Winter Travel Guide: Simple Driving Tips for Snow and Ice

1185230_65198748Of course the best advice you can get when it comes to driving in bad weather is “don’t,” but we here at UsedCars.com know just how impossible that can be a lot of the time.

To help you keep safe on the road during this most treacherous time of the year, we’ve created this easy-to-follow checklist that will help you navigate those slippery, icy and snowy roads out there.

Know What You’re Driving

Is your car two-wheel or four wheel drive? Does it have antilock brakes, traction control or stability control? Do you have a set of winter tires or are they all-weather tires? Each of these features can directly impact how your car handles on the ice and the snow. To get a feel for how these features interact with each other, take the time to practice driving in an empty, but snowy, parking lot.

Make Room For Other Drivers

Believe it or not, the time period between November and March is one of the busiest highway travel seasons of the year. To avoid rear-ending others on these crowded highways, be sure to leave three times the normal space between you and the car in front of you.

Add Some Weight

Is your car rear wheel drive? Then those rear tires may need a little help maintaining their grip. Consider adding extra weight behind the rear axle (the rear axle is the rod that runs between your rear tires). This added weight will help to keep those tires on the pavement, which will increase traction. If you are not sure what to use as weight, 20lbs bags of sand are an inexpensive option.

Beware Of Black Ice

Black ice get its name because it blends in with the black asphalt of the road, making it next to impossible to spot. The best advice is to never feel overconfident on a road the looks perfectly clear. And remember, if a road looks wet or slick, there is a good chance that black ice is present.

Brake Carefully

It takes time to stop when the road is icy, and if you end up slamming on your brakes, chances are you will go skidding out of control.

Don’t Brake When Skidding

If you do start to skid, fight the temptation of slamming on your brakes. This will only make things worse. Instead, take your foot off of the accelerator. If braking becomes necessary, you can try slightly pumping your brakes – Never slam them.

Steer Into The Skid

This can be a hard concept to understand, as it often goes against natural instinct. To better understand this concept, imagine that during the skid, your rear tires are trying to move ahead of your front tires. Your goal should be to prevent this from happening.

Please, refer back to this list whenever you need a refresher course on safe winter driving – and remember, one of the best tips is to go slow and take your time.

Winter Tires: Are They Worth The Investment?

1244210_83266184Commanding a slightly higher price tag than a traditional set of all-weather tires, the value and expense associated with winter tires often falls under scrutiny. Many car owners, especially those who live in climates with only intermittent periods or moderate snowfall, tend to underestimate their importance. Instead of making an investment that could help save them from a myriad of potential headaches, they opt to take their chances and go without.

The truth is that winter tires, even in temperate climates, can keep you safe when the road conditions begin to deteriorate. But if you are still skeptical about their value, please read this list of advantages associated with these highway-gripping, skid-stopping, lifesaving tires.

Advantage #1: Winter tires are designed for cold, not just snow.

The misconception has long been that unless you live at a higher elevation or in an extreme northern climate, where snowfall routinely breaks the two-foot mark, winter tires serve little purpose.

The truth, however, is that winter tires work because they are designed for colder temperatures, meaning their value extends past driving in blizzard conditions. If this seems confusing, think about your tires in terms of pliability. A winter tire is designed to remain pliable in colder temperatures – helping it to grip the road better. Compare this to all-season tires, which harden as the thermometer begins to dip, making it much more difficult to maintain traction on the roadways.

Advantage #2: All-season tires are not really for all seasons.

All-season tires were first introduced to the marketplace about 30 years ago, riding on the marketing hype that these tires were great for all types of weather conditions – including icy and snowy roadways. While the all-season tire did offer a big improvement over many of the tires that were available during those days of yesteryear, the simple truth is that they do not offer ideal performance in colder climates.

Instead, for climates where cold weather coupled by periods of snow and ice are common, the winter tire offers the ideal choice. Better suited for everyday winter driving then the “snow tire” but with more traction than the all-weather tire, these tires help to ensure optimal efficiency during wintery periods.

Advantage #3: Staying on the road saves you money.

Of course, the biggest argument against winter tires simply comes down to economics. Many drivers have enough trouble paying for the maintenance and upkeep of one set of tires. So the thought of adding an extra set of tires into the mix can be overwhelming.

The truth, however, is that a good set of winter tires can actually save you money. Not only do they help you stay on the road and avoid accidents. But they also help you avoid paying the repair fees, maintenance costs, deductible and rising insurance premiums often associated with those accidents.

Winter Car Buying Guide: Four Tips for Buying a Car This Winter

By Romana Klee, Flickr.

By Romana Klee, Flickr.

Great news – the winter time is a great time to shop for deals on new and used cars. With winter weather, the looming tax season and holiday obligations keeping potential buyers away from car lots, dealers experience a substantial decrease in customer traffic between the months of December thru March. And as the law of supply and demand commands, less demand and more supply means lower prices.

Demand is Low — Shop Around!

Because customer traffic from dealership to dealership is sporadic during the winter months, deals and pricing can vary greatly, even between car lots that are on the same block. With this in mind, never settle for the first deal you come across. If the dealership down the road has more cars in stock, they may be more willing to negotiate. But you will never find out, unless you are willing to shop around.

You Have the Salesperson’s Attention — Start with your lowest offer.

When shopping in the summer, you are competing against a myriad of customers, and unfortunately you may not always have the salesperson’s undivided attention. But in the winter, you may be the salesperson’s only customer of the day. This means they are desperate to make a sale, and they will be more willing to negotiate.

