Winter driving tips for teens and new drivers

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When I was a teenager I was a passenger in a VW Rabbit.  My pal and I were driving in light snow and the temperature was about 35 F.  He turned the wheel to make a left turn, the car didn’t react at all and we slid slowly and almost gently into the curb with the passenger right front tire.  The car was nearly totaled and out of commission for weeks.  My pal’s sister, who owned the car was not amused.  This was the first winter driving lesson that stuck in my head.  Here are some tips for those who may be driving in their first winter this year.

Beware the Freezing Rain

The most dangerous driving is not in deep snow, but freezing rain and light snow. This may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is when it snows like crazy everyone is on guard.  We all slow down, and cars actually do pretty good in fresh, deep snow.  A light snow that melts and re-freezes is much more dangerous because we don’t respect it, and sometimes we cannot see the danger.  Your car does not care if the ice under the tire is a paper thin, or a foot thick.  Ice means sliding and the only real way to avoid an accident is to respect the conditions, slow down, and  give yourself more room and more time to control the car.  Those stories about car control are mostly BS.  Keeping control is a much better plan.

Plan Ahead – Get Off the Road

In New England about once per year we all get caught in a blizzard in traffic. Call it collective amnesia, or bad planning, but every winter we know something is coming, we all stay too long at work, and then when we hit the road the plows can’t keep up.  Mayhem ensues.  Cars are left stranded, commutes turn from minutes to hours, and we all can’t believe it is happening to us.  Prepare for this by always having half a tank of gas in your car.  An even better plan is to get home before the storm.

Winter Car Stuff You Need

Before the weather turns bad this season, get yourself a winter survival kit and pack your car.  Always have warm clothes, heavy gloves, and better footwear in the car than you think you will need.  A granola bar and bottle of water are great to have stashed in case you find yourself on the road for one, two, or three hours longer than you planned to be.

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Buy the best snow brush you can find. Never, ever scrape the windshield on a car.  Remove all the snow you can with the brush from the wipers and then use your gloved hand to lift them off the glass.  If they are frozen there, let the car’s front defroster do the work.  Be patient.  Ice scrapers scratch glass.

Washer Fluid

Is it so hard to simply buy 6 gallons of washer fluid the next time you shop?  A month’s worth costs about as much as one latte grande, but we all skimp on this stuff.  Always be sure your reservoir is nearly full, and always have a full spare gallon in the car.  If you have the choice, buy the good stuff that is rated to a lower temperature.

This story is targeted towards teens, au pairs, and new drivers. That means you have no coin.  However, those looking out for you do.  Ask them politely one day what they think about getting you some snow tires.  Even we old codgers can be reminded of the right thing to do once in a while.  Maybe send them this BestRide story on snow tires and how they cost noting.


Put a spare cell phone charger cable in every car you might find yourself in this winter. The last worry you want to have is not being able to call for help, let a loved one know you are OK, or God forbid, unable to listen to Pandora while you are stuck in blizzard-gridlock.  Spare chargers are cheap, but they have feet and seem to walk away.  Designate one “car only” and leave it in the car.


Forget the roadside assistance your car came with.  Always carry a AAA card in your wallet.  Nothing is more valuable if you need a jump start, need to be pulled out of a snowbank, or if you have a tire damaged by a monsta’ pot-hole.  AAA has special rates for new drivers of all types, so there is no excuse.  Best of all, your AAA card works in any vehicle you are in, even if it is not your car.

There you have it. So if you find yourself in a blizzard, hungry and thirsty, wearing open toed shoes and T-shirt, running out of gas, with no washer fluid, a dead cell phone and a tire pressure warning on your dash, you brought it upon yourself.