Safe Driving During Winter

Risks of Winter Driving in Sacramento

In most parts of the United States, safe winter driving involves careful navigation of snow, ice, and strong, bitter winds. Engine additives, tire chains, and bags of salt or sand in the trunk are necessary to be prepared for any winter-related incident. In the Sacramento Valley, however, winter is more of a chilly rainy season than anything else. Quick drizzles can shift to torrential downpours and back, fog can come and go, and ice may appear in patches all within one commute. Although massive amounts of snow in Sacramento are never on the radar, winter driving here comes with its own risks and dangers.

Winter is wetter than ever. Pleasant and sunny weather dominates most of the year in Sacramento, with the occasional scorching days in summer and cooler days in the early spring and late fall. Nine months out of the year see less than an inch of rain on average, and storms are infrequent. From December through February, however, the winter season adds on about three times more rain and temperatures nearing freezing or slightly below. For drivers unused to so much rain, the newly-slick roads and visibility can be a little difficult to handle at first.

Tule fog can make drivers blind on the roads. Tule fog is a thick fog that settles on the ground after the first big rainfall from late fall to early spring in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys in California. This is not your average foggy day that makes drivers a little uneasy. Tule fog can cut visibility down from 500 feet to, well, pretty much nothing. To make matters worse on the road, it can come and go and vary widely, which makes it nearly impossible for drivers to predict when and where they will be suddenly driving blind through an angry white cloud on the highway. It’s no surprise that tule fog is the leading cause of weather-related automobile accidents in California, and the highways frequently see crashes or large pile-ups when it is at its worst. If that wasn’t bad enough, freezing drizzle is often seen in tule fog as well, which can lead to…

…patches of invisible black ice. Winter weather in Sacramento is often right on the brink of freezing. The cold drizzle that often accompanies tule fog frequently forms invisible layers of black ice that quickly form on roadways. Black ice is very thin and very slick, and drivers usually don’t even know they’ve driven over a patch until they begin to lose control. When visibility is already limited by the fog, black ice causes plenty of accidents in Sacramento during the winter months.

Driver inexperience causes accidents everywhere. Anyone who has lived in Sacramento for a couple years or more are already well-aware of the dangers of driving in tule fog and the slick roads that often accompany the winter rainy season. When beautiful, pleasant weather is the average for the entire autumn, however, many drivers still begin the perilous drives in the winter with speeding and tailgating, making the fog, rain, and ice that much more treacherous. Many first time drivers in the area underestimate these phenomena as well, and accidents are caused every year by reckless driving in dangerous conditions.

Remember, if you obey the speed limits, leave safe distance between cars in traffic, and adjust your driving to the weather, you and your car will make it to see the spring. In addition, adding weight to the back end of your vehicle and making sure your tires are ready for the winter months will allow you to slide less and keep more control on the roads, whether driving on a slow city road or on the highway with quickly-paced traffic.

How to Maintain Your Car During Winter Months

Once cold temperatures begin knocking at your door, driving comes with its own unique hazards. Winter brings slick roads, potholes, poor visibility, and a whole range of problems with the inner machinery of your vehicle. While making one of the many road trips of the holiday season, car trouble is the worst case scenario, but there are easy precautions that can be taken to assure that she continues running smooth until spring comes.

