Winter Driving: a Safety Checklist

It’s the time of year when conditions on the road can change from mild to severe overnight. If you must venture out into the cold, follow this safety checklist to help prepare your vehicle for winter driving.

1. Know the difference between all-season tires, all-weather-tires, and winter tires

Understanding the difference between all-season, all-weather, and winter tires will help you find the tire that’s best suited for the road. Always ensure your vehicle is equipped with four identical tires, as mixing tires with different tread patterns and/or sizes compromises the stability of the vehicle.

All-season

Warm or mild wet conditions are best suited for an all-season tire and are identified with a M + S (Mud and Snow) on the sidewall. They are generally made out of a harder compound and lose their traction at 7º C and below. An all-season tire is not equipped to handle extreme winter conditions like trekking through snow or maneuvering on ice.

All-weather

Ideal for milder winter conditions, all-weather tires provide excellent grip on snow, slush, wet roads and bare asphalt. They are considered all season winter tires and are designed to stay flexible in temperatures above and below 7°C and can be used all year round.

Winter tires

These tires are equipped for harsh winter road conditions with snow, ice, and freezing water. They are identified by a 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol on the sidewall. As temperatures drop below 7ºC, the winter tire is designed to stay soft and develop more grip, while the all-season tire loses grip. Switching from all-season tires to winter tires is the best thing you can do to best prepare for uncertain, icy conditions.

2. Defrost your windows

Plan to spend a few extra minutes clearing ice and snow from your car windows, never drive without defrosting your windows first. Make sure snow isn’t covering your headlights as this can decrease your visibility in bad weather. Remove snow from the roof as it could slide down your windshield and obstruct your view and the blowing snow can obstruct the car behind you.

3. Winterize your trunk

Keep a roadside safety kit in your trunk year-round so you’re prepared for any emergency. It should include:

  • Bag of sand or salt (or kitty litter)
  • Tow rope
  • Traction mats
  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Booster cables
  • Warning devices such as flares or emergency lights
  • Flashlight (and extra batteries)
  • Blanket
  • Extra clothing, including a hat, jacket, gloves, and socks
  • First aid kit
  • Snack bars or other “emergency” food and water
  • Matches and emergency candles

4. Keep your tank topped up

On very cold days, the condensation in the tank can freeze and fuel lines can ice over which can cause no-starts. Keeping your gas tank full can help reduce this. Bad snowy weather can also wreak havoc on the roads and can cause gridlock traffic, so don’t make an already unpleasant situation worse by running out of gas.

5. Slow down

Adjust your driving in winter conditions and allow at least twice the normal braking distance. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely as sudden stops are difficult on snow-covered or slushy roads. Icy roads or unexpected traffic can cause major delays – give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination safely.

6. Check the condition of your car

Make sure your windshield wiper blades are working properly and top up wiper fluid regularly – you don’t want to be stuck driving with a dirty windshield. Colder air reduces tire pressure so remember to check your tires regularly so that they aren’t underinflated.


If you get stuck in the snow

  • Move your vehicle off the roadway if it’s safe to do so.
  • Stay with the car and do not try to walk to safety.
  • Call for assistance immediately to avoid spending any extra time in the cold.
  • Limit the amount of time you run the engine.
  • Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.

Talk to your Sussex Insurance expert for advice on what coverages are available to provide reimbursement should you need to have your battery boosted or your vehicle towed. Don’t be out of pocket paying costly tow charges.

Contact your local Sussex Insurance Agent for more information on these coverages.