Blog Car Care Advice Continuous Hard Braking on Ice and Snow (+ Safety Tips)
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Continuous Hard Braking on Ice and Snow (+ Safety Tips)

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What happens if you continue to brake hard on ice and snow?
Continuous hard braking on ice and snow often leads to the locking of the front brake, causing a loss of steering. 

In this article, we’ll examine why brakes lock when braking hard on ice and snow, how to stop safely in ice and snow, six safety tips to navigate winter roads, and how to get your car ready for winter driving

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Let’s get started.

Why Do the Brakes Lock When Braking Hard on Ice and Snow?

When stopping on wet or slippery roads, vehicles without anti-lock brakes (ABS) experience brake lock-up due to loss of traction between the tire tread and the winter road surface.

Picture this:
Your tires are no longer spinning, but keep skidding on the slippery road surface even though you’re pushing the brake pedal as hard as possible. 

This happens because your tires can’t develop the traction needed to stop. After all, there’s nothing for them to grip onto. Also, remember that regular brakes lock up if you stop too hard or too fast.  

If you’re driving a vehicle without antilock brakes and feel the brakes lock, release brake pressure and continuously pump your brakes until you stop moving. 

ABS offers maximum stopping power on slick surfaces by pumping the brakes for you. But even ABS brakes may still lock up on ice, so don’t rely solely on ABS if you drive over icy roads.

Also, during winter, ensure you maintain an appropriate speed to avoid the need for excessive braking. Suddenly changing your vehicle speed is considered harsh driving and isn’t good for your car.    

Now that we know why brakes lock up, let’s find out how to stop in icy and snowy conditions safely.  

How to Stop Safely in Ice and Snow

Hard braking is never the answer when you want to stop safely. 
Here are some things to remember when braking during winter:

A. With ABS

In the snow: 
Without ABS, locked up tires dig into the snow and form a block in front of the tire as it pushes the snow forward. This snow wedge helps your car stop even though it skids. 

However, with antilock brakes, the skid is prevented, and the snow wedge doesn’t form. 
If you brake hard with ABS engaged, you’ll still be able to steer your car — but your stopping distance will increase. 

In snow, you need to stop slowly by softly pushing the brakes to prevent the ABS from kicking in. This creates a shorter braking distance than hard braking. A softer surface requires more delicate braking.

On ice: 
The ABS should aid you with stopping and steering the vehicle on partially icy roads as long as you don’t pump the brakes. 

However, your anti-lock brake system won’t engage when driving on roads coated in ice. It’ll behave as if the vehicle has stopped, and you’ll need to pump the brakes to stop safely.

B. Without ABS 

Manually pumping non-ABS brakes on a slippery road should help you maintain control. Avoid applying quick or steady brake pressure, as this can cause wheel lock up and your car to skid. Instead, gently apply and release pressure at a moderate rate.

Safely stopping is a vital skill every driver must know, but knowing how to drive safely is essential too. Let’s discuss some safe winter driving tips.  

6 Safety Tips to Navigate Winter Roads Like a Pro

Here are six tips you can follow to navigate winter roads with unfavorable conditions safely:

1. Drive Smoothly

Driving smoothly is the best way to drive on snow and ice-covered roads safely. 

Avoid sudden movements like turning the steering wheel aggressively, especially in lanes with oncoming traffic. These actions during freezing temperatures might cause you to lose traction between your tyre and the road’s surface. You might also lose control of your vehicle. 

2. Come to a Gradual Stop

Always gradually slow down when approaching traffic lights or a stop road sign. Take your foot off the gas well ahead of the intersection to avoid using your brakes as much.

Try hitting your brakes less to reduce the risk of rear-ending a vehicle ahead of you (in case you end up skidding), especially in heavy traffic, or sliding at an intersection or stop sign. This also ensures you achieve reasonable braking distance. 

