Last Updated on December 10, 2023 by Kristin

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Traveling this winter? There’s nothing cozier than watching snow come down outside, until you have to hit the road. Driving in the snow can be stressful, especially if you are not used to it. However, there are several things you can do to prepare for these conditions. Here are some top tips for driving in the snow.

Make sure your rental car is prepared for snow

If you plan to drive in wintry conditions, make sure your rental car is prepared to handle the snow. Make sure the vehicle’s brake pads, batteries, wiper blades and lights are in good condition. Be sure you have sufficient windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze.

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Renting a car in a region that gets significant snowfall? Make sure the car has winter tires that improve traction in icy or wet conditions. You can identify all-season tires because they have “M+S” (for mud and snow) molded onto the side of the tire. Tires rated for “severe snow” are embossed with the symbol of a three-peaked mountain with a snowflake inside.

In addition to making sure the car is well-maintained and has the proper tires, make sure you have essentials for winter travel. These include a tool with a brush for wiping off snow and scraping off ice, a shovel in case you get stuck in the snow, a car emergency kit and spare tire.

Rent an AWD or 4WD vehicle

You might think that 4WD rental cars would be easy to find, but it can actually be difficult to reserve one. Here are some tips:

  • Larger SUV classes are more likely to have 4WD/AWD. We recommend booking at least a standard SUV, since many compact and intermediate SUVs are 2WD.
  • Rent from an airport location boosts your chances of finding a 4WD since airport locations usually have larger selections of vehicles.
  • Rent from a top-tier brand increases the likelihood of snagging a 4WD/AWD model. The big brands tend to have better selections and can pull vehicles from sister companies if needed.
  • Sign up for the rental company’s loyalty program is worthwhile since it may give you a bit more clout for vehicle selection.
  • Audi on Demand’s fleet is comprised entirely of Audi AWD vehicles.
  • Rent a Jeep. All the major rental car companies offer them in their fleets. They typically use language like “Jeep Wrangler or similar” to avoid guaranteeing that you will get a specific make and model. Your best bet is to select a Jeep when you reserve the vehicle, and then call ahead of pickup to confirm that you will in fact get one.

Defrost and clean your vehicle before driving

If your car is parked outside your hotel and becomes covered in snow, give yourself ample time to clean and defrost the vehicle before heading out. While this can be a pain when in a hurry, cleaning your car well is essential to make sure that you can see outside the windshield and that snow doesn’t fall and obstruct your view while driving. The first step to cleaning a car is to turn the vehicle on and put the vehicle in defrost mode, which can take several minutes to fully activate. Before driving away, make sure your windshield wipers are free of ice and move back and forth as they should.

Drive carefully in snowy weather

If it’s snowing, you’ll want to cut your speed and drive with added caution to avoid losing control of the car. Put extra space between you and other vehicles, as it can take longer to stop in snowy or icy conditions. Avoid making sudden movements and accelerating or decelerating too quickly, which can cause skidding.

Know how to stop skids

Icy and slippery road conditions are common once the snow starts to fall, which may cause your car to skid if you brake suddenly. If you lose control of the vehicle, it’s important to let off the gas and the brakes and, as this educational video shows, steer “into” the slide.

Know your brakes

Most modern-day vehicles have anti-lock braking systems that allow you to keep steering while also trying to stop the car, which can help greatly in winter conditions. If you really need to make an emergency stop in a car with an anti-lock braking system, press down on the brake as hard as possible while also having the ability to steer. ABS brakes make a vibrating sound, which means they are working properly.

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Monitor your battery charge in an electric car

There are a few special considerations for electric vehicles (EVs) when the mercury plunges and the snow falls. As more rental car companies electrify their fleets, many renters are finding themselves driving an EV in the winter for the first time.

You’re already likely familiar with basic safety precautions like defrosting the windshield and removing ice and snow from the car’s exterior. However, EV drivers also need to understand how cold weather can impact the car’s battery life.

Stay off the road in poor weather conditions

A bit of light snow doesn’t necessarily have to derail your road trip. But if the weather report calls for poor visibility and long periods of snowfall, the best option is to just hole up in your hotel. Don’t rush; make sure to give yourself enough time to get to the airport or reserved restaurant table.