Driving in Winter

Preparing your Car:

  • Winter tires – studless, as studs are now illegal in Japan. Tread should be soft, with many wide rivulets clearly visible.
  • Use low viscosity winter oil. This makes it easier to start your car.
  • Replace wiper blades with snow-blades. Helps in snowstorms.
  • Make sure to carry extra anti-freeze. In addition to its regular uses, it can be added to your wiper fluid to prevent ice from building up on your windshield.
  • Refuel often to guard against condensation in the fuel tank.
  • Do not use your hand break/emergency break when parking – it can seize up and render your car immobile. Just leave the car in gear instead.
  • Keep a small shovel in your car should you get stuck in the snow away from home

Driving in Ice and Snow:

  • When slowing down, especially going downhill, try to use the gears more than the breaks. Down shift slowly, well before stop lights, etc. This is called engine breaking and prevents your tires from slipping. If you do this correctly, you shouldn’t need to use your foot brake at all to stop.
  • When driving uphill, leave a large amount of space between you and the car in front of you so you never have to come to a complete stop.
  • Drive much more slowly than you normally would. Ice and snow seriously reduces your ability to stop.
  • On this note, having 4 wheel drive helps you accelerate but it does nothing to help you stop. I have seen many a 4X4 spun out in the ditch coming back from the mountains.
  • If you must brake suddenly, pump the brake (pushing it up and down rapidly) rather than jamming it. If you do start to slide, take your foot off the brake and try pumping it again. Do not use the handbrake! This will put you in a full slide.
  • If you begin to spin, steer the opposite direction that the car is rotating. If the back of the car is rotating to the left (counter-clockwise), steer right. Conversely, if the back of the car is rotating to the right (clockwise), steer left.
  • Triple your normal following distances. 10 car lengths is the bare minimum.
  • In blizzards and fog, low-beam (dipped lights) give better visibility than high/full beam.
  • In blizzards serious enough that you cannot even see you your own hood/bonnet, slow down but do not stop since following cars may collide into you.
  • If you get stuck in ice or snow, and your wheels are spinning, do not push the accelerator hard. This will dig you in deeper. Instead, try to move the car as slowly as possible, using 2nd or 3rd gear to give you a better chance of gripping. Also try moving to and fro, changing the direction of the wheels, to find some grip. And if all else fails, get out and dig!

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