Driving Tips for Colorado Roads This Winter


This post is sponsored by Kane Dulin McQuinn Young.

Colorado’s winters are magical, transforming landscapes into breathtaking sights. But with all that beauty comes the responsibility of driving safely in often challenging conditions. Snowy and icy roads can cause life-changing accidents, so it’s crucial that locals understand how to drive in these conditions. This article will serve as a guide to navigating Colorado’s winter roads.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter

The first step in preparing to drive in Colorado this winter is to get your vehicle ready for the cold season. There are certain maintenance checks that are crucial for avoiding accidents or getting stranded in the cold.

Routine Maintenance Checks

Performing regular maintenance on your car is important year-round, but especially before the winter. Below are some of the components that you should check or have a professional check:

  • Battery: A reliable auto shop can check your battery and let you know if it’s old or starting to wear out. This is key because cold weather can cause batteries to lose power quickly.
  • Tires: Your tire tread and pressure are both very important. Before winter is a great time to upgrade your tires, rotate and align them, or swap in some snow tires. Don’t forget to check the pressure of your spare tire, too.
  • Fluids: It’s important to check your oil, wiper fluid, and antifreeze levels before driving this winter. All of these fluids can be affected by cold weather.
  • Brakes: You need to make sure that your brake pads aren’t worn down too much. Having your brakes fail on a slippery road will increase your chances of a crash.

These are just a few of the most important maintenance checks you should do, but there are plenty more. Your local auto repair shop can help assess and diagnose your car further.

Winter Essentials

Having snow tires or chains can be the difference between life and death if you’re driving in dangerous conditions. Both options have their pros and cons, so do some research and see which seems like a better fit for your car. Either way, the more traction you have on your tires, the better.

Having an emergency kit in your car can also be a huge lifesaver. Make sure to include essentials in your kit such as: blankets, nonperishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, a phone charger, jumper cables, warm clothes, and traction aid such as sand or salt.

Clearing Snow and Ice

Before you begin your drive, you must clear your car of ice and snow. Your windshield is your viewpoint of the road, and if your visibility is decreased, you are more likely to end up in an accident.

Start by turning on your car and your defrosters, letting them run for a few minutes while they defog your windshield. Next, use a snow brush to remove snow from the roof of your car, as well as the windows, hood, side mirrors, headlights, taillights, and license plate. You want to start from the top because if you do the roof last, you will knock more snow onto the rest of your car.

If there is ice on your car, use an ice scraper to remove it. Just make sure not to turn on or tug frozen windshield wipers. If you forgot to lift your wipers up before a snowstorm, just use your ice scraper to chip away around them, and let the defrosters do their job. Finally, do not use hot water to melt the ice on your car. Hot water added to cold glass can cause the glass to shatter.

Winter Driving Techniques

Certain driving techniques are more beneficial in the winter months. Due to snow and ice, the roads change their texture and your tires respond differently.

Acceleration, Braking, & Steering

Accelerating on snow or ice is different than accelerating in other weather conditions. To accelerate safely, apply gentle pressure to the gas pedal. Move slower than you normally would, and don’t hit the gas hard all at once. If you do, the wheels could lose their traction and you could start to spin. It’s the same for braking – you want to use light, gentle pressure.

For turns, you again want to drive slower than normal. Gently using the brakes before you begin your turn will reduce your chances of skidding. There are driving classes available that teach advanced techniques such as how to skid safely. Consider finding classes in your area for you to brush up on your skills. If you have children of driving age, you can make it a family event.

Understanding and Reacting to Skids

Sometimes, skidding is unavoidable. There are times when you need to drive down an icy road, and even at a slow speed you can’t help but skid. In these scenarios, it’s important to know the best way to ride out the skid safely.

There are a few different types of skids that occur for different reasons. Each type of skid will determine how you should react to it.

  1. Understeer: This is also called front-wheel skidding, and is the most common type of skid in front-wheel drive vehicles. Accelerating or braking too fast when turning can prevent your front tires from getting enough traction on the ground, causing an understeer skid. To get through it, stay calm and focus on a target further down the road where you want to be. As soon as you feel the front tires lock up and slide, gradually ease off the gas and gently tap the brakes. Don’t touch the steering wheel. Once you feel the wheels regain traction, slowly proceed in the direction you want to go.
  2. Oversteer: Also called rear-wheel skidding, an oversteer skid is common in rear-wheel drive cars. It happens when the brakes are pushed too hard, especially during a turn. If the back wheels lose traction and you have rear-wheel drive, take your foot off the gas first. If you have front-wheel drive, stop using the brake and gently accelerate instead, turning the wheel slowly towards the direction the back of your car is swinging.
  3. Spin-Out: This is when your car spins in a full circle, and is the scariest type of skid. You will have little to no control over your car’s direction when this occurs, but remember to stay calm and don’t brake hard. Instead, slowly take your foot off the gas so your tires can try and gain traction once the spin stops. If you have ABS (anti-lock braking system), pump the brakes so they don’t lock up. Your tires will eventually stop spinning, at which time you can slowly and carefully pull off the road. After this type of scary situation, it’s best to take a breath and reassess your surroundings before you continue driving.

Stay Back or Stay Off

Photo by Vera_Petrunina via CanvaPro

If you plan to drive in the snow, make sure to keep a larger gap than normal between you and the cars around you. Snow and ice can greatly slow down braking, and it’s not hard to slide into a car nearby. Ideally, watch weather advisories and head warnings; if you can avoid driving in bad weather conditions, even better. Local Denver car accident attorneys recommend staying off snowy roads if you can avoid it, or staying far away from other cars if you can’t.

Road Choices

No matter how safe your driving is, if a road is too dangerous to drive on, there’s not much you can do. Your safety begins when you choose your route. It’s important to check the weather and traffic reports and be aware of local snowplow routes. Usually, busier roads and highways will be maintained more than side streets.

Colorado Safety Laws

There are actually certain laws in Colorado that apply to driving in the winter. When in effect, the “passenger traction law” dictates that two-wheel passenger vehicles must have all-weather or mud and snow tires with proper tread or chains. Violating this law can result in fines, particularly if the violation results in the closure of a lane. Law enforcement can also prohibit you from any further travel if your car does not meet regulations.

Remember to check out the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) website to see current road conditions. If you do need to drive this winter, be sure to prepare your vehicle and stay updated on proper driving techniques. Driving safely in the winter is not just vital for your own health and safety, but for the other drivers around you too.

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Sarah McGinnity
Sarah is owner of Denver Mom Collective and is passionate about encouraging and connecting moms - we weren't meant to do this alone! She graduated from Kansas State (Go Cats!) in journalism, worked for newspapers and for several marketing departments, and eventually got her master's in urban administration. Sarah and her husband Shea have four kids - Henry (11), Clark (8), Lucy (7) and Caroline (the dessert baby). She enjoys reading historical fiction, beating her kids at board games and traveling as much as possible.


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