  • Keep the tires happy. Tire pressure begins to drop when the temperature does, so it is important to keep them at the correct PSI for optimal handling on icy roads. Deflated tires will also make it easier to get stuck in the snow, so continue checking your tires throughout the winter. If you live in a climate with long winters and heavy snowfall or ice, picking up snow tire chains could be a life-saver.
  • Check the car battery. Even if you have a brand new battery, the first cold snap can often lead to begging strangers for a jump since the cranking amperage begins to decline with the temperature. If you are sure your battery is in good shape, it still can’t hurt to get a quick-and-easy diagnostic test to double-check. Bette safe than sorry!
  • Keep the trunk weighted. If you meet a lot of icy roads on your commute, it is essential to add some weight to the back of your vehicle to help keep from sliding and regain control more quickly if you do. A good trick is placing a few large bags of salt or sand in the trunk since having one of these can also come in handy if you get stuck in the snow and need some traction behind the back tires.
  • Prepare for freezing cars. When the temperature becomes freezing and most days find snow or ice, there are steps you should take if your car is often outside and vulnerable to the weather. Picking up a lock de-icer and slipping it in your purse or coat pocket could save you a lot of trouble after an ice storm. Just don’t leave it in your car, or it won’t do you much good. Realizing your windshield wiper blades need to be replaced in the middle of a blizzard is also a scenario everyone should avoid, so check those as well!
  • Warming up your car. Most people warm up their cars in the cold weather by turning it on and letting it idle for fifteen minutes. The truth is that properly warming up the engine is a little more complicated than that. Letting the car idle warms up some mechanisms of the engine, but many parts won’t engage until gasoline begins flowing and the car starts moving. After only a minute or two of idling the car, it’s a good idea to actually just begin driving and letting the entire engine come back to life. Just make sure you don’t start off too fast and avoid highways for the first five minutes or so if possible.
  • Prepare for an emergency. Perhaps the most important thing you can do while preparing your vehicle for the winter months is to have a game plan and preparations if you get stranded. Think of the worst case scenario, probably getting trapped in a snow bank for hours until help arrives, and think about what you would need in that situation. For example, a blanket or two and some extra mittens, socks, jackets, and scarves are always a good idea. Many people also add flashlights, hand warmers, and bottled water and crackers to the emergency kit as well. When it comes to winter driving, it is always better to be safe than sorry. How to prepare your car for winter

The winter months in Sacramento are surprisingly mild compared to most of the country, where winter driving involves careful navigation of snow, ice, and bitter winds. In the Sacramento Valley, however, winter is described well as a rainy season with occasional plunges in temperature. The weather between December and February is capricious, with drizzles becoming torrential downpours and cold, blinding fog forming ice in patches all on one road. Blizzards won’t attack morning commuters, but winter driving here comes with its own risks and being prepared can save drivers plenty of headaches.

Make sure the tires can keep traction on slippery roads. For the occasional rainy weather, just maintaining proper tire pressure and tread depth is enough to keep them handling the road with ease. If you want to be extra safe during this rainy season, however, certain wet-weather tires can make driving in the thick fog, drizzles, and slick icy roads much more manageable. To help with driving in the “Sacramento winter” conditions, wet weather tires are usually made from a softer rubber compound and have deep circumferential grooves, which trap and wick water off the tires as they rotate. The part of the tire that meets the road, called the contact patch, is normally narrower on wet-weather tires to reduce the surface area of the tire in contact with the slick surface.

Get a free diagnostic test to check the car battery. The first cold day in Sacramento where the temperature drops below freezing, you’ll notice a lot of people asking for a jumpstart. This is because the cranking amperage of car batteries begins to decline as the temperature drops, and for many batteries it can decrease to a level below what’s necessary to start the car. Even if you are sure your battery is in good shape, it still can’t hurt to get a quick-and-easy diagnostic test to double-check. Many automotive repair and parts shops will do this for free in the hopes that you need to buy a new battery from them, so there’s no reason not to check and save yourself a headache down the road.

Keep the trunk weighted to help resist sliding. The tule fog in the Sacramento Valley is often accompanied by freezing drizzle, which will quickly form patches of black ice on the road. In order to resist tail spinning and sliding, it is a smart idea to add weight to the back of your vehicle to help maintain and regain control more quickly if you slide. Keeping bags of salt in the trunk can serve a dual purpose too in case you need to give your tires a bit of extra traction on icy streets.

