Important Safety Tips for Winter Driving

Short of an accident, what’s the worst thing that can happen to you while you’re driving during the winter?

I think a lot of people would answer getting stranded in a place where you can’t move your vehicle. And help can’t get to you.

Now, you may believe the odds are high against that sort of thing happening to you. But the reality is, it does occur. And when it does, you could be in a bad way if you’re not prepared.

Today I want to give you a few tips regarding driving safety precautions you can take ahead of time. As well as which items to keep in your vehicle in case you get stranded.

Yes, Virginia, there are snowstorms

First, though, one quick reminder of what happened just last year in Virginia. A severe snowstorm closed a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95. 

Hundreds of drivers were stranded overnight in the freezing cold. They couldn’t move. An accident involving six trailer-tractors – plus snow and ice – made the road impassable in both directions.

Rain prior to the storm made it impossible to preheat roads with salt. As rain turned to snow, slush made driving difficult. Then the wind started howling. And the accident resulted in miles-long backups.

One driver in need of insulin said he was stuck in his car for 18 hours. Another said it took her 13 hours to drive 13 miles.

Vehicle maintenance is a must

Thankfully, those incidents do not occur regularly. But they happen often enough that we need to be prepared for them. Especially as winter rapidly approaches.

Inclement weather including snowstorms, freezing rain, and high winds can strike at any time. It’s crucial to keep your vehicle as winter-ready as possible. 

If you have a properly maintained automobile, your odds of getting stranded somewhere will be reduced.

Something as simple as a worn-down wiper blade or broken rear defroster can spell disaster on the road.

11 tips to keep you safe

As promised, here are some things you can do for your vehicle prior to winter:

  • Have your battery checked by a trained mechanic. Make sure it’s in top condition to handle winter. Engines need more current from batteries in cold temperatures.
  • Make sure your tires have enough tread to handle slippery roads. Nearly bald tires may get your vehicle from here to there in dry conditions. But they’re a death trap on snow-covered roads.
  • Check your tires’ air pressure. Cold weather can cause air pressure to drop. For safe traction, you want properly inflated tires.
  • Ensure that your antifreeze mixture is about 50 percent antifreeze and 50 percent water, or 60/40 in colder climates. That way, the radiator coolant won’t freeze.
  • Cold weather reduces your oil’s effectiveness. Make sure you’re current on oil changes. A properly lubricated engine will run best. Use a thinner oil in winter. Check other fluid levels.
  • Change your wiper blades and fill your wiper fluid compartment. Being able to clear rain and snow off your windshield is crucial. Salt on the road provides better traction, but it smears windshields. 
  • Make sure your front and back defrosters are working properly. When a windshield fogs up, driving becomes dangerous. Check the car’s heater.
  • Lubricate window tracks. Freezing rain can seep into window tracks and negatively affect window regulator cables. Use spray silicone or dry Teflon spray lubricant in those tracks. Do the same with door locks.
  • Get a tune-up. A mechanic can check your belts and hoses, ignition, brakes, wiring, spark plugs, and your fuel and emission filters.
  • Keep your gas tank as full as possible throughout winter. You never know when you might be stuck on a road for several hours. In addition, cold weather can cause condensation to form in a nearly empty gas tank. That water can travel into fuel lines and freeze.   
  • Build or purchase an emergency car kit. I’ve provided a list below for what it should include. But make absolutely sure it includes a shovel, windshield scraper and brush, battery-powered radio, flashlight, nonperishable food, and water.

More about that emergency kit

Major vehicle pileups resulting in stranded motorists are more likely during snowstorms. But here’s the bottom line. If you drive, it could happen to you. Even on the most beautiful of winter days. 

And if it does, what will you do if you can’t leave your vehicle for hours on end? That’s how long it takes to clean up major crashes. 

Will you have the right items in your vehicle when you need them? Or will they be sitting at home where you can’t reach them?

Make sure you have the following items in your vehicle:

  • Water. Leaving water bottles in your car overnight will likely cause them to freeze. But taking fresh water with you each time you drive somewhere will ensure you’ll have it when you need it. 
  • Flashlight. In the winter, it’s dark in the morning and again by late afternoon. You may have to assess a situation outside your car, so always have at least one of these handy. It should include a window-breaking hammer and a seatbelt cutter. 
  • First-aid kit. If you’re stranded in your car from an accident that caused minor injuries, you can treat them with a basic first-aid kit. 
  • Wool blanket. If you’re stuck in your car and don’t want to run out of gas, it could get cold. A blanket can help keep you warm.
  • Folding shovel. It doesn’t take up much room and it’s inexpensive. But it could get you out of a snowbank and get you on your way again.
  • Windshield de-icer. Sometimes moisture on a windshield freezes so deeply that the car’s defrost just isn’t enough.
  • Road flares. If your car is stuck by the side of a dark road, this is a great way to warn vehicles coming up from behind you. 
  • Jumper cables. During a storm is a bad time for a battery to fail. But with some help, your cables could get your car moving again. 
  • Windshield wiper fluid. This is something you never want to run out of. Check your fluid levels frequently, but also keep a supply of wiper fluid in your car.
  • Back-up power. Make sure you have a fully-charger portable power bank. This could be a lifesaver if your cellphone is dead and you have no other way to charge it.

Winter driving presents plenty of challenges. But by preparing, you will be able to handle those challenges.


  • Barbara Robinson - December 18, 2023

    Great advice for anyone who travels during
    the winter or any time

  • Barbara Robinson - December 18, 2023

    Excellent advice for winter for folks on
    the road

  • Arlen Amore - December 18, 2023

    Thanks…love your articles. Thought I was prepared, but forgot several items…thanks

  • Larry Welty - December 18, 2023

    While stationed in Germany for 3 years I spent the worst winter in over a hundred years. I lived 12 miles from base and hit a spot of ice causing me to slide off the country road wrecking my car while going to work I was 3 miles from home in deep snow. I was lucky as I had emergency flares, 2 wool blankets and water in my canteen plus my winter military clothes. A police car showed up about 3 hours later and gave me a ride to work. Cold is not the word as the Rhine River even froze over. It pays to be prepared for anything in the winter.

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