Joseph L. Bateman, Oswego, NY  

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Winter Planning Tips & Tricks
Personal Website of Joe Bateman, Oswego, NY

I have been driving since 1982. The winters where I live, can be quite intense. We commonly get what is called "Lake Effect" snow. Basically, cold Arctic air travels across the warm lake, picking up heat & moisture. Once it reaches the cold shore, it turns into snow, creating rapidly changing weather conditions and dumping feet of snow within a couple of hours. We are directly down-wind of the winds that move across the lake.

Iced Tables By Lake

Ice Storm Aftermath

Ice Storm Aftermath

Ice Storm Aftermath

House Entrance

Snowy Intersection

Man Shoveling Roof

Snowy Road

This can make for some interesting travel conditions for the unexperienced. Having driven for this amount of time, and in these conditions, has made me feel the need to compile the following recommendations for winter preparation and winter traveling. Please keep in mind, that since I drive a Toyota, some of these tips are geared primarily towards Toyotas, but could also be used with other vehicles. Some of these tips have come from the many people I am pleased to be associated with at

Pre-Winter Checks/Maintenance:

Make sure you have a good battery installed. If you haven't had your battery replaced in the past 5 years, you probably should. If you have, you should check the levels, or have someone check them for you. The colder the temperatures, the harder your battery has to work.

Batteries are rated by CCA (Cold Cranking Amps). CCA is defined by the maximum number of amps the battery can pump out at zero degrees for 30 seconds straight. Now, some batteries may put out 600CCA for 30 seconds, then drop off to nothing quickly, while others may put out 600 amps for one minute straight, or even a minute and a half, clearly a better choice. The best course of action is to do your homework. Shop around and check out Consumer Reports to see what they say about batteries.

Check your heater and rear window defroster before cold weather hits. You can check the rear window defroster by bringing a pot of hot water (be careful) into the vehicle to fog up the windows. Turn on the defroster and you should start to see it clearing the window (give it a minute). If not, have it serviced.

Check your belt(s). Replace them if glazed or cracked. You don't want a broken belt to be the reason you're stranded in a snowstorm. You also don't want to be without lights, with your alternator belt breaks.

Depending on the temperatures you'll see, you'll want to carry a couple jugs of windshield washer fluid. I prefer the lower temperature de-icing type. The blue stuff may say "Good to -30 Degrees", but I've seen this stuff freeze around 0 degrees. Make sure your reservoir is full before each trip. Having to stop on the side of the road to refill it, can be dangerous. With salt residue (from salted roads) built up on your windshield, the glare from the sun or oncoming headlights can be even more dangerous.

Check & replace your wiper blades. Make sure you get winter blades. They have a rubber protector that prevents ice from building, causing uneven wiping. Replace them with summer blades when winter is over. The added weight of winter blades will make your wiper motor wear out faster.

Whenever the weather turns good, wash your vehicle (including underneath) real good. A decent automated carwash with an underbody sprayer works great, and you don't have to get out into the cold. Be sure to dry out your doorjambs real good or your doors may freeze shut on you.

Check your cooling system. If your coolant hasn't been changed in a few years, change it. Make sure the antifreeze is the proper mixture. You can find a cheap tester at any auto parts store. For most areas you will need a 50/50 mix. Heck, they make it easy now by selling a 50/50 formula pre-mixed. If your coolant freezes, it can expand inside your engine block and crack the block. Check your owners manual for the right stuff for your vehicle.

Right before winter I change my oil from 10w30 to 5w30. Cold winter temperatures thicken your oil and it can't flow as freely. A 5W-30 blend flows much better and allows your engine to start much easier. Check your owners manual to see what the manufacturer recommends for your particular vehicle.

You may want to get your vehicle undercoated right before winter. Just make sure any pre-existing rust spots underneath are taken care of.

Keep your gas tank at least 1/2 full. The extra weight will help with traction and you never know when you might get stranded and need to keep warm. Keeping it over a 1/2 a tank also helps prevent condensation in the tank. Condensation occurs when warm daytime temperatures fill the empty space in your tank with moisture, which condenses during the cold nightime temperatures. The water sinks to the bottom of the tank and then rusts out the tank. The best bet is, when the needle reaches 1/2 a tank, fill it. Every time you fill up, add a bottle of gas line anti-freeze. It's only about a dollar at most gas stations.

Supplies & Gear:

A good snow brush. I prefer one that has a pivoting head on it. You can lock it in a "T" or lock it in a straight position (see photos). A couple of popular brands are Oscar and Hoppy.

A good scraper. I prefer the brass metal ones, because brass doesn't scratch my windows. Plastic ones are brittle in the cold and tend to break easily.

Training Yourself:

All vehicles handle different. You should practice driving your own car and familiarizing yourself with its handling characteristics.

Find an empty parking lot and practice driving in the snow. Bring the vehicle into a slide, and try to recover from it. Don't turn too sharply though, so as to possibly roll your vehicle. While you're there, check your braking distances too.

Drive like you have an egg under your foot. A good simulation is to put a "full" glass of water in your cupholder and practive driving around without spilling it.

Here you can also practice what it's like to recover from a skid. If you go into a skid, immediately take your feet off the accelerator and brake. Always counter steer to regain control. Steer the vehicle in the same direction that the rear of the vehicle is sliding (ie. If the rear of the vehicle slides to the left, turn the front wheels left, and vice versa). Hold the steering wheel firmly and use a light touch to correct the skid. Avoid sudden moves.