Anticipate trouble before it happens. A lot of difficulties can happen while on the road in the middle of dense tule fog and freezing rain, but many of these headaches can be avoided before they happen. Having functioning windshield wiper blades is often an overlooked detail until the first big rain has drivers pulled onto the shoulder, and making sure your wipers work can maintain visibility during the first big downpour. Having a spare tire, working jack, and a tool kit is always a “must” while on the road, and especially during hostile weather. Also, on the off-chance that a particularly freezing and wet day leaves your car encased in ice, keeping a lock de-icer on hand can save you from being locked out of your car.

Prepare for emergencies if the car becomes stuck. If a patch of ice sends the car into a ditch or the engine breaks down on the highway, it helps to be prepared during the long and possibly cold wait. A blanket, a hat, and a pair of gloves can help keep you warm on the occasional day when the temperature drops below freezing. Bottled water and some small non-perishable snack can also come in handy if you become stranded for long periods of time. Many drivers will also be safe and pack flashlights, first aid kits, an anything else that may be needed during a small accident. Even in Sacramento, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to winter driving.

What Types of Tires are Best to Use During Winter in Sacramento?

In the majority of North America, the winter months bring freezing temperatures, blizzards, freezing rain, sleet, snow, and even hail. Roads become covered in snow or slick with ice and cars often become encased in a frozen tomb. However, December through February in the Sacramento Valley is best described as a winter rainy season with occasional drops in temperature close to freezing, rather than a frozen apocalypse of snow. Sacramento winters are unpredictable at best, with freezing drizzles quickly morphing into torrential downpours and back in a single commute, and all within a dense layer of tule fog that blankets the valley. Getting stuck in a snowbank is highly unlikely in Sacramento, but their winter weather comes with its own set of perils and difficulties for drivers. Navigating these roads can be a lot safer with the right set of wet-weather tires to maintain control and arrive at your destination safely.

Features of Wet-Weather Tires

Tires that really do a great job keeping maximum control on slick, wet roads have several features that make them safer for these conditions than your standard tires. Depending on the manufacturer of the tire, each set of wheels can be made of a different type of rubber polymer depending on their intended use. Most tires that are specialized for wet, rainy weather like that found in Sacramento are made of a softer rubber compound than your standard tires, which hold onto the road better when traction is reduced from rain or ice.

The grooves and contact patches of wet-weather tires are manufactured a little differently as well. The circumferential grooves of the tire are the long treads that wrap around the outside of the tire and form the iconic tire tracks we see. When tires are designed for improved control in rainy weather, the circumferential grooves are often deeper. This traps water and wicks it away from the tire while driving, which allows for better traction overall. The contact patches are the rubber squares that meet the surface of the road, so basically the opposite of the circumferential grooves. These patches form the structure of your tire and form all of the contact between your vehicle and the road. On wet roads, it is beneficial to reduce the surface area of the tire that contacts the road, so wet-weather tires often have narrower contact patches. This reduces the risk of hydroplaning, where the vehicle basically leaves contact with the pavement and severely loses steering and braking control.

Which Tires Should You Buy for Sacramento Winters?

There are plenty of different types of tires, but the most common ones to find are summer tires (your standard tires, also called three-season tires), snow tires, and all-season tires. In Sacramento, large amounts of snow are almost never on the radar, so snow tires would be unnecessary and actually decrease performance on the road. Most cars come already equipped with summer tires, although many drivers prefer all-season tires, often abbreviated “A/S.” So when the rainy season begins in the Sacramento Valley, which tires would you prefer?

Both of these tires handle mild climates well, and both can be used year-round except in severely snowy or icy conditions. All-season tires handle well and provide good traction on the road in most weather and pavement varieties, and can even navigate over light snow and ice if the driver is careful enough. However, most seasoned drivers of the rainy season prefer the regular summer tires, which are already manufactured for enhanced performance when the roads are wet. If you look at your car, you will likely see the deeper circumferential grooves and narrow contact patches already in place to maintain control on rainy roads, and the soft rubber polymer used to produce them allows for solid traction and grip on the road. Most tires will serve you well in Sacramento, but the rainy winter season calls for summer tires to best maintain control and maneuverability on the road.

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