6 Tips To Make You A Better Driver In The Snow - Hey Reno Hero Image

Looming over the mountains a tall dark cloud and a freezing wind blows through the valley. Snow is coming and travel is going to become difficult.

I have been driving for 18 years now in Reno, and for 18 winters I have driven in the snow at some point. Additionally, with my birthday being in March my learners permit became available just in time for winter. Because of this, I like to think I know my way around a snowy road or two.

Using these years of experience and an afternoon of hard work I put together this guide to help you become a better driver in the snow.  I hope you enjoy it and let’s begin.

Getting Your Car Going/Unstuck In The Snow

Getting moving can often be the biggest challenge when driving in snow or ice. Because of this, many people will have trouble getting their car going forward.  But there are steps you can take to make sure you don’t get stuck.

First, be easy on the accelerator. A slow start will help you maintain traction on the road. Second, try putting your car in 2nd gear. Many automatic cars have the ability to start in second gear so take advantage of it. Starting in 2nd allows for a slower start and less wheel slip.

Reversing can be a great way to get moving. Front wheel drive cars have the weight of the engine pressing down on them. Because of this reversing can often get you going backwards. Try backing up to create a “runway” then slowly accelerate along your tracks to break free and gain momentum.

As a last resort you can always try pushing or digging out your car.  Putting branches, cat litter, sand, gravel, or anything really under the tires can help get traction. I have seen people use long boards, or lay their chains out under their tires to get out of a tight spot.

Hey Reno - 6 Tips to be a better Driver in the snow - Car in desert

Stopping Your Car On Snow and Ice

Stopping on ice and snow can be difficult. As a result, many folks find themselves in accidents they otherwise could have avoided during regular conditions.

First, give yourself plenty of time to stop. Add twice as many car lengths as you usually would. Secondly, don’t forget to look behind you for other drivers not giving enough space.

Additionally, using your transmission to slow your speed will use your engine as a brake. Because of this, your wheels maintain traction and you can slow down without braking.

To brake using your transmission simply change gears from D to 2 or 1.   Remember though at high speeds this won’t work. Slowing down in second gear is usually done at 25 mph or lower. I suggest practicing this technique in a safe area first.

Preventing and Recovering from Skidding

Losing control on the road is scary. It can put you and others on the road in danger, but preventing it is easy and knowing how to recover is essential.

Preventing loss of control situations when traveling comes from driving carefully and being aware of changing conditions.  Drive slower than usual and keep an eye on the road. Small down slopes that you would otherwise ignore could add hundreds of feet onto your braking distance.  

Large trees can cast shadows and prevent ice and snow from melting. As a result, there can be slippery patches on otherwise clear roads.  Put one of these surprise patches on a corner or curve and you have a recipe for disaster.

What can you do once you have lost control? First, don’t apply your brakes. Your main goal is to get control of your vehicle so start by focusing on where you want to go and point your tires that way.

Second, gently apply brakes once you are headed in the right direction to regain complete control.

But if you are driving too fast around a corner no amount of correction will stop you from sliding. It’s all about being safe on the road.

Hey Reno - 6 Tips to be a better Driver in the snow - Car on Fire

Assessing Winter Road Conditions

Often the first thing I do once I am on the road is find a safe area to test how the road is handling. Driving in slush is much different than on snow. Wet roads during the day can easily become icy at night. Gaining an understanding of the conditions will help you judge what level of caution you need to take on your travels.

I start by accelerating a little harder than I normal in fair conditions from a complete stop. Then monitor the wheel skid.  As a result you should have a good idea of your ability to gain momentum.

Second, get the car up to about 20 mph then apply gentle brake and see if the car skids.  Losing control here is a huge red flag for me to be careful on the road. Skidding during this test means curves and corners are extremely dangerous.

Finally, you should repeat these tests whenever it’s safe and you are unsure about the road conditions. Knowing what you are up against could save your life.

Driving On Snow and Momentum

Once you get moving it’s important to keep moving. Momentum is your best friend when it comes to low-traction driving and it’s what’s going to get you from A to B.

A good route can often mean making to your destination on time or being stuck at the bottom of a hill for hours. Because of this, we recommend taking well traveled side streets if you can. Plumb, Kietzkie, McCarran (aside from the hills by Caughlin Ranch) are all good bets. Minimizing stops along the way is another important factor to consider.

Stop signs can be a huge nuisance when the roads are slick. First, approach slowly so you can assess if there is other traffic that you must yield to. Second, if there is traffic, prepare to stop. But, if the intersection is clear proceed through very slowly.

But only do this if the intersection is clear. Remember, If you have to stop, stop.

4WD + AWD Misconceptions

Let’s be clear. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive will help you get traction to the wheels that don’t have it. As a result, getting moving is much easier.

But, and it’s a huge but, having 4WD or AWD will NOT help you stop or turn on ice and snow. The laws of physics do not care if you have a 6” lift and huge tires. Your AWD Subaru is not a safety net for the snow.

Don’t let your confidence get you or other people injured. Every car has 4 wheels, 4 brakes, and most have ABS.  Once you are going on the road everyone is in the same boat.

Don’t believe me check out this detailed guide from the crash detective. 

Hey Reno - 6 Tips to be a better Driver in the snow - AWD fail

Conclusion

Reno, Tahoe, and the surrounding area faces winter conditions for a large part of the year. Consequently, our roads get snowy and icy and knowing how to drive safely is essential. The lives of you, your family, friends, and neighbors are in your hands. Be safe.