Local Instructor Offers Ten Tips for Winter Driving

Trent Ernst, Editor

Jim Cosgrove has been teaching driving for over 40 years. In that time, he’s learned a little bit about winter driving. The owner of Okanagan Driving School, Cosgrove says that the number one thing that people have to remember, especially around here, is that you can’t drive like it’s summer. “People have to slow down in the winter. In the driving instructor business, we say that in the winter the words are gently and gradually. You go around a corner and the wheels start spinning on the ice, so you have to back off on the acceleration.”

Here are Cosgrove’s top tips for winter driving.

Follow at a safe distance. You know the two second rule? In winter, four seconds is even better. It takes far longer to stop on an ice-covered road.

Make sure you have good winter tires with good grips, especially if you are going to do any sort of highway driving. Also, you have to have equal pressure in all four tires. Tires tend to lose one psi every month, and one psi for every five degree drop in temperature. Check your tires regularly. Underinflated tires feel “squirmy” going around corners on ice.

Make sure you’re prepared for winter driving. Make sure you have appropriate emergency equipment. Things like chains, a shovel, blankets, a candle, flares, and some food. “I always keep two or three chocolate bars in my car in case I get stuck,” says Cosgrove. Other things to carry include a first aid kit, jumper cables and a flashlight.

Always keep your tank full. Gas evaporates if it’s sitting for a long time. In older cars, the gas would evaporate and condense, and the carburetors would rust. More gas also adds weight to the car, which means better traction. “I always fill up when the tank hits half,” says Cosgrove.

“People don’t understand that when it snows, or when it melts and freezes, your lights get covered in ice.” Cosgrove says that it is important to keep them clean up here, where night lasts most of the day, too. Don’t forget to clean off the brake lights, too. “You have to keep your lights visible.”

Cosgrove says he keeps a short broom handle to knock ice off his lights.

Visibility is important, so make sure to keep your windshield clean. Cosgrove says “I bought some -49 windsheild washer fluid the other day. If it goes 40 below and you turn on your windshield wiper and you don’t have good washer fluid, you’re not going to be able to see.” Cosgrove says that water is a bad idea, even in summer. If it freezes, and the lines aren’t clear from the water, it could freeze in the lines and you won’t be able to clean your windows until spring. (Actually, you can use rubbing alcohol or methanol to help de-ice your lines. Let it sit for a few hours and it should de-freeze.)

“Make sure to keep your headlights on at all times if you don’t have daytime running lights.”

“There isn’t usually a lot of traffic around here, but keep your eyes on the ditches, because if something like a moose walks out, you just can’t stop as fast.” says Cosgrove “Drive slower than you would normally, especially after dark.

“If you get stuck, make sure your wheels are straight. If your wheels are cranked all the way to the left, you’re just going to be trying to push the snow. Rock the car back and forth. Put it in reverse, then quickly shift it into second, which is better than drive. Repeat.” Try not to spin your tires, as you’ll just create a hole that you won’t be able to get out of. It also melts the snow and creates ice, which reduces traction. And as always, says Cosgrove, “don’t over steer, don’t over brake and don’t over gas.”

Cosgrove is the owner of Okanagan Driving School.