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Driving in Wisconsin snow: How to prepare

Posted at 8:37 AM, Oct 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-30 13:07:48-04

Southeast Wisconsin saw 0.2 inches to 4 inches of snow Monday night, and is expected to get 2 to 5 more inches Wednesday night into Thursday, so the roads may be slick.

Winter driving requires preparation, and it's a good idea to get your car serviced at a local mechanic before winter officially hits.

Check the owner's manual to familiarize yourself with your vehicle's features. Before driving the vehicle, be sure you clear off all snow and ice from windows, sensors and lights.

Here are some tips for keeping your car and yourself safe while traveling in Wisconsin’s winter weather:


Winter tires are highly suggested for winter driving. Ensure your tires have good tread and traction and are properly inflated.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends replacing tires when they reach 2/32 of an inch. To determine if you need new tires, Bridgestone Tire suggests you use the penny test. Place the penny upside down between the treads of your tire, if Lincoln's head is fully visible, it's time to get new tires. You can also use a tire depth gauge.


If your car starts hard, idles rough, stalls or diminishes in power at any point, take your car to a mechanic shop before winter weather settles in. Cold weather could worsen these problems.

Cold weather also takes a toll on car batteries and causes them to not perform as well. At freezing temperatures, a car battery can lose 35 to 60% of its power, according to AAA's Automotive Research Center. Have your battery checked for sufficient voltage, amperage and reserve capacity.

Also, cold weather reduces the driving range for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.


Make sure the cooling system is functioning properly. Check for leaks and make sure there's enough coolant.

Using antifreeze windshield fluid well help clear your windshield if it ices up. Some windshield fluid has a freezing point of -50 degrees. Replace windshield wipers if the blades are worn.

Replace air, fuel and ventilation filters if they are dirty. Dirty filters prevent clean air from reaching the engine, which can reduce air flow and cause engine problems. Also, change your oil and oil filters when needed.

Regular oil and filter changes is one of the most frequently neglected services, but is a necessity in caring for you engine, according to a poll by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

Keep at least half a tank of fuel in your car at all times during the winter months. When fuel tanks are low in the winter, condensation can form in the empty part of the gas tank and then freeze, forming ice blockages in fuel lines.

Be sure your brakes are working sufficiently and that your car has enough brake fluid.


On average, there are 20,000 vehicle crashes during the winter months each year in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Most winter crashes are caused by people driving too fast for conditions. Going slow is an easy way to prevent accidents.

It's important to give yourself extra time to get to your destination during winter months. Don't be in a hurry and drive slow if conditions are poor.

Accelerate and decelerate slowly to avoid sliding or spinning your tires on icy roads. On hills, inertia is your best friend. Applying too much gas or stopping and starting when going uphill can make your wheels spin. Get some inertia going before you reach the hill and let that bring you to the top, slowly.


As always, put the phone down. Distractions when driving can be the difference between life and death.

Never use cruise control during wintry weather because it's easier to lose control of the vehicle.

Watch out for snow plows. The Wisconsin DOT warns to stay at least 200 feet behind snowplows.

Wisconsin state law requires drivers to turn on their vehicle's low-beam headlights any time conditions make it difficult to see objects 500 feet ahead.


Some necessities to have to in your vehicle during the winter months include a flashlight, jumper cables, extra winter clothing, blankets, kitty litter or sand for traction, flares, first aid kit, a phone charger and an ice scraper.

Non-perishable food and water is also suggested.

If something does happen out on the road and you become stranded, stay in your vehicle. It provides the best protection from the elements and other vehicles. Call 911 and follow instructions from the operator. If necessary to stay warm, turn the vehicle on for heat, but do it sparingly if you will be waiting for a long time.