Winter Driving Tips: Top 10 Myths and Mistakes

Navigate through these popular winter driving myths and mistakes.

Snow, slush and cold weather. For typically 5 months of the year (if not more) we have to navigate whatever foul weather Mother Nature throws at us. But, for all the practice and expertise we Canadians should have behind the wheel during these months, there's a surprising number mistakes we make when driving during the winter and myths.

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  1. Frozen out? Time to grab an extension cord and a hairdryer
    Bad advice. If your locks are frozen and you're left out in the cold, your best to use a lock de-icer and not a hairdryer. Today's keys are high tech, and the high heat produced by a hairdryer can damage sensors.
  2. Cars need to be "warmed up"
    Once true, nowadays, cars really don't need to warmed up; in fact, all that's needed on a cold winter day is about two to three minutes of idling. Any longer and all you're really doing is wasting fuel.
  3. If I drive fast enough, the wind will clear the snow off my car
    Umm, no. Not clearing all the snow off your car is dangerous; we all know it. Take the two to three minutes you've got while warming up your car to properly clear the windows, mirrors and lights. Or, risk getting a ticket. In Ontario, section 74 of the Highway Traffic Act is pretty clear (unlike your windows), "No person shall drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, (a) unless the windshield and the windows on either side of the compartment containing the steering wheel are in such a condition as to afford the driver a clear view to the front and side of the motor vehicle; and (b) unless the rear window is in such a condition as to afford the driver a clear view to the rear of the motor vehicle."

    Don't be tricked into thinking this Act only applies to highways either, it applies to all manner of roads that are public and used by drivers.
  4. The two-second rule is an all-season rule
    False. The two-second rule should be doubled during the winter to give you plenty of space between you and the person ahead.
  5. Accidents happen most often during storms
    Nope. According to Transports Québec, accidents during the winter happen most often when the weather is calm; the theory being that drivers are more careful when the weather is raging. You have to wonder as well, if it's not because some good common sense takes over and drivers opt not to go out in a storm. Whatever the reason, don't let your guard down just because the weather's clear.
  6. Drive until you can drive no more
    I'm terrible at remembering to stop for gas. Luckily it's never left me stranded at the side of the road, but if the truth be known, it's only when that little light appears next to my gas gauge telling me I'm running low that I run into the gas station. In the winter, this behaviour could spell trouble; don't let your tank fall below half. Keeping your tank topped-up will limit condensation in the tank and reduce the chance that your gas line will freeze. It also ensures you'll have the fuel needed to stay warm if you do get stranded at the side of the road on a crisp, cold January day.
  7. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles are safest
    Not so, in fact, they often give drivers a false sense of security. Basically, all-wheel and four-wheel drive are excellent at acceleration, but when it comes to steering and braking, it's no different than any other vehicle. What matters are the tires, and the traction and grip they provide.
  8. Winter tires and all-season tires are the same
    If they were the same, truly the same, do you think auto insurance discounts for having four winter tires installed would be exist? Auto insurers know something or two about risk, and they obviously think you're taking a risk if you don't use winter tires. But auto insurance aside, all-season tires and winter tires are different; the grooves in winter tires are about 30 per cent deeper (which means they grip better) and offer up to 50 per cent more traction than all-seasons.
  9. Winter tires aren't needed for city driving
    My brother, a mechanic, is a staunch proponent of winter tires. He lives in the country, I live in the city so when he told me to get winter tires, I balked, "We don't get as much snow as you". He rolled his eyes, and patiently explained that they're not just for snow, that they're for the cold too. You see, all tires stiffen as the temperature drops, but winter tires maintain their elasticity even at extremely low temperatures approaching -30°C and below. The result is superior traction and grip; crucial to maintaining control of the car, no matter where you live.
  10. Two winter tires are just as good as four
    Simply put, installing just two winter tires on your car can be dangerous. According to the Rubber Association of Canada, "Installing only two winter tires on the rear of a vehicle will lead to unwanted and sometimes surprising handling characteristics." And when it comes to putting just two winter tires on the front, you should, "Never install only two winter tires on the front of a vehicle. This is particularly dangerous and could result in a complete loss of control." Strong words, but now you know.

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