How not to end up in a ditch

If you’re from an area that regularly receives snow (such as NY) and you actually go outside to experience said frozen water crystals, then you know that getting snow rubbed in your face is probably the least favored thing to have happen to you- except maybe sliding off the road and ending up face first in a ditch.

I thought I’d share some of my tips on winter-weather driving. Forget what the DMV says about winter driving, listen to me instead (I’m kidding, pay attention y’all- that’s why I included the link).


  • Keep it defrosted! Start your defroster when you start your car and give it some time to heat up the windshield. The last thing you want is to be just pulling out of a driveway and suddenly you can’t see a thing (breath + cold windshield = fog).
  • Get all the ice and snow off the outside of the windows. Leaving frozen precip will guarantee foggy windows.
  • Don’t scrape the car itself. Besides leaving scratches, the ice breaking free from your car might take paint chips with it.
  • Top off the washer fluid reservoir frequently. With the amount of salt used on the roads, its just a matter of time before its on your car.
  • Winter wipers are a good investment and are usually pretty cheap (~$10 each).
  • Don’t forget the rear window and defroster.
  • Clear off your lights.


  • Always make sure you have plenty of gas. This ensures that you’ll live longer if you get stranded.
  • Keep the tank at least 50% full. Water/snow has a tendency to get into the tank and freeze in the gas lines. This will make it impossible to start your car. Keeping the tank mostly full will lower the risk of this happening.
  • You’ll notice that during the winter your mpg’s will go down. This is because air is denser when it is cold and the car will compensate, adding in more fuel to the mixture. Simple physics tells you that this allows for increased horsepower as well. Add in “spirited” parking lot driving and a 5 mpg hit can been noticed.


  • Make sure your car isn’t running straight water for coolant. Use 50/50 or as recommended to avoid the block freezing.
  • Make sure to change your oil every 3000 miles or as instructed to make sure your engine is a happy engine. Water in the oil is not a good sign, as this can freeze in the lines.
  • Check your brake, power steering, and transmission fluid levels as well. This is the lifeblood of your car!


  • Make sure your tires have adequate tread depth and are not “sport” or “GT” or anything like that.
  • Science says that when it gets colder out, the air pressure in your tires goes down. I’ve had 2 flats already because of this. Make sure to keep the tires at the recommended pressure. Over-inflating tires might save a little gas and under-inflated tires might increase dry-surface traction, but so much as a 5 psi variance either way from the recommended pressure has drastic abnormal tire-wear implications.

Driving Habits

  • Allow plenty of time. Rushing is never a good idea. It easily takes a good 5 minutes to warm up the car.
  • If the weather is really bad, stay at home.
  • Don’t pull out in front of people. Besides the lowered braking ability if the roads are slippery, chances are you’ll spin the tires pulling out in front of them.
  • Don’t go fast. There’s just no reason to. If the snow/ice doesn’t get you, the salt will. Salty roads don’t offer much traction.
  • Don’t go extremely slowly. Even in the worst circumstances, 25 mph should be the absolute minimum. If visibility is good but traction is limited, 35 mph on a state road (55mph limit) is decent. Driving excessively slowly puts you at risk of getting hit from behind or, in an attempt to slow down or pass, puts the other car in a ditch.
  • Avoid roads that haven’t been plowed. Just. Don’t. Even. Try.
  • If, for some reason, your car becomes disabled and you have to leave it by the side of the road, get as far over and put on the blinkers! It doesn’t matter how bright and sunny it is out, night falls eventually and snow happens, and if your car is in the way and people can’t see it…
  • If you get stuck, make sure any straps you get towed by are attached securely to the frame.
  • Lastly, don’t forget some granola bars, blankets, and cell phone when you leave the house. They just may save your life.

Disclaimer: Always use caution and common sense while driving. Obey all traffic and safety laws. Buckle up! Remember that this post is not the final word and may not necessarily be true in all circumstances. While we try to be a helpful outlet to you, we are not responsible for how you drive and the resultant effects. In other words, don’t come crying to us when you wrap your car around a light pole doing crazy donuts in a parking lot just because you heeded our (my) advice to keep your tires at the correct pressure.

17 thoughts on “How not to end up in a ditch”

  1. While we’re at it, be careful when pulling into a driveway or small road, as the junction between the two will typically have an extra amount of ice.

  2. Also, when pulling into a parking spot in an icy parking lot, park at least once space away from other cars if possible. My car recently had an unfortunate encounter with another one because I slid across a parking space.

  3. haha, I don’t know much about the mechanics of it all, I just know that I fishtailed ALOT in my wagon… and sandbags made it better, combined with not braking when it still fishtailed.

    Well, the problem is still that I don’t know how to do so… the previous owner of my car didn’t either… I’ve played around with all the buttons and knobs (and so have various other people trying to help me) and we have not figured out how to do so yet… šŸ™

  4. Even lights that auto turn on and off based on time of day can be manually turned on. Do so – yes I’m talking to the world out there.

  5. @zepuka “fishtailing” is usually more of an issue with rear wheel drive vehicles. While the back tends to step out in those, a front wheel drive car will tend to plow straight forward (when going through a corner or accelerating). While braking, they generally do the same thing

  6. Ah yes… that’s when added weight in the back is useful to avoid fishtailing… but when you do fish tail, try steering out of it like HT said.

    …my lights are automatic, I have absolutely no say in what they do besides high beams… o_O;

  7. @backstept and HT – both excellent points. I had made a note to include something similar, yet forgot to incorporate it. Turning the wheel excessively far to one side or the other is just going to hurt you if you slide. The more parallel your wheels are in relation to the direction your vehicle is moving, the more liable the car is to follow in the tracks of said front wheels. ie, if you slide, steer in the direction you’d like to go, but as least severely as possible.

  8. One thing to add – please, please, please turn your lights on. I can’t count the number of times a car without its lights on has nearly been hit in front or behind me because its difficult to see them on snowy roads in hazy weather.

    This is actually a good time for all types of weather. People don’t realize how invisible their car can be without lights on – turn them on people!

    Also if you hit ice, slamming on your brakes and locking them up will not help. The best thing you can ever do is try to steer out of the slide. It may not always work and over-steering is always quite possible, but you won’t save yourself on ice by just slamming on the brake and sliding like in those youtube videos.

  9. some tips I have to add:

    – Do not brake while turning. The wheels need all the friction they can get in order to turn the car. Adding friction from the brakes could very well push your tires past their grip threshold, and you’ll end up in a ditch or in someone else’s headlights! Instead, brake two or three times earlier, and with half the force as in summer conditions.
    – Never lock the brakes. Ever. Even with ABS, always fight the urge to pump the brakes as hard as you can, because locked wheels have about as much grip as the greased watermelons we had so much fun with at camp.

    Drive safe folks! šŸ˜€

  10. Spiffy… I can honestly say that I follow said guidlines to the best of my ability… Of course, right now, I have no defrost so… I usually drive with the windows down… >..< Haha, my dad has equipped my car with so much stuff I don’t even know how to use it all… I’ve got a little shovel, some spark thingers, tow ropes, enough tools to disassemble the whole car… xD

  11. Ah, good to know. I usually put in a 10×3 frontal viewing port in my windshield; pretend I’m in a panzer. Also: try “brushing” the snow off your vehicle to maximize weight/gas usage ratio.

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