Spring is coming, but winter is definitely still here – snow/sleet storms have been pummeling everyone in the last week, from the West Coast to the Midwest.
To ensure your well-being, here are a few timely reminders about driving safely in the snow:
- Most people are not used to driving in bad weather.
- Preparing your car for winter driving.
- Transitioning to winter driving habits.
- Chains vs. snow tires.
- Getting stranded in a snowstorm.
- Other tools to stay safe
Most people are not used to driving in bad weather
Yeah, gig driving in extreme winter conditions is serious business—but you are a gig driver, and there are people that need to go places or have food and packages delivered. They expect Doordash during a snowstorm.
If you live in an area of the country where the winters are severe, such as most of the US northern latitudes, snow is a fact of life. Even if you don’t live in the traditional snow states, there are times when you will encounter it. According to Tom Skilling, chief meteorologist for WGN-TV in Chicago, it snows in 49 out of the 50 states at least once a year.
Added to that, populations are shifting. A report by the Brookings Institution reveals a decline in the nation’s 56 major metropolitan areas (populations exceeding one million). People have moved out of the larger cities. The smaller metro areas are growing, experiencing the greatest population gain in over a decade. In many of these burgeoning regions, however, the infrastructure is still catching up with better roads and the ability to get snowplows out in the winter.
But many people find the tranquil summers of their new home offset by some serious winters and weather that they have never experienced, much less driven in. You might be one of them, and if you brought your gig driving job with you (because one of the nice things about gig driving hustles is that they are portable), driving Uber or Lyft in a snowstorm is a challenge. The same is true for food delivery. You need to know how to drive safely in snowy and icy conditions.
Preparing your car for winter driving
First, prepare your car for the winter season. Ideally, check all these things before the first snow falls, and recheck them as needed throughout the winter.
Maintain your car. This is an autumn ritual. Take time to replace the wiper blades, check that headlights and running lights are in good working order, and consider replacing the fluid in your radiator with a more appropriate mix of antifreeze. Starting your car on cold winter mornings puts extra demand on the battery. You might want to replace it if it’s nearing the end of its life.
Check your tires. Tires are arguably the most important component of snow driving. They are your contact with the road. Evaluate the tread on your tires to determine if they are sufficient to get you through the cold season. Air contracts in volume in lower temperatures, so make sure you check your tire pressure regularly. Later we’ll discuss snow tires and chains.
Check other items that wear out. Rubber and plastic components freeze and crack in the cold. Check all your hoses and belts. Replace any that look suspect. Also, check the bushings and rubber bearing boots underneath your car for excessive wear. PRO TIP: Components on a car tend to wear out in pairs. If there are two of anything on your vehicle and one wears out, the other is likely not far behind. This is true of belts, hoses, and even headlights. If you replace one, replace the other.
Make sure you can see. Those low winter temperatures mean ice on the windshield. Replace the wiper fluid in the reservoir with a solution formulated for winter. PRO TIP: A quick way to rid the windshield of ice on cold mornings (instead of standing there for 10 minutes laboring with an ice scraper) is to combine isopropyl alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Spraying this solution directly onto the ice melts it on contact.
This might be the time for a yearly professional oil change. Do you change the oil yourself? Lots of people do. But that late fall oil change might be the time to take it into the garage. Have them lubricate the underside of the chassis, the ball joints, and anything that needs attention. Ask the mechanic to examine the car for any problems you need to remedy before that first snow.
Don’t forget to save your receipts. As a gig driver, these expenses are tax deductible.
Transitioning to winter driving habits
The second change you need to make as winter approaches is in your driving habits. Driving requires concentration, but even more so when the weather turns cold and snow falls.
Do you really have to drive in the snow? The first tip for driving in the snow is just don’t do it. There is a high risk of an accident. True, most are low-speed fender benders with less of a chance for injury, but you don’t need the hassle of tow trucks and car repairs, and squabbles with your insurance company. There is always the reality of getting hurt, too. But driving during a snowstorm is a reality if you earn your income from gig driving.
Give other cars additional space. Driving instructors recommend a car length, perhaps a length and a half, for every ten miles of speed, and that’s in good weather. In the snow, however, steering is less responsive, and braking takes longer. You need extra time. Consider two lengths minimum, and perhaps even three. You’ll also need extra time for most other driving maneuvers such as pulling out into traffic and lane changes.
Avoid driving alongside other cars. Sudden braking or evasive maneuvers can send you in unpredictable directions. Maintain space so that if you go into a spin, you will be less likely to hit another car or fall victim to another driver’s misfortune.
Back off the accelerator. Find a speed you are comfortable with in the snow, and then reduce it by ten miles an hour. That’s your ideal snow speed. You want plenty of time to react to any situation, from a red light to a car spinning out of control in front of you.
Periodically test your car and conditions. Different road surfaces react differently in the snow. If you have a spot where you have plenty of extra space on the road, tap on your brakes to get a feel for how your car reacts. This way, when you have to hit the brakes, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
Remember to steer into a skid. Should you hit ice and the rear wheels lose traction and start to drift, steer in the same direction that they go. If your car’s back end drifts to the right, then turn your steering wheel to the right. If the back end drifts to the left, then steer to the left. If you want a clearer explanation of how to steer into a skid, check out this video from CNN.com.
