We all make mistakes during the winter—from hanging the Christmas tree lights wrong to gifting everyone in the family the season’s most polarizing dish: fruit cake. But some seasonal blunders can be more costly than others, particularly those that involve car care and driving.
To help you avoid making some of these common errors, we’ve put together a list of the 10 biggest automotive-related mistakes you can make this winter season. Frigid temperatures, along with snow and ice, require you to pay special attention to the way you maintain and operate your automobile.
10 Automotive Mistakes You’ll Want to Avoid This Winter
It’s easy to make mistakes when it’s cold outside, and all you can think about is warming up with a cup of hot chocolate. Still, despite all of the seasonal distractions, you’ll want to keep your wits about you to avoid making the following mistakes.
1. Driving Too Fast
While speeding is dangerous in any weather, it’s especially hazardous during the winter when traction, braking ability, and visibility are all compromised.
Many experts claim that stopping distance more than doubles on snow- and ice-covered roads—and driving too fast makes the problem worse. Unsafe speeds also increase your chances of losing control on icy or slick pavement.
2. Not Washing Your Car
Some drivers falsely believe that they can forgo washing their car during the winter—but that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
If you live in a place where roads are routinely salted during winter, then it becomes even more important to hit the car wash. Salt can quickly create rust that eats away at the body and frame of your car, turning it into a dangerous jalopy.
To avoid salt build-up, you’ll want to wash every part of the vehicle’s exterior—including the undercarriage—on a regular basis. Once a week is a good rule of thumb for cars that are driven in the salt and snow nearly every day.
3. Assuming All-Season Tires are Winter Tires
There’s a common misconception that all-season tires are the same as snow tires. In reality, however, snow tires have a unique design that includes a particular tread pattern, a distinct composition, and (in some cases) studs in the tread. Together, these elements make snow tires a far better choice for winter driving than all-season tires.
So, if you’re looking for optimum driving performance on the ice and snow, consider picking up a set of snow tires for the winter. You can change back to your all-season tires in the spring.
You can learn more by reading our article Winter Tires vs. All Season Tires: Should You Change Your Tires for Winter?
4. Having Too Much Water in the Cooling System
Under most conditions, a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water is ideal for your car’s cooling system. Adding too much water can cause the engine and parts of the cooling system to freeze during the winter. The results can be disastrous, leading to costly failures, such as a cracked engine block.
5. Using Part-Time Four-Wheel Drive on Dry Pavement
All-wheel drive (AWD) is designed to be engaged on all types of terrain, including dry pavement. But you should only use part-time four-wheel drive—the kind of system that requires you to select the transfer case range—when traveling on low-traction surfaces, such as roads covered in deep snow.
The problem is, during the winter, many drivers forget to switch back into two-wheel drive once the snow is gone and the roads are clear. As a result, the vehicle may experience driveline windup from traveling on dry pavement.
Driveline windup is a dangerous phenomenon that can damage costly assemblies (i.e., the differentials and the transfer case). The issue stems from the fact that the front and rear axles of a four-wheel drive (4×4) vehicle rotate at different speeds. Windup occurs when the surface the vehicle is traveling on does not provide enough slip to compensate for the variance in axle speeds.
6. Braking Too Abruptly
One of the most common mistakes drivers make during the winter is braking too abruptly. Quickly applying the brakes can cause your car to slide off course, potentially causing you to crash into an object or another vehicle.
To avoid such a scenario, you’ll want to come to a slow, gradual stop while using the brakes as little as possible. You can do this by anticipating having to stop and lifting off of the accelerator pedal. If you have a manual transmission-equipped car, you can also downshift to employ engine braking.
And one more thing: Remember to leave an ample amount of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. A greater buffer zone will give you more time to stop smoothly.
7. Forgetting to Pack an Ice Scraper and Other Winter Essentials
If you live in a location that gets snow, there’s a good chance you’ve been caught without an ice-scraper at an inopportune time. In keeping with Murphy’s Law, the scraper usually comes up missing when you’re in a hurry, and you don’t have time to wait for the car to warm up so that you can use the defroster.
To avoid being caught without an ice scraper, make sure each person in your family has one in their car at all times. You may also want to pack other winter emergency essentials, including gloves and a warm coat.
8. Having Too Much Confidence in Four-Wheel Drive or All-Wheel Drive
AWD or 4×4 capability can improve traction and handling in the snow. But sometimes drivers have too much confidence in these systems—and that can have dire consequences.
Although powering both sets of wheels improves grip in most situations, it doesn’t help when you’re driving on ice and there’s zero traction, nor does it improve braking performance. To avoid losing control while traveling under harsh winter conditions, you should drive just as cautiously in an AWD or 4×4 vehicle as you would a two-wheel drive car.
9. Driving a Vehicle That Needs Maintenance or Repair
Cars always seem to break down at the most inopportune time. For example, “Old Faithful” might call it quits when you’re late for work, rushing to a doctor’s appointment—or driving through the middle of a blizzard.
That’s why it’s extra important to take care of any necessary repairs or maintenance immediately during the winter. You’ll also want to check (or have a professional check) all of the safety-related components (i.e., brakes, tires, etc.) for damage and wear.
10. Not Clearing Off The Windshield Properly
The scenario is all too familiar—because you’re running late, you don’t clean all of the ice from the windshield. Even though you can barely see, you take off on your daily commute, peering out of the tiny patch of glass you had a chance to clean.
Clearly, this is risky behavior that could easily lead to an accident. Always leave yourself enough time to be able to clear off your car’s windshield properly.
And as was mentioned, you’ll want to have a good ice scraper on hand at all times.
Use Common Sense
Perhaps the most important piece of advice for navigating treacherous winter conditions is to use common sense. You want to drive cautiously, take care of your car—and basically, just use good judgment. These are fundamentals that you can apply all year long, regardless of the season or weather conditions.