Let your vehicle warm up for about 5-10 minutes (depending on the temperature), or until the idle settles down (to about 1500rpm at the most on Toyota trucks). Too high an idle may make your tires slip easier, causing you to lose control. When you first start your vehicle, there is no oil pressure. It has to build up. Running it for this amount of time will insure that you have oil pressure, for those who do not have an oil pressure gauge. Don't let it warm up too long though. Idling for long periods of time is not good for your engine, as it lets carbon deposits build up. Remember, you're not warming up the interior, you're warming up the engine. If you let it warm up as I've said, you won't go too far down the road before your heater starts producing heat anyway. You may however, need to let it warm up to the point of it producing heat from the heater. Sometimes it is necessary to prevent fogging or icing of the windshield. Driving down the road with a foggy or icy windshield is asking for trouble.

Remote car starters are

Don't let "Four Wheel Drive", "All Wheel Drive" or "Traction Control" give you a false sense of security. They may allow you to take off faster, because of the added traction, but you still have 4 tires braking. Give yourself plenty of stopping distance. A good general rule is to increase your normal following distance by three times. If someone is following you closely, increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. This will give you the room to slow down gradually, giving the vehicle behind you more time to react.

If you are driving on snow/ice covered roads, depending on conditions and the type of road, you may drive up to 50mph in 4WD (According to my Toyota owners manual). If you can go faster than this, you probably don't need to be in 4WD. Check your vehicles owners manual for their instructions on using 4WD.

Use your brakes cautiously. If you push too hard, your brakes will lock up and you may lose control. Squeeze the pedal with a slow, steady pressure until just before they lock. If they lock up, easy off until your tires are rolling and squeeze again. Brake early before coming to an intersection. They may be icy or slushy, causing you to slide right through them.

Sometimes when people plow their driveways, they plow snow across the road, which is illegal in many states. Be aware of this and also of drifting snow, which can catch you off-guard (they blend in to a plowed road) and cause you to lose control. Never let your mind wander while driving, in the winter especially.

If you drive into a whiteout, a blizzard or freezing rain, slow down right away, turn on your hazards and your low-beams. Do not use your highbeams. They will reflect back into your view. Then find somewhere to get safely off the highway until the conditions pass.

If people pass you, be polite, nicely wave at them, and let them by. A lot of times, you'll see them in the ditch, further up the road.

Jump Starting:

You may want to consult your owners manual for methods specific to your vehicle. The following is a method generally acceptable. The acid used in batteries is corrosive and the fumes that normally come from a battery will explode if a flame or spark is present. Therefore, make sure you wear safety glasses, and do not smoke or light a match while jump starting. Both batteries must be of the same voltage. Make sure the vehicles are not touching. Turn off all lights and accessories. You may want to remove and cover the vent caps* with a cloth on the booster battery to further prevent the possibility of explosion.

Connect the cables in this order:

  1. Red (positive) cable to + (red) on disabled vehicles battery
  2. Other end of Red (positive) cable to + (red) on booster vehicles battery
  3. Black (negative) cable to - (black) on booster vehicles battery
  4. Other end of Black (negative) cable to engine block (usually an engine hanging hook) of disabled vehicle

Start the vehicle with the booster battery, and run the engine at about 2000rpm during jump starting. Try to start the disabled vehicle. If it doesn't turn over fast enough to start, wait a few minutes before trying again, while leaving the cables connected. This will allow the disabled vehicles battery to charge.

Once the disabled vehicles engine starts, remove the cables in reverse order. Carefully throw away the cloth (if used - it may have corrosive acid on it), and replace the batteries vent caps (if removed).

* - If the battery is an extended maintenance interval battery, it is not necessary to remove the vent caps

Plows & Sanders:

These vehicles travel slow. Use caution. If you come around a corner and see one, you'll come up on them quickly, so be prepared.

Give them plenty of room. Stay at least 200 feet behind. Your vehicle is no match for a vehicle that massive. They also throw sand back and out to the sides. Do you really want this stuff hitting your vehicle?

Never, ever, pass a snow plow on the same side they are plowing the snow to. You will almost always end up in the ditch. On multi-lane highways, some plows have a wing blade on one or both sides that stick out about 8 feet. Just because the plow is in one lane, don't assume that it will stay there, or that it won't drop the wing blade. If the plow driver does not see you and drops a wing blade, you will probably end up in the ditch, if not killed.

Passing on the left can be bad too. Think about it. The road in front of the plow probably is worse than behind it. The blowing snow from the plow blade can blind you to the road ahead. If you take the chance and overcome the plow, you may run into trouble and lose control. If the road ahead isn't that bad, most will pull over occasionally to let traffic by. If you absolutely have to pass a plow, flash your lights to get their attention first, then proceed with extreme caution.

Deer & Other Animals:

Deer tend to run more frequently around and during the winter months. When you see an animal ahead, be prepared to stop and slow down until you are past them. Try to avoid them, but do not swerve into oncoming traffic and do not go onto the shoulder. This may cause you to go off the road. If you do hit a deer, do not get out of the vehicle. They may not be dead, and a scared deer can attack you. Check your local laws before-hand on reporting vehicle/deer collisions.

In Closing:

Safe winter driving begins with plain old common sense. If you don't listen to any of rest of this page, at least listen to this: Slow down and avoid sudden movements. Your training will begin with this. I personally, have found winter driving to be at times, fun. There will however, be situations when the best decision is not to drive. If you are uncomfortable with your abilities and don't really need to go out, don't. You would be just posing a threat to yourself and everyone else on the road.

* More will be added to this article as time (and tips from others) allows

This file was last modified: Tuesday, 08-Dec-2020 06:20:44 MST
Copyright ©2006 Joseph L. Bateman - All Rights Reserved Worldwide