By all accounts, this winter looks like it might be one for the record books. We just got our first snow in Kansas City and it’s always interesting to see what happens with driving. Kansas City gets snow regularly in the winter, but you still find those who look like they live in Texas and it’s the first time they’ve ever seen snow fall. With that we are going to talk about traveling in winter weather conditions. There are plenty of areas in the country that never get snow, but maybe you are interested in traveling north for some winter camping. (Lots of fun in my opinion) Maybe you have a holiday you are traveling for in the coming months and you know weather might not be ideal. Maybe you are just getting started doing more vehicle-dependent exploring and you don’t know anything about traveling in the winter weather.

Exterior Vehicle Considerations

Let’s talk about your vehicle condition. If you are traveling for a trip or even just to and from work, you should keep your vehicle in its best mechanical condition. When the weather dips to sub 20s it’s not the time to be stranded. If your vehicle has obvious repairs or replacements to be completed, you should get them done. Murphy will show up when you really don’t need him as a visitor. A couple examples might be checking the vehicle’s battery health prior to weather change. A healthy battery is able to maintain a charge and supply the needed power to start a vehicle and run accessories. Inspect the vehicle for leaking hoses, mechanical problems, and ensure 4-wheel drive engages. Snow tires, depending on state laws of operation, can be added to the vehicle. They provide better traction in winter weather conditions. Snow chains are also great for providing better traction in the snow. Snow chains may be regulated differently per state, so make sure you check local and state laws before adding these to your vehicle. If hitting the trails, make sure you have your winch in working order. 


Interior Vehicle Considerations

Your vehicle should have the proper items for traveling in winter weather conditions. Tools such as a broom, shovel, and ice scrapers are invaluable when dealing with snowbanks and snow and ice covering your vehicle. Brooms are great for quickly cleaning off snow from the hood and windshield of the vehicle. Ice scrapers make quick work of ice on windshields. Keep recovery gear in the vehicle should you need it. This includes kinetic ropes, shackles, tree savers, and static tow straps. Traction boards work in the snow. I have unstuck numerous people by using traction boards. If you are traveling to and from work in your daily commuter you might consider sand and kitty litter as a source for traction on mild ice and slick, packed snow. Items you should keep regularly in your vehicle such as jumper cables, cellular telephone chargers, and flashlights are even more important in winter weather conditions. 


Make sure you have items to sustain you if become stranded. Blankets, hand warmers, food, water, and any prescription medicine needed with additional doses should put placed in the vehicle for the winter months. Remember liquids, such as water bottles, should be taken in and out to keep them from freezing and busting. 

Communication gets talked about quite often on this page and of course this article is no different. If you are out on the trails, make sure you take some means to communicate with others if you need assistance. Amateur Radio, SatCom, SatPhone, cellular telephone, or other communication devices are great, and each have their strengths. The one you need will be the one someone can receive a message from you and possibly ask further questions if they need more information. What that is can vary on where you are and who is listening.

Vehicle Operation

If you are wheeling or exploring back country in winter weather, don’t go alone. Having help and an additional vehicle can provide more resources and options should there be an issue with one vehicle.


Understand how to operate your vehicle’s traction controls, all-wheel drive, 4×4 engagement, and other features to have better use and control of the vehicle. If you can not get traction in two-wheel drive it would be important to understand how to engage the differential for the vehicle to provide more traction. Traction control is becoming more standard on modern vehicles. When traction is lost power is diverted to another wheel to maintain the ability to move the vehicle forward. In some cases, it reduces power to prevent the vehicle from continuing to accelerate and lose control. You also should know how to disengage traction control if you find yourself stuck in the snow. This provides full engine power to the wheels and keeps the ABS from engaging and diverting power away from the wheel with loss of traction.

Don’t be in a hurry when on roads, highways, or trails with snow/ice on them. Taking your time gives you more control. Reducing your speed assists in braking. The coefficient of friction for asphalt and concrete can vary between .7 to .9. A road or trail with packed snow or ice can be reduced to .1 to .2 coefficient of friction. On dry concrete at the speed of 55 mph you can come to a stop within 145 feet. With snow it takes approximately 340 feet, and 675 feet for ice. This does not include your perception/reaction time for daylight and nighttime, which adds 1.5 to 2.5 seconds of travel. When traveling at 55 MPH cover 80 feet per second. So slow down.

Remember, 4×4 and all wheel drive helps hurry you to the ditch. It does not provide extra grip to the roadway for turning and braking. These give you forward momentum and some correcting ability, but sliding is linear. Once your vehicle’s front tires lose rolling friction the vehicle will continue with forward momentum until an equal or opposing force is applied to it. Newton’s first law of the Laws of Motion. 

Winter is one of my favorite times of the year. Let’s make sure we and our vehicles are prepared to travel in the winter weather. 

Plan, Prep, Explore