AAA offers winter travel tips

Driving during severe winter weather conditions can be demanding. The way you handle your vehicle in those conditions could be the difference between a safe trip and serious trouble.

Not all cars are alike. To become familiar with your vehicle’s winter weather operating characteristics, AAA-Chicago Motor Club recommends motorists practice slow-speed maneuvers on an empty snow or ice-covered parking lot. The Club also suggests reading your owner’s manual for information on equipment and handling characteristics.

The following tips are things to consider while driving in winter weather conditions.

Front, rear, four or all-wheel drive

Become familiar with what wheels are given power in your vehicle. Front-wheel-drive vehicles generally handle better than rear-wheel-drive vehicles on slippery roads because the weight of the engine is on the drive wheels. The lack of weight on the back end of rear-wheel-drive cars often causes them to slide side-to-side during turns on icy roads.

Many vehicles today are equipped with four-, or all-wheel drive, which helps when driving through difficult conditions. However, drivers of four-wheel-drive vehicles should avoid becoming over-confident. Four-wheel-drive does not make the car brake any better and has little advantage on icy roadways.


A vehicle’s braking system plays a critical role in winter weather operations. Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) provide significant handling advantages on slick roads, but are only effective if properly used. When stopping a vehicle with ABS in slippery conditions, motorists should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal. The ABS automatically pumps the brakes to keep the wheels from locking up, which prevents skids and loss of control. Do not let your foot off the brakes if you hear or feel them chatter. That means the ABS system is working properly and you should continue to steer the car normally.

If you don’t have ABS, gently pump the brakes during slippery conditions to avoid locking the wheels and losing control. Also avoid any sudden stops.

Recognize danger zones

Intersections—Slow down before reaching an intersection. Scan left and right for cars and pedestrians. If you are having trouble stopping, they most likely are, too. After a stop, press the accelerator slowly to get moving again. If you have a manual transmission, try starting in second gear to avoid wheel spin.

Hills—When approaching an icy hill, pick a path that will allow you the most traction. Head for unpacked snow or powder where you’ll get a better grip.

Build your speed gradually before you reach the hill and if you have switch-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, shift before you reach the hill.

Curves—Reduce your speed before you enter an icy curve. Any sudden acceleration or deceleration while turning could send you into a skid. Controlled speed, smooth steering and braking will help prevent skidding on an icy turn. If your wheels lose grip, gradually release the pressure from the pedal you’re using and smoothly steer in the direction you want the car to go.

Getting unstuck

The simplest thing to remember when extricating your vehicle from snow and ice is to use finesse rather than power. Hard acceleration is likely to worsen the situation by causing the tires to dig the car deeper into the snow.

AAA Chicago recommends clearing the snow away from the wheels first. To improve traction, spread sand, cat litter or some kind of abrasive material around the tires providing power. Then, shift the car into low gear (or second gear in a manual transmission) and slowly apply pressure to the accelerator.

If that doesn’t work, try rocking the car back and forth by easing forward and then releasing the accelerator.

If you are unable to free your vehicle, carefully assess the weather conditions before abandoning your vehicle. In extreme cold or heavy snow, stay with your vehicle and wait until you can be rescued.

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