3. Don’t Slam Your Brakes

Slamming your brake pedal can immediately cause you to skid, which could also result in tyre damage. If you feel like you’re getting into a dangerous situation, gradually lift your foot off the accelerator. This should help you regain control of the car.

4. Slow Down

Consider roadway and weather conditions when choosing vehicle speed. Driving too fast gives more opportunities for skidding or sliding and losing control of your car. Going slower gives you more control of your vehicle and more time to react to other drivers and snowy and icy road conditions.

5. Don’t Tailgate

Keep a safe following distance since you need more time to come to a stop on snow and ice. 

In good conditions, keeping at least two seconds of stopping time between you and the car in front of you is recommended. During winter, you should triple the time or increase it more depending on how bad the conditions are.

Important Note: Don’t crowd or travel beside or close behind a snow plow. Snow plows drive slowly, make wide turns, stop often, overlap lanes, and frequently exit the road. Stay far enough behind a snow plow, and use caution if you pass the plow.

6. Use Your Anti Lock Brakes Correctly

Anti lock brakes are an advanced braking system that works with your regular brakes. The ABS automatically pumps your regular brakes. 

Please note that ABS brakes don’t work well on icy road conditions – your wheels can still lock up. Ensure you use the above tips to come to a stop safely, and don’t only rely on your ABS brakes when driving on icy roads.

Before safely navigating ice roads, ensuring your vehicle is up to the task is best. 
Let’s look at how to prepare your car for winter weather.

Getting Your Car Ready for Winter Driving

Just as winter conditions require more care when driving, your vehicle also needs extra care. From adding tire chains to avoiding continuous hard braking, here’s what you need to do to ensure your vehicle is safe to drive in icy conditions:  

1. Check Your Lights

Check your brake lights, headlights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and interior lights. If necessary, also check the lights on your trailer. You always need fully functioning lights to see a road sign or an oncoming vehicle. Your lights ensure that an oncoming vehicle may see you. 

2. Inspect Your Windshield Wipers

You could use a lot of windshield wiper fluid during a snowstorm, so always ensure your reservoir is full of winter fluid (containing de-icer) before freezing temperatures set in. Remember that defrosters and all windshield wipers need to work, and you’ll need to replace the worn blades.

Tip: If your area gets heavy snow and ice, try installing heavy-duty winter wipers.

3. Maintain Your Cooling System

The coolant level in your vehicle needs to meet the manufacturer’s specifications at all times. Read your vehicle owner’s manual for recommendations.

When maintaining your cooling system:

Don’t just visit your mechanic in emergencies. Make an appointment for a tune-up and have them check for leaks, worn-out hoses, or any other parts that require repair and replacement.  

4. Use Snow Chains or Studded Tires During Winter 

Motorists use snow chains or studded tires in countries where heavy snow and ice are more common. 

You can fit the tire chains on your car’s driven wheels. They’ll give you a noisy and bumpy ride, but they’ll also increase your tires’ traction in the snow and ice. You could also switch to snow tires that usually have wider tread gaps and deeper tread depths to help grip snowy roads. 

Studded tires are another option, but these have tiny metal protrusions, which make them more suited to rough tracks than regular roads. However, they are convenient for drivers who’ll cover many miles on a side roadway.

Whatever kind of tires you have (winter tires AKA snow tires, studded tires), pay particular attention to their pressures when road conditions are difficult. One tire at the wrong pressure can unbalance the car and make control more challenging. 

Contrary to popular belief, reducing tire pressure does not give the car a better grip on ice and snow. 

Note: Rear wheel drivers can also follow these tips. Although, there are some extra precautions a rear wheel driver must take to navigate winter weather conditions safely.

Wrapping Up

Continuous hard braking on ice and snow often has many repercussions and should be avoided. Every driver needs to take extra precautions when navigating winter roads. Winter weather leads to dangerous situations like slippery roads and an unfavorable road surface. 

Want to ensure your vehicle is up to par and ready to combat winter conditions?

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