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Debunked: The 10 Biggest Winter Driving Myths

The winter season brings with it many familiar (and unwanted) driving traditions: Dark commutes thanks to shorter days with less sunlight, the morning routine of clearing snow and ice from your windshield, and driving through the occasional winter whiteout.

To help drivers navigate the challenges that come along with cold, ice and snow, there’s no shortage of winter driving tips. But unfortunately, not everything you’ll hear is really advice worth following.

To help you separate fact from fiction, here’s the truth behind 10 of the biggest winter driving myths.

  1. You should warm up your car before driving in cold weather.
    It’s long been said that letting your car idle for a while before driving is good for your engine. But while it’s no fun getting into a freezing-cold car during the winter months, the practice of warming up your vehicle can do more harm than good.

    Not only does warming up your car waste fuel and create unnecessary exhaust emissions, but extended idling does nothing to benefit your engine. According to Consumer Reports, your car’s engine is fully lubricated after less than a minute of idling. And the fastest way to warm up your vehicle is by getting behind the wheel and driving. Anything else is just a waste of time and money.

  2. Letting air out of your tires will improve traction.
    Don’t fall for the old advice of letting a little air out of your tires to create better traction. Your car’s tires were designed to be inflated to a specific pressure (measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI). Keeping them underinflated won’t give your wheels better traction. In fact, it may actually make it harder to stop.

    To find your car’s recommended tire inflation pressure, look for a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb or in your owner’s manual. And remember to regularly check your tire pressure during the winter months – since dropping temperatures lead to lower tire pressure.

  3. Four-wheel drive makes it safe to drive in the snow.
    There’s no doubt that owning a vehicle with four-wheel or all-wheel drive can carry a definite advantage when driving in snow or ice. But it’s not a silver-bullet for winter driving. That’s because safe winter driving relies more on having the right tires and developing good driving habits.

    Know your limitations as a driver, and don’t let overconfidence or overestimating your vehicle’s capability get you into a dangerous situation. Even if your car is equipped with four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, traction control, winter tires or other safety features, never let good judgment and smart driving be swept aside by a false sense of security provided by vehicle technology.

  4. Pouring hot water on your windshield makes ice melt fast.
    On the surface, it makes sense that hot water would be an easy way to melt a frozen windshield. But pouring hot water on ice-cold glass is usually just a recipe for broken glass. Plus, the puddle it leaves behind can lead someone to suffer a nasty spill. If you’re looking for a better way to thaw your frozen car, check out these 14 Hacks to Deal with Snow and Ice on Your Car.
  5. You don’t really need winter tires.
    The popularity of modern “all-season” tires has led many to assume that winter tires are no longer necessary. But the truth is, you’ll always get better traction in cold, ice and snow from a set of dedicated winter tires.

    Sometimes referred to as snow tires, winter tires feature a more aggressive tread pattern and different rubber compounds that remain more pliable when freezing temperatures hit. While they do require a seasonal tire change, winter tires remain the safest solution when driving in places where the temperatures drop below 45 degrees during the winter months. To help find the tires that are right for your vehicle, check out our Ultimate Guide to Buying Tires.

  6. There’s nothing you can do about black ice.
    There are plenty of stories that tell of the dangers of black ice. And it’s universally feared for good reason: Because unlike snow and sleet, black ice can be practically invisible to an unsuspecting driver.

    But just because black ice is often invisible doesn’t mean you’re rendered helpless if you encounter it. If you find yourself on black ice, maintain your speed and don’t suddenly apply the brakes or gas pedal. Then, turn your steering wheel into the skid until you regain control of the vehicle. Once that happens, steer your car in the direction you want to go.

    Remember: Gentle control inputs from both the steering wheel and pedals can help prevent a spin – even on black ice.

  7. Pump your brakes when stopping on ice.
    This myth is so pervasive, we have an entire blog post dedicated to it. But if your vehicle has an antilock braking system (ABS) – and nearly every modern car does – you don’t need to pump the brakes when driving on slippery roads.

    Today’s advanced ABS systems are far better at helping your car regain traction than you could ever hope to do on your own. If you try to stop on an icy surface, your vehicle will activate ABS automatically by pulsating the brakes as soon as the system detects a wheel skidding. Just firmly press your foot on the brake and maintain steady pressure. You’ll feel the brake pedal pulsate and the ABS light will flash on the instrument panel.

  8. Emergency kits aren’t necessary for urban drivers.
    Sure, the thought of having a fully stocked emergency kit in the trunk makes sense for rural drivers who rarely travel in densely populated areas. But it’s often said that emergency kits aren’t necessary when you live in a more urban area.

    Unfortunately, that’s just not true. If you’re trapped in a winter storm, it could take a tow truck hours to reach your location. And extreme winter weather could make it unsafe to walk to a nearby store or residence. For those reasons, it’s important to carry an emergency kit along with you –  no matter where you live or drive.

  9. Winter car washes are a waste of money.
    We can all appreciate the benefits of driving a clean, shiny car in the summer. But keeping your car clean during the winter months is a tougher task.

    Because your freshly washed car can get dirty again as soon as you exit the car wash, some have decided that winter car washes are a complete waste of time and money. But regular car washes can help remove road salt and other ice-melting chemicals that cause rust and corrosion on your vehicle – with fuel and brake lines being the most susceptible to damage.

    So while it may be true that it’s nearly impossible to keep your car looking clean in the winter, regular car washes are still an important part of good vehicle maintenance.

  10. You only need to use headlights at night.
    While many of us have become accustomed to automatic lights that turn on when it’s dark outside, it’s still important to purposefully use your headlights during those “in between” times. If visibility is poor, even during the daytime, remember to use your lights. It helps other drivers see you when approaching or following. And, of course, you should always turn on your lights when the windshield wipers are operating.

Don’t Get Left Out In The Cold

When winter heads your way, you can count on Erie Insurance to be there. Whether it’s providing a fast and easy claims process after an accident, sharing tips and guidance for safe navigation, or lending a helping hand through our Emergency Roadside Service coverage1, we always want you to be prepared for the road ahead. To learn more about auto insurance, contact us today.

1Roadside Service coverage (Towing and Labor Costs coverage in North Carolina and Virginia) is only available when comprehensive coverage has been purchased on the vehicle. Limitations vary by state. Delivery of gas is included at no additional cost; policyholder will pay for the gas.

ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.

The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of July 2022 and may be changed at any time. 

Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 

The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia or New York.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 

Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.

Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.