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Top 10 winter driving "snow pas" and how to avoid them

Winter conditions are in full swing in many parts of BC, making road travel more difficult. Whether you’re trying to get to work or running errands across town, bad road conditions can make even the shortest trip dangerous. But for many, it may be necessary to get behind the wheel. Here are the most common winter driving mistakes BCAA Auto Service Experts see and tips on how to avoid them.

1. An unprepared car

Not only can this be unsafe, it can also result in a vehicle breakdown that otherwise could have been avoided. For example, a dead battery is one of the most common problems we see at our BCAA Auto Service Centres and is one of our top Roadside Assistance calls during winter. Cold conditions can weaken a battery and cause it to fail. So, take your car in for a winter check-up with an automotive professional, which includes checks on the battery, wipers, lights, fluids, belts, hoses and window defroster.

And, carry a roadside emergency kit and other winter driving items including a windshield scraper, snow brush, shovel and even kitty litter or sand for getting yourself out of a jam when your vehicle needs a bit of traction. You can start off with a ready-made emergency survival kit (BCAA Members save 20% on kits from F.A.S.T.—First Aid and Survival Technologies Limited) and then add winter driving-related items found on the BCAA’s list of essential winter items to carry in your car.

2. Wrong tires

Each winter, we see cars sliding off the road or getting stuck in snow or icy areas (even in someone’s driveway) because they don’t have winter tires or the tire treads on their winter tires are worn. Invest in tires that meet BC’s winter tire laws—those with the mountain peak and snowflake or M+S (mud and snow) symbols. Check out the BCAA Winter Tire Guide for help on choosing the right tires for your driving needs. Until Dec 15, 2020, BCAA Members can save up to $100 or earn up to 120 CAA Dollars® on new Pirelli winter tires.

3. Driving too fast

One of the most common winter driving mistakes is driving too fast for the conditions. Each winter, BCAA Auto Service Technicians help tow and recover many cars because the vehicle couldn’t stop in time and slid into something, or off the road. Fact: driving too fast reduces the amount of time your car has to stop when braking on icy or snowy roads. So, adjust how you drive to match the conditions.

Driving too fast

4. Driving too closely

Like driving too fast, driving too close to other cars lessens your reaction time if there's a problem with the vehicle ahead of you. BCAA Auto Service Experts recommend that you at least double your normal distance from the car ahead which is about 4 car lengths of space.

5. Inexperience

When it comes down to it, extreme winter weather can make driving a challenge, even for the most experienced driver. If you aren’t seasoned enough to drive in winter conditions, plan for alternative transportation such as transit, professional drivers like taxis or ride with a more experienced driver that you know.

6. Underestimating weather and street conditions

Check weather and road reports before you leave and be aware of the condition of side streets and hilly areas around your home. Many of BCAA’s rescues are for drivers who get stuck on unplowed side streets, particularly near their homes. Remember that streets and hills are slippery overall and side streets are narrower due to plowed snow along the curb.

If possible, come up with a different route that keeps you on main roads. Hills (even those with small inclines), congested streets, intersections with no left-turning light and narrow streets are even more challenging during winter. We understand things happen, and if you have a vehicle breakdown, we’re here to help. Signing up for a BCAA Membership before winter conditions become harsh will ensure you can get roadside assistance 24/7 all winter long.

7. Driving unnecessarily

When it comes to driving in winter conditions, the first thing to ask yourself is, “Do I really need to drive?” While we need to get to work, pick up children or run errands, try to minimize how much you have to drive in winter conditions. You can even plan for this by changing some of your routines during winter months. Here’s what we mean:

  • Stock up on groceries and other everyday essentials so you don’t have to go out shopping as frequently.
  • Adjust activities that you and your family will need to drive to, such as kids’ extra-curricular activities.
  • Combine errands into as few trips as possible. Save them for days when the weather and roads aren’t so bad.

8. Skipping essential pre-driving precautions

There are certain musts you should do before you drive which includes: defogging all of the windows and clearing away snow and ice from the roof of your car, windows, lights and side mirrors. This will also keep other drivers safe as left-over snow on the roof of your car can fly off while you’re driving and land on another car behind you, making it difficult for the other driver to see.

Inspecting your tires often, especially when weather fluctuates is also a must-do before you drive. Air pressure decreases in cold weather and tires can become underinflated more often. An underinflated tire (overinflated, too) results in a loss of traction.

9. Not shovelling driveways

BCAA gets calls for cars that are stuck on slippery driveways a lot! Avoid this problem and ensure you’re able to get your car onto the street and get on with your day by shovelling your driveway each time it snows. This helps prevent ice from forming and building up.

10. Overconfidence about car’s capabilities

While many commercials show trucks and SUVs bursting through snow banks or racing on icy lakes, these ads are often meant for entertainment. While many vehicles with an antilock braking system (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) or four-wheel drive typically perform better in snowy and icy driving conditions, if a driver is travelling too fast or gets into a dangerous skid, these systems aren’t foolproof. The safest option is to drive slower and leave more room between you and the car ahead, no matter what kind of vehicle you’re driving.