As the Stark’s motto says: winter is coming. Although for what seems like another year, winter is coming late. Until two days ago we were in short sleeves and suddenly the bad weather and the drop in temperature arrived. Many have put their hands on their heads and the bull has caught them with their summer clothes still in the closet, at the beginning of November, but the snow has already shown itself.
Let’s be serious, most of us leave everything to the last moment but in things like road safety, we can’t spare any precautions. So for those of you who haven’t yet prepared for winter, here are seven tips for when we find ourselves on the road covered in snow.
Maximize the safety distance
The fact that we have to respect the safety distance is a little short when we have to drive on the snow. We often underestimate this pleasant weather phenomenon, attributing to it harmless and Christmas-like connotations, but the truth is that it can turn a road from a beautiful setting into a really complicated surface.
When the snow makes an appearance and manages to be so consistent that it doesn’t melt on the ground as soon as it falls and forms a beautiful white mantle, two things can happen: it can be fine and melt when you step on it, or it can be an intense snowfall and compact under the wheels of the vehicles.
When the layer of snow together with the cold makes the flakes compact, a hard and very smooth surface is created at the bottom whose characteristics when in contact with the tires are quite similar to an ice rink. There is little we can do here except drive around where previous vehicles tread looking for more passable areas, look for a safe place to stop if the situation is complicated and, if there is no other alternative route, wait for a snowplow to clear the way.
In the first case, we have the basic problems of driving in the rain and some more. The tires will be in constant contact with a wet surface which means an increase in braking distance in case of emergency, so we will not only have to respect the safety distance but also leave a few extra meters.
Why? Well, because we have to be even more careful; the working temperature in a snowy scenario is lower even when it’s only raining and the tires don’t work as well as they would at an optimum temperature. In fact, in addition to using winter tires, we must periodically check the pressure of all the tires because with the cold the gases are compressed and we may be circulating with lower pressures than recommended. Below 10 degrees centigrade, “summer” tires do not work very well.
Specific equipment for the winter
There are two options for unsuitable tires in the event of snow: the emergency chains and the winter tires. The former are a useful and a badly needed option. They are always there taking up space and in the end we leave them in the garage so that the day we need them we do not take them in the car.
The chains are necessary. As necessary as always carry them from the beginning of bad weather until the heat returns and, more importantly, know how to use them. It does not cost anything that one of those Sunday mornings we spent washing the car we bother to make a test of how to put chains correctly. It will not take more than a few minutes and we will learn the lesson better than doing it on the go, cold ice cream, and in the middle of the road.
Significant reduction in visibility
The sense by which we capture more information when driving is the sight and with the snow we can remain blindfolded depending on the circumstances. Even if we know the road inside out, the snow has probably covered up the road signs, so slowing down and again exaggerating the safety distance in order to react with more leeway is essential.
Also, you have to bear in mind that snow has a high capacity to reflect light and it’s possible that if the sun comes out we could be blinded in a matter of seconds. Also, the periods of sunlight in winter are shorter and with a sunrise and sunset in which the star king runs in a position quite parallel to the horizon. This results in maximizing the situation known as “the Sun that fucks up the little ones”. To combat these situations it is never a bad idea to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses on hand in the vehicle.
This statement that might sound like a joke is not so much. When we speak of softness, it is not in reference to the pleasant texture left on our clothes by the little lamb, but we must be velvety in our movements when facing a snow-covered road.
First of all, we don’t have to be nervous. We don’t get nervous in the rain either, do we? Any gesture we make on the controls of the vehicle is transmitted to the asphalt in one way or another and with a snowy surface it is vital to be careful with what we do. We will have to treat the steering wheel as if it were full of nitroglycerin and we will drive in high gears with little load on the accelerator so that the wheels do not lose traction.
When braking it is very important to exert a smooth and progressive pressure and with all four wheels aligned so that it is not necessary to enter into action the electronic aids (if our vehicle has them) because it could make us more nervous and make us make a mistake. But that will not happen because we will be maintaining a very generous safety distance and have acted in advance by making prior use of the engine brake, right?
What if I’m in the middle of a trip and a snowstorm surprises me?
Well, the best thing is to step aside and wait for it to happen. Being patient and not rushing to get there is usually the best option. If this happens to you, it would be a good idea to throw in the trunk that old blanket you no longer use at home, or the sleeping bag you bought yourself thinking you were as adventurous as Jesus Calleja. When you’re well wrapped up, you’ll have a better time until you can start walking again safely.
Some non-perishable food, drink and a first aid kit are part of the indispensable winter survival kit inside the vehicle. Because yes, it is very important to stay inside with the engine running and the heating on. The ball wars and making angels in the snow with the family we leave them for the weekend.
Knowing the limitations of our vehicle…
There are vehicles that can be surprisingly good in circumstances as complicated as a 30 centimeter layer of snow, while on the contrary there are others that, no matter how modern and efficient they are, are sold in a very short time.
Relatively light vehicles with wide tires tend to lose grip more easily. The contact surface is larger and it is easier for bad weather to put them in a tight spot. If you have a slow ’90s off-roader with narrow tires, you shouldn’t be too afraid of snow. Today’s modern cars with all their safety measures can save us from a tight spot.
In any case, if the thought “my car doesn’t go through there” appears fleetingly in our minds, it’s best not to try it. No one knows better than we do the capabilities of the vehicle we are using and if we have doubts it is that we have a problem.
…and our own limitations
With the snow (as with everything in this life) you have to be self-critical and know what you can and cannot do really and sensibly. So, my advice is to evaluate the situation and ask yourself if everyone is prepared for what may come.
A timely retreat can be a victory worthy of minstrels if we see the situation as very complicated; missing a day of work no matter how much trouble the boss gives us is better than having an accident on the way. And if we are on the road and we fall an epic snowfall the best thing we can do is seek shelter, even if it is stopped as best as possible on the verge, and wait for the passage of a snowplow or the authorities to open the way to a parking of winter roads or an area enabled.
Check levels, pressures, the survival kit, and the minimum necessary tool, and have a good winter! But before getting down to work I leave you a video to review the lesson.