Driving in winter weather isn’t optional for HVAC & Refrigeration techs
A list of tips for driving in winter weather usually begins with: “Stay home! Don’t go out unless you have to.”
It’s easy to understand why. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Winter storms, bad weather, and sloppy road conditions are a factor in nearly half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every year.”
Unfortunately, if you’re an HVAC or Refrigeration service technician responding to an emergency call, staying home is not an option.
There are many reasons why you must pay attention to safe driving. Your own safety, for starters. But also, you risk your employer’s vehicle and reputation if you get into an accident that you could have avoided. And if that happens, your customer is not going to get their heat or refrigeration system fixed anytime soon, which can lead to lost business. That’s bad for everybody.
Here are some tips that can prevent the worst from happening due to winter weather and driving in icy conditions.
Driving in winter: tips before you head out
Get your head in the game
Being alert and mentally prepared for driving in winter is just as important as all the other preparation tips we share in this article.
Have a quick cup of coffee if you need to. And if you’re on call, avoid drinking alcohol in case you do need to drive. Even one drink can inhibit your focus, judgment, reaction time, and coordination. You need all of those skills, and all your wits about you, to drive in winter weather safely.
Make sure you’re properly dressed with warm clothing, socks, a hat, and gloves. Yes, you expect to be warm in your truck, but if you get stuck you will need those warm clothes.
Carry tools and emergency supplies
By the time November rolls around, you should always keep the following in your truck in case you experience vehicle problems or get stuck due to ice and snow:
- Snow shovel and ice scraper
- Broom to help clear snow off the roof
- Salt, sand, or cat litter for traction on icy roads
- Blanket in case you’re stuck in the cold for a while
- Jumper cables
- Flares and a flashlight
- Extra set of wiper blades and wiper fluid
It’s also a great idea to grab a snack and some water to take with you.
Check and prep your vehicle
Even if your employer is maintaining your truck periodically, it’s smart to double check the following regularly so you’re not driving an unsafe vehicle in bad weather:
- Condition of tires (tread)
- Tire pressure (which can drop in cold temperatures)
- Battery life
- Wiper fluid level
- Condition of wiper blades
If you do need to head out on a cold and stormy day, always take a few minutes to warm up your vehicle before you head out. And be sure you have at least half a tank of gas to prevent the fuel line from freezing.
Don’t neglect properly clearing snow and ice from the vehicle, including windshields and all windows, top of vehicle, side mirrors, the exhaust pipe, the rear view camera lens, and the ABS sensors.
Tips for avoiding accidents when driving on icy roads
This is not the time to talk on the phone or listen to music while you drive. And don’t even think about texting. All your attention must be focused on the road.
Turn on your lights
Even in daytime, and even if the precipitation has stopped. Doing so helps other drivers to see you on snow and ice-covered roads.
You know this but it bears repeating! When you drive slower, you have more time to stop if something unexpected happens.
Increase following distance
Increase your following distance to at least 3 car lengths, or 8 to 10 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you. Again, this gives you more time to react if the vehicle ahead of you stops suddenly or loses control.
Use lower gear
Switching to a lower gear gives you more traction on slippery roads.
Accelerate and decelerate slowly
If you stomp on the accelerator, you’re more likely to skid. This is especially important when climbing a hill. The same is true for decelerating: slowly take your foot off the gas to reduce speed.
Try to slow down well before you need to stop by taking your foot off the accelerator. In fact, it’s best to avoid using the brakes at all if you can. If the road is empty, slow down when you approach a red light, and you might be able to coast at a slow speed until it turns green. When you must brake, apply the brakes slowly and don’t pump anti-lock brakes (ABS). With ABS, you’ll feel a vibration which might seem alarming but is completely normal. Keep an even pressure on the brakes until you come to a stop. Also, try to avoid stopping on a hill if at all possible.
Avoid passing snowplows
A little patience pays off in this situation. Driving a safe distance behind the plow, even though you must slow down, is about the safest place you can be on an ice-covered road.
Never use cruise control
Chances are, you don’t get much opportunity to use cruise control in the city. However, this advice is important enough to include anyway. If your vehicle skids in cruise control, you may not know soon enough to react in time.
What to do if you lose control of the vehicle
Here’s the best advice we found, from professional driving instructors:
“If your rear wheels lock up, take your foot off of the accelerator, turn your steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to go, apply steady pressure to anti-lock brakes or gently pump standard brakes.
“If your front wheels lock up, allow the steering wheel to turn freely, remove your foot from the accelerator, shift into neutral, then slowly begin to steer the vehicle as it slows down from turning.
“The best thing to keep in mind if you lose control of your vehicle on an icy road is the importance of not making any sudden maneuvers. Allow your vehicle to slow down before attempting to regain control.”
What to do if you get stuck
If you have an accident or otherwise get stuck during bad winter weather, here’s what you must do to stay safe until help arrives.
- Stay with your vehicle
- Set flares around your truck and turn on the interior light
- Don’t overexert yourself to conserve body heat
- Don’t stay in a running vehicle for too long with the windows up (so you don’t get carbon monoxide poisoning). Periodically turn the engine on for a short time to get warm, then turn it off.
- Clear the tailpipe of snow & ice (again to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide in the truck).