Having lived in Oklahoma my entire life, I have learned a thing or two about driving during the Oklahoma winters. As with many central plains states, the winters can range from mild and balmy to arctic freeze and heavy snows. Because of our southern location, Oklahoma normally sees moderate snow most winters so drivers are often not ready for winter weather. A few inches of snow or as little as a quarter-inch of ice can bring our transportation system to a halt.
To combat the weather, Kay and I both own 4 wheel drive vehicles. This allows us to take care of family and customers regardless of the weather. For those unfamiliar with driving in snow and ice, here are a few tips to prepare yourself and your vehicle for what may lay ahead.
- Dress to walk. I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled over to help a stranded motorist in Oklahoma and they are wearing open toed high heels (women) or Converse tennis shoes (men). Let me give you a hint – that doesn’t cut it when the snow starts falling and you have to dig your car out of a ditch. I have seen 20-year-old guys wearing gym shorts in a snowstorm. That is all good and fine if you don’t get stuck and you don’t plan to help your fellow drivers, but put on your thinking hat. When the snow gets bad and the traffic crawls to a halt, you can sit in your car waiting on help which may take hours to arrive, or you can get your behind out of the car, help others get their vehicles unstuck, and then maybe someone will help you get your car out of the ditch. Dress so you can get out in the snow and ice and walk if you have to, and more importantly, survive.
- Keep your vehicle full of fuel. Don’t take off in cold weather with anything less than a half tank of fuel. First off, the weight of the fuel really helps your traction. Most importantly, if you get stuck for hours in sub-zero weather, a full tank of fuel can save your life. If you need to route around closed roads, a full tank gives you lots of options. I like to fill up before the weather hits and then seldom let my tank get to half full.
- Carry a tow rope and shovel. You will be amazed at how easy it is to have someone give you a pull with a tow rope and quickly get your vehicle unstuck. I used to carry a chain but those are cold and hard to handle in the snow. You can buy tow straps that weigh next to nothing, pack down small, and are great for getting pulled out of a snow drift. A small shovel can also work wonders for digging your vehicle out of the snow, or tossing some sand or dirt on the ice to get you moving. Even a small folding camp shovel works great.
- Shift your car into neutral as you approach a stop sign. Kay and I both drive standard shift 4WD vehicles so all we have to do is push in the clutch and coast to a stop with light breaking action. Most people opt for automatic transmission vehicles. Those are great except in icy or snowy weather. As you approach a stop sign, the drive wheels on an automatic will continue to push your vehicle, especially in a rear wheel drive car. The front brakes will grab and start stopping the front, but the back brakes usually engage a bit later and the transmission can still be pushing the rear wheels in drive mode with the front brake locked. This is a good way to lose control of your car – you are stomping on your brake pedal, the anti-lock brakes are not slowing you down at all, and the rear wheels are still pushing the vehicle forward. Slip the transmission in neutral and the rear wheels no longer push the car while you are trying to stop, making the vehicle easier to control. When you are ready to take off again, slip it back into drive.
- Use lower gears while driving. Rather than just leave your vehicle in Drive, slip the transmission into 1st or 2nd as you roll along on the snow and ice. This gives you much more control and lets YOU control how much power and drive goes to the wheels. Oftentimes you can slow down by just letting off the gas, and not use the brakes.
- If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle, especially a pickup truck, toss some weight into the back, either the bed of your truck or the trunk of your car. As I mentioned earlier, a full tank of gas is the best way to add weight, but you can also add sand bags or bricks or other types of weights. This improves traction and control of your vehicle. Be sure and remove the weight when the weather gets better, since hauling around extra weight hurts your gas mileage.