentially dangerous situation as snow can fall quickly and not even the heat from a car engine will necessarily melt it.
Here are a few tips to help you rescue your car from a snowy encounter.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked with snow, as dangerous fumes may fill the car once you get it started.
- In winter, keep a shovel and ice scraper in the car to dig out the wheels and clear the windscreen and rear window.
- Use the edge of the shovel to crack any ice that has formed on the ground near the tyres and clear this away.
- If you have not fitted snow tyres to your car, take snow chains with you and fit these once you have cleared snow and ice away from the tyres.
- If you do not have tyre chains, you can also buy metal traction plates to place under the tyres to get you out of the snow – drive over these and then when you are in the clear, get out and collect them.
- Using the brake can give the wheels more traction if you do not have tyre chains or traction plates – in snow the wheels may spin at different rates but using the brake can balance the spinning of the wheels and give them more traction on the road surface. Make sure you do not overwork the brakes though, as this can cause damage by overheating them.
- Salt or grit is useful to carry in your car in winter, as this can give a slippery road surface more traction – any materials which can act as a intermediary road surface between the snow and your tyres can help get you out of difficulty, including making a raft out of sticks to make a track, or the lid off a plastic storage box jammed under the wheels or an old mat or some pieces of wood. Some people use materials like cat litter or even a bag of small wood pieces, which can be tamped into the ground behind the wheels. Once you get traction, accelerate out of the snow and keep going until the car is in the clear. You can get out and collect any of your traction aids once you are clear.
- It is also a good idea to carry warm clothes, gloves and a hat, blankets, a flask of coffee and some food when you are driving in snowy weather, as hypothermia can easily set in if you have to spend some time outside trying to free your car from snow.
- If you are really stuck in an isolated spot, it is best to get inside the car, keep warm and phone for help. Listen to the radio for weather updates and sound your horn if other traffic goes past.
- Always let someone know where you are going when you drive in snowy or poor weather conditions and give them some idea of when you will reach your destination.
- Don’t panic if you get stuck in snow: make sure you are prepared before you set out and phone for help – these days GPS can pinpoint you easily.
- If you leave the car engine on to keep warm, check from time to time that the exhaust is not getting blocked with snow, as you could die from CO poisoning in a vehicle without ventilation and a blocked exhaust pipe.
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