As recent ice storms throughout the country demonstrate, winter road conditions can lead to dangerous problems for car owners. However, during the winter months, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of damage to your vehicle, and harm to your loved ones, by taking a few precautionary measures, according to leading insurer MetLife Auto & Home.

“The best defense is preparation,” said Mike Convery, chief claim officer at MetLife Auto & Home. “Experience has shown us that many winter-related claims are avoidable, which is why it’s important to make sure your vehicle’s well-equipped and in good condition to take on the cold weather. By taking precautions, and being aware of what actions to take when you’re on the road, you may be able to avoid a serious accident and protect your loved ones from injury.”

Before the snow starts to fall, consider the following:

  • Give your vehicle a tune-up. Check the level of antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid, and make sure the battery is fully charged. If you haven’t changed your wiper blades in the past six months, purchase a fresh set. 
  • Inspect your tires for bulges and uneven wear. If you get stuck in the snow, worn tires won't be much help. Worn tire can also create potentially dangerous situations, too, such as a blowout on the road.
  • Keep emergency gear in your car. Make sure you have things like a flashlight, jumper cables, ice scraper, shovel, and snowbrush, windshield wiper fluid, and warning devices (such as flares). Also, consider packing a “winter survival kit” that includes blankets, a bright piece of cloth to tie to your antenna, a flashlight with spare batteries, nonperishable foods, such as candy bars, and waterproof matches.

Snow, ice, and extreme cold can also cause problems for vehicles, especially during snow and ice storms, when driving can become treacherous. When braving the winter weather:  

  • Drive slowly. Let someone know what route you're taking and when you plan to arrive, so they can take action and alert authorities, if you don't get there or are unreasonably delayed. 
  • Consider the road conditions. Driving over the speed limit—or even at normal speed that would be considered unreasonable based on the conditions —can be hazardous, and the extra time you gain isn’t worth the risk. 
  • Avoid ice patches. Avoid icy skids by matching your speed to the road conditions and taking precautions on curves and turns by slowing down in advance. Also, remember that ice patches are particularly common on ramps, bridges, and overpasses, which tend to freeze first. 
  • Slide smart. To bring a sliding car under control, remove your foot from both the accelerator and brake pedals, unless your vehicle has an antilock braking system (ABS). In that case, depress the brake pedal as hard as possible until the vehicle stops moving. Meanwhile, turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front wheels to go and continue steering and counter steering.

Even with the best of precautions, your car may still end up stuck in a snow bank. Above all, don’t panic: try to push the snow out of the way of the wheels, by turning the steering wheel from side to side a few times or digging out with a shovel. Ease forward, keeping a light touch on the gas, and don’t spin the wheels or you’ll dig yourself in deeper. Rock the vehicle, shifting from forward to reverse and back again. If this doesn’t work, use your cell phone to call for help and then wait in your car, because it’s easy to get disoriented in the snow. To stay warm, turn on the motor for 10 minutes every hour for heat, and make sure you have your window open a crack, for fresh air. Check to ensure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe. For best visibility, light two flares and place one at each end of the car, a safe distance away.

For additional tips on driving safely, during winter storms or all year long, MetLife Auto & Home offers “In the Drivers Seat: About Driving Safely,” which is a 12-page booklet that contains information on safe driving basics, including defensive driving, what to do in the event of a car breakdown, and information about air bag and antilock brake systems. It’s available by calling 1-800-638-5433 (1-800-MET-LIFE).

MetLife Auto & Home is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), a leading provider of insurance and financial services with operations throughout the U.S. and the Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific regions. For more information, please visit www.metlife.com


Ted Mitchell