Plan ahead for safe winter SUV driving
Are four-wheel drive SUVs better equipped to handle winter driving conditions? Maybe, but SUV drivers — like all drivers on the road — need to be cautious during the upcoming season with winter’s unpredictable weather conditions.
There are SUV-specific winter driving techniques that should be followed in order to avoid accidents when the sleet, snow and ice come this winter. “Because SUVs are big, they often carry a perception of invincibility,” says Trisha Hessinger, national spokeswoman for Firestone Tire & Service Centers’ Car Care Academies. “But even though SUVs and four-wheel drive can be an asset in snow and icy winter driving, they come with an increased responsibility of which all drivers should be aware.”
1. Brake with caution and earlier: SUVs can weigh as much as two to three times a typical car. This can make stopping on sleet or ice-covered roadways tricky. Stay aware of the distance between you and the cars in front and behind you and begin your braking sequence earlier than normal.
2. Watch your fuel: Driving in four-wheel drive will burn gas faster than typical driving. During colder months, fill up more often to keep your gas tank at least half full. The fuel reserve will be important if you get stuck in holiday traffic, plus it will add more weight to your vehicle which will help with traction on the road.
3. Turn with care: Because of its powerful engine, a four-wheel drive SUV may get up to speed faster from a stop than many smaller cars. Be sure to allow for this faster pick-up and possibly the higher centre of gravity of the vehicle when turning corners or making lane changes.
If you’re approaching a turn while in motion, brake earlier than normal, remove your foot from the brake at the beginning of the turn and steer into the curve. This will provide the most tire grip to avoid skidding or sliding sideways. This tip is important to remember in all seasons.
4. Watch your tires: Four-wheel drive doesn’t guarantee good traction — all four of your tires need to have good tread and be inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended air pressure. As the winter months get colder, air in tires contract which reduces the tire air pressure one pound per square inch for each 10-degree drop in temperature, so check your inflation pressure more frequently during the cold months. Under-inflation will lessen the gripping action because the tire tread will not meet the road surface as designed to do.
5. Don’t be overconfident: SUVs are seen as big and tough, but they’re not invincible and come with extra responsibilities. Practice safe, defensive driving techniques all winter long and always wear a seat belt.
Other important winter driving tips for all drivers
– Take your car to a certified automotive technician to check that the tires, brakes, engine, battery, exhaust system and the heating and defrosting systems are in good working order.
– Maintain vehicle’s fluids including engine oil, radiator coolant, brake, transmission, window washer and power steering fluids to the recommended levels.
– If there’s snow on your car, take advantage of the time you’re scraping off the windows to let your car warm up. Turn on the heater and defroster. Keep in mind the fastest way to warm up your car is to drive away slowly and not let it idle too long.
– Check that your lights and turn signals are in good working order.
– Before starting your car, make sure its windshield wipers aren’t frozen.
– Allow extra travel time if weather is severe.
– Keep both hands on the wheel when driving; avoid jerky steering and quick lane changes.
– Slow down.
– Be mindful when driving over bridges and overpasses. They freeze up earlier and stay frozen longer.