Resist hitting the brakes if you start to skid. Your first reaction should be to take your foot off the accelerator. Hitting the brakes won’t stop you, and when the wheels gain traction, your car will go whichever way they are pointing, like into the next lane.
Give a wide berth to semi-trucks. It’s never a good idea to mess with a semi-truck. Fully loaded, the tractor and trailer weigh 40 to 50 tons (more in states where they allow three trailers). Even if you are in the right, you will lose. In the snow, these trucks are tough to stop. Truck drivers maintain as much space as possible. Let them have it.
Keep the gas tank full. A full tank helps avoid ice in the fuel lines. You also want a full tank if you become stranded in the snow. You’ll need to run the engine to use the car’s heater.
Chains vs. snow tires
For those who have recently moved to snow country, one of the big questions is, chains or snow tires? The answer depends on how severe the winters are. If they are intense, snow tires are an absolute must. People without snow tires are the ones who end up in the ditch during a snowstorm. They are more expensive than chains, but an article in Forbes magazine reports that snow tires give you better performance, especially in mountain driving and the coldest weather.
When temperatures drop, the rubber used in all-weather tires hardens. This means less contact with the road. Snow tires employ formulated rubber that remains soft in colder temperatures, spreading out and almost “gripping” the road. Snow tires also have specially designed treads, enhancing their effectiveness. Some designs even incorporate metal studs.
Some states in the continental US require snow tires or chains under certain conditions. Large parts of Canadian British Columbia legally mandate snow tires for as much as six months out of the year.
Snow tires wear out quickly in warmer weather. So when spring comes around, it’s time to go back to your tire store or garage and switch to your all-season tires. If you are a purist, you can purchase an extra set of rims to have them mounted on and do the transition yourself. Worried about the cost? Some places like Discount Tire offer discounts to gig drivers.
Snow chains are a less expensive option and store easily in your trunk. In areas that are cold enough and get snow regularly, you’ll see signs telling you to use chains with special roadside pull-outs for mounting them. When you purchase your snow chains, look for brands featuring a YouTube video for how to install them. When there is no snow, practice a few times in your driveway so that when you have to mount them, you’ll know how.
Read your car manual for instructions on using chains. You typically mount chains on the drive tires of your car. For cars with all-wheel drive, once again, check the manual.
Are you thinking about purchasing a new car for your gig driving activities? According to Shift.com and many other sources, front-wheel drive cars or all-wheel drive cars generally perform better in snow and ice.
Whatever maintenance you get done to prepare your car for bad weather, make sure you look for special discounts for drivers. Those dollars add up fast!
Getting stranded in a snowstorm
One of the harshest realities of living and driving in harsh winter is getting stuck in your car in a snowstorm. It happens more than you may think.
- In January 2022, hundreds of motorists were stranded all night in freezing temperatures along a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in Virginia, as reported in the Washington Post. Adding to the difficulty, several tractor-trailers jack-knifed, leaving the roads impassable.
- In December 2014, ABC News reported on a snowstorm in Southern California that trapped drivers overnight on Highway 138 in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Here are a few tips on preparing should you get stranded.
Stay in your car. This is the safest option. As cold as it may get in your car, it will be colder outside. This is another reason why you should always keep a full tank. You can run the engine regularly without fear of running out of gas. Most experts suggest running the engine and heater for ten minutes every hour.
Carry an extendable, window-mounted antenna in your car. These are available on Amazon. They allow you to monitor weather channels, and they double as a mounting pole for a bright-colored piece of cloth, making you more visible to searchers.
Keep a foldable shovel in your trunk. Before running the engine to stay warm, use the shovel to ensure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow. You don’t want deadly carbon monoxide fumes backing up and leaking into the engine compartment.
Carry snacks. Your body burns more calories in lower temperatures. Keep a supply of high-calorie food: energy bars, nuts, jerky, and granola. You’ll be glad you did.
Keep a bag of road salt and another of kitty litter. You’ll need road salt to help melt the snow when it becomes manageable and kitty litter to help gain traction on snow and ice.
Maintain a snowstorm survival kit. These are the smart items to have:
- first aid kit
- extra water
- important medications
- jumper cables
- duct tape
- scraper for removing ice from windshield and mirrors
- tow strap
- tire pressure gauge
- extra change of clothes
- extra winter jacket
- mittens and hat
- work gloves
- good snow boots
- battery-powered radio
- spare charged battery packs for your cell phone
- book of crossword puzzles
- pens and pencils
- folding knife
- kit of essential tools
- spare change and cash
- thick blanket
Other tools to stay safe
Good advice on how gig drivers can stay safe in a snowstorm is just one of the many things you learn from the Gridwise blog.
Every gig driver should include the Gridwise app as an integral part of their gig driving toolkit. You can save as much as $50 a month on gas through the Gridwise Gas program, which means you can reduce your chances of getting stranded with no gas in your car.
Through Gridwise, drivers are also getting roadside protection for $1/week. Yep, you read that right.
There are tons of other discounts exclusive to Gridwise that will save you $100s on everything from car maintenance to phone protection.
And stay safe out there.