We all make mistakes. Doing the wrong thing while driving in the winter, however, could damage your car or put you at risk.
We spoke with John Paul, public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and the “Car Doctor” columnist for The Boston Globe, about some of the most common winter driving mistakes he sees and how to avoid them. Next
Forgetting to turn your wipers off before a storm
At the end of the night, make sure to turn off the wipers.
“If it snows and you have not shut them off, then there’s six inches of snow, they could try to turn on and wipe off all that snow and it could burn out the wiper motor,” Paul said.
Windshield wiper motors can cost $500 to $600. You don’t have to aim the wipers up, as pictured. If you do that, the wipers will not get covered in snow. But Paul said it also might weaken the spring in the wiper arm.
“The key is to shut them off,” he said. Next
Using windshield fluid when it’s very cold
“The washer fluid can instantly freeze as soon as it hits the window,” Paul said. “Then all of a sudden you get this big blast of frost across the window and you can’t see.” Next
Not using winter wipers
Regular windshield wipers have four little fingers that hold the blade in place. Winter wiper blades are one piece, or that part is covered up.
“It keeps the ice and snow from building up in the blade so it stays in control when you’re driving down the street,” Paul said. “Otherwise, you’ll have to stop and smack it off.”
Paul has seen people reach out their windows and try to knock snow or ice off the blade while driving. This dangerous move is not recommended. Next
Driving with low gas
Driving with less than half a tank of gas is risky in the winter. If you’re low on gas when snow strikes, you could get stranded with a vehicle that won’t move. This situation is not just inconvenient, it can be dangerous and embarrassing. “Why be the person everyone hates?” Paul said.
Having sufficient gas also helps prevent gas line freeze-ups due to condensation on an empty gas tank. Next
Pouring hot water on the car
Nothing good can come from pouring hot water onto your windshield or door handle to help them thaw out.
“I’ve seen people with door locks frozen or windows with a lot of ice,” Paul said, “and they go out there with a tea kettle with hot water and pour it all over the car.”
The window might break. In the case of the door, you’re just adding more water to an area that could freeze even worse in the future. It is best to use your car’s heaters to thaw the window. Tap around the edge of the door, breaking the ice free, or use a spray de-icer to clear ice from the door. Next
Not wiping snow off
Two things can happen when you leave snow on top of your car. First, it can blow off the car and into the vision of drivers behind you. This creates a distracting and sometimes dangerous situation. Also, the snow and ice can start melting when the car is warm and in motion. When the driver brakes, that snow could then slide forward and cover the windshield, making it impossible to see.
“Cleaning it totally off the car is one of the safest things you can do,” Paul said. Next
People tend to tailgate a lot more than they should in general.
“In winter weather, you absolutely want to leave more than a normal amount of space around you and other cars just for safety purposes,” Paul said. Next
Driving quickly through intersections
Traffic through busy intersections can cause some of the ice or snow to thaw out just a bit. This creates a slippery, dangerous situation for drivers.
“You go zipping into the intersection and slide right across it,” Paul said. “Always start to brake ahead of time so you have your speed low and under control as you’re approaching the intersection.” Next
This mistake can have tragic results.
“If you are broken down on the side of the road and the car still runs, let the engine run 10 minutes or so every hour,” Paul said. “Crack the windows open. If it is a blizzard, go out every once in a while and make sure the tailpipe has not clogged with snow. If it does clog with snow, carbon monoxide can end up coming into the car.” Next
Warming up the car
Many people start their cars and let it warm up for 20 minutes. This is unnecessary.
“Warming up your car just benefits you, it doesn’t benefit your car,” Paul said. “You’re much better suited to just drive your car reasonably for the first 10 minutes until it warms up. Drive it like it’s brand new, like you just got it.”
On top of this being a waste of time, it can also be a waste of gas. Next
People with four-wheel drive are often the first to get in trouble on a snowy day, said Paul, who pointed out the tendency to drive too quickly. Going downhill with four-wheel or all-wheel drive is just like in any other car. You need to be prepared to stop.
“Just because you have a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive only means you can get moving in the winter, it doesn’t help stopping,” Paul said. Back to the beginning
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