Last Year’s Model is Less Expensive — Buy the older model!

What happens to the 2012 model car when the calendar year turns to 2013? It becomes outdated, even if it is still brand new. But because the car is now last year’s model, the dealer has to offer it at a much lower price tag – just to move it off the lot.

Even older cars, that are slightly used but less than five years old are great buys. These vehicles often have many of the same features of the newer models, but due to deprecation, they will be listed at a significantly lower price tag.

Icy Roads are Dangerous — Look for a winter ready car!

When buying a car in the winter, its ability to tackle snowy and icy roads should be top of mind. If the car is new, ask about features like traction control, All-Wheel Drive (AWD), heated seats, and anti-lock brakes. When buying used, those same features need to be considered, but you will also need to have the tires, battery and cooling system inspected to ensure that they are ready for sub-zero temps.

Winter Maintenance Guide: How to Winterize Your Car

Photo by Anssi Koskinen, Flickr.

Photo by Anssi Koskinen, Flickr.

Winterizing your car is an annual rite of passage for just about every driver living in a colder climate. As the arctic winds creep down from the north, sub-freezing temperatures, ice and deteriorating road conditions combine to create hazardous driving conditions. And unless you have prepared your car properly, you may find yourself – quite literally – stuck out in the cold.

To help you stay safe this winter and keep your car’s engine working all season long, UsedCars.com has prepared the following list of tips for winterizing your vehicle:

Check Your Tire’s Tread Depth

Take note, even though 2/32” tread depth is considered the minimum in normal driving conditions, you will need substantially more than this during the winter. For snowy or icy roads, at minimum each tire should have a 6/32” deep tread (most new tires start with a 10/32”deep tread).

An easy way to check your tread depth is to use the penny test. Place the penny (headfirst) into several of the treads on your tire. If any part of Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, your tire has more than 2/32″ of tread. Now flip the penny over – If the top of Lincoln memorial (the bottom of the memorial should be facing away from the tire) is covered, you have at least 6/32” of tread.

Maintain Your Battery

Your car’s battery can be tricky – Even though it may have performed great all summer, don’t be surprised it if ends up letting you down when the weather turns cold. This is because colder temperatures can reduce your battery’s power by up to fifty percent. A good rule of thumb for batteries over three years of age is to have them tested at the beginning of every winter. Some auto part stores will offer this service free charge.

You will also want to test the connection between your battery, cables and terminal. Begin by gently pulling on the cables to make sure there is no slippage. Next, inspect the terminals for corrosion (this can be detected by looking for the formation of a white, flakey material).  If you notice any corrosion, you will need to clean the terminals and the ends of the cables.  This can be done by disconnecting the cables and scrubbing the terminals with a mixture of baking soda and water.

Inspect Your Fluids and Cooling System

Fluids that have not been called on for all summer have a way of disappearing when you need them come winter. And subfreezing temperatures can wreak havoc on belts and hoses. To avoid these headaches, make it a point to have your oil, antifreeze and wiper fluid levels checked at your next oil change. You will also want to thoroughly inspect your belts and hoses for any cracks and leaks.

To ensure that your cooling system continues to run properly, now is also the time to consider having it flushed. While most systems need to be flushed every two to four years, this can vary. So please check your owner’s manual for details.

Best Features for Winter Driving

Photo by the Oregon Department of Transportation, Flickr.

Photo by the Oregon Department of Transportation, Flickr.

It’s a fact of the driving life: certain makes and models of cars simply come better equipped and ready to handle the icy roads than others. A Volvo, built in Sweden, is quite obviously better at winter driving than something along the lines of a Chevrolet Corvette, which is designed more for the open roadways.

However, not everyone knows what they should be looking for when it comes to winter driving safety. If you’re a used car buyer that lives in a colder climate, here are some of the best features you can have on your ride to make sure that driving in the snow and ice is as safe as can be.

Winter Tires Or All Season Tires

Many performance cars will come equipped with high-performance summer tires – which can be quite dangerous when the roadways become slick. So at the very least, you need to ensure that your car has a set of all-season tires. Of course, the better choice is to invest in winter tires, which offer the pliability to ensure your car will continue to grip the road as conditions begin to deteriorate.

All-Wheel Drive

While four-wheel drive is ideal for areas where snowfall often amounts to several feet, for many this can be a bit of over-kill. So instead of four-wheel drive, look for cars that offer All-Wheel Drive (AWD). AWD, which is automatically applied in most cases, is designed to ensure equally distributed power to all the wheels of your vehicle.

Anti-Lock Brakes

Regardless of driving conditions, anti-lock brakes can help you avoid a serious accident. Because ABS systems prevent your wheels from locking, you are less likely to experience a slide or skid out of control.

Heated Mirrors and Wiper De-Icers

Ice buildup, especially on your windshield or side-mirrors, can severely limit your visibility. To avoid this, look for cars that offer heated mirrors and wiper deicers. The heated side mirror can clear itself of fog, melt accumulated ice or prevent further snow buildup, while the wiper deicer will keep your wipers pliable while also preventing snow or ice from accumulating during your drive.

Traction Control

When your traction control system detects wheel slippage (it does so by monitoring the speeds of all your driven wheels) it will strategically apply the brakes or reduce engine power, which in turn works to correct a slide.

The above features are designed to keep you safe during the winter. However, if you want to increase your comfort and driving enjoyment, also consider cars that offer remote start, heated seats, and advanced dual-climate control technology.