As the weather begins to turn cold, lots of automotive blogs publish winter driving guides. It’s admirable. Looking out for your readership is a good thing, and keeping them informed sometimes treads a fine line between the painfully obvious and surprising. If you want to read a general “how to drive in winter” guide, this isn’t it. All you have to do is Google it, man! But as the weather turns chilly, some areas are more dangerous than others. It’s easy to understand: Northern areas that are used to snow and ice have been dealing with driving in that junk forever. It’s second nature. Bu when it snows down here in the South (North Carolina, for me) it’s like the apocalypse and the second coming of God and Lord Cthulu rising from the great beyond all at the same time.

So, this is a general guide for preparing yourself for driving in snow, in the South. It doesn’t come often, but when it does, you better be ready.

Keep Up With Maintenance, Obviously.

This applies to everyone that experiences cold weather. Everything in a vehicle works differently in cold weather, and you need to make sure everything’s in ship-shape before the cold weather hits. If not, you could put yourself and your vehicle at risk. This is a no-no. So obviously, maintenance is the starting point.

  • » Check your tire pressure! Air contracts in cold weather. In fact, you lose about 1 psi for every ten degrees. So if you filled your tires up in July when it was 80 degrees out to 35psi, and now it’s 30 degrees out, you’ve probably only got 30psi in there -- or less if you have a slow leak, which most people do.
  • » Check your cooling system. Coolant with anti-freeze is a must if you’re in a cold area, so it’s probably time to drain the radiator full of tap water you’ve been running on. Check the condition of all the lines, as well as the operation of the thermostat. A thermostat stuck open will prevent your engine from ever getting up to operating temperature, forming sludge deposits, as well as leaving you shivering in the interior. Make sure your fans are kicking on, and the fan clutch is operating (if applicable.) Make sure the coolant isn’t worn out, and it’s the right mixture and type.
  • » Check your battery. A battery has to work a lot harder in the cold to crank over your throbbing monster V8, so if it’s iffy in the summer, chances are it’s dead in the winter.
  • » Check obvious things. Do your windshield wipers work? Does your rear defroster work? Are your anti-lock brakes working? Is your serpentine belt making a sound like a cat in a blender? Fix this stuff now before you’re sitting in your car trying to go to work in a blizzard and you can’t see.

Remember that 4WD or AWD does not make you a driving God.

Big problem with southerners in the snow -- they think that their Jeep Cherokee or Subaru Outback makes them immune to the perils of snow. Oh, really? That’s cool. What does 4WD do? It splits the engine’s available power up between 4 contact patches, instead of just 2. That’s all. Nothing in there about it splitting up the available lateral adhension, or decelerating traction. In other words, when you pin the throttle open on your WRX and cross the intersection spewing 10′ rooster tails in the air, remember that your AWD is not going to help you stop in time to not slide into the Dodge Caravan stopped at the light down the hill.

Get Snow Tires*

*only if you plan to drive on the snowy roads before they get plowed, or if you live in an area where the roads don’t get plowed. Although it’s still a good idea for reasons explained below.

Back to southerners and their belief in the power of 4WD. The primary determining factor in whether you can go, turn, or stop is traction. 4WD splits your power up among more contact patches, but more important than that are the contact patches themselves. The all-season or summer tires on your car haven’t been designed to work in snow. They don’t get grip when the treads are packed with snow, the tread compound is usually too hard to get a bite in snow, and the tread depth is usually too shallow to be useful in snow. If you need to get to work before the plows clear the road, get a good set. While living in Pittsburgh, my family had great luck with the Bridgestone Blizzak series snow tires.

Another thing -- even if you are going to wait until the plow clears the road, consider this: every tire has an “ideal operating temperature range.” This means the tread compound is designed to work between certain temperatures. Summer tires are the grippiest when they’re hot, which doesn’t happen in the winter. These, as well as most all-season tires, become rock-hard in winter weather. Hard tires = no grip. So remember that it’s not just precipitation that affects winter traction, it’s also temperature.

Know your car!

I hardly need to say this to CarThrottle readers, who are a pretty well-informed bunch, but you should know the machinery you’re operating. Is your car front, rear, or 4WD? If it’s 4WD, is it full-time or part-time? Does it have a transfer case? What’s the weight distribution, and how does that cause your car to react to snow? A 911 is a good snow car, as is a Saab 900 -- but they behave almost opposite in snow. Do you have ABS? Traction control? Stability control?

Know how to drive in snow. Practice if needed.

This is what big, empty parking lots are for. If you’re unfamiliar with the white stuff, go find and empty parking lot and see what your car does. There are far less expensive things to run into in an empty parking lot than on the road. You’d probably rather mess up and hop a curb, than mess up and hop a Miata.

Remember the snow basics. Brake lightly and early to avoid wheel lockup. Keep a constant pace. Momentum is your friend. Triple or quadruple your following distances, judged on your available traction. Don’t take hills from a dead stop. Don’t late-brake. Park the GTO in the garage.

Most Important: Watch out for idiots that didn’t read this guide.

Biggest problem with winter driving in the south? The other people that have no idea what they’re doing. It’s not like snow driving requires the brain of a rocket surgeon*. It’s just that most people have no idea, and furthermore, have no idea that they have no idea. They just jump on the road in their RX400h and hit the gas. It’s scary.

They’ll tailgate you. They’ll spin their X5 around backwards in the intersection. They’ll run over stuff because they’re not paying attention. They’ll get stuck because they forgot to shift their Grand Cherokee Overland Hemi into 4WD. There’s bound to be a redneck in a lifted diesel truck with 5″ stacks doing donuts in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Keep an eye out. Because once you’ve got the basics of winter driving down, you’ll find it’s really not that hard. What is hard is anticipating the moronic actions of the other people you share the road with.

And finally, consider this if you’re thinking about driving in the snow in the south: is what you’re aiming to do really that important? Because even if you drive perfect, the likelyhood of some dork in a Jeep plowing into your driver’s door is significantly higher than if the roads weren’t snowy.

And if you needed a guy on how to do it right; hopefully this helps. Happy driving y’all, just keep these tips in mind and keep the shiny side up!