When it comes to snowy Colorado weather, the kind of car you drive can make a big difference with your safety and comfort on the roads. Many people opt for 4×4 or all-terrain vehicles, while others prefer to stick it out with their 2-wheel drive cars, but no matter how big your car is or what kind of drivetrain you have, it takes skill to navigate icy roads. While 4-wheel, automatic-trans SUVs provide more confidence, they come with much higher auto repair costs, but that’s not preventing people from buying them.
Less than 7% of new cars sold have manual transmissions, a sharp drop from past decades. However, they are making a comeback because of their fuel efficiency and higher handling control…especially in inclement weather. If you are in the minority group of stick shift owners, this post is for you. Manuals handle differently in the snow, so they should come with their own set of tips!
Before you head out on any potentially dangerous road, please make sure you get your vehicle in for a thorough check up and auto repair assessment. Mechanics should check clutches, brakes, and fluids especially this time of year.
1. Try to avoid large hills
For many cars, getting stranded on an icy hill is a real possibility, but for manual owners it can be even trickier to get out. If you are approaching and can keep some speed and momentum, you should be okay, but if you have to stop, it’s much harder to get started again. Keep in mind that your car already scoots downhill a bit when you accelerate from a dead stop (even on dry roads), and correcting that slippage can be harder in the ice. Consider taking a smoother and flatter route if possible.
2. Start in second gear
Chances are good that you’ve learned to always start in 1st gear, as this was the way that the previous generation learned as well. However, there are advantages to starting in a higher gear, which you can easily accomplish with a manual transmission. Starting in 2nd gear makes your wheels go a bit slower, and puts more power behind them, allowing you to power through any snow and ice and prevent wheel spinout.
3. Invest in good tires
While this is solid advice for any car owner heading into the winter season, it’s especially important for stick shift drivers. You can have great control with a manual, but if you have old, worn tires, that control won’t translate onto the pavement. Consider upgrading to a beefier tire with all-weather ratings, because your ability to stop and start makes up 90% of winter driving safety. Ask your auto repair mechanic for suggestions for your particular make and model.
4. Brake wisely
Some stick shift drivers keep their feet on the clutches while stopped, when they really should be on the brakes. Also, because each input (brake, clutch, gas) is manually controlled, it can be hard to focus on one at a time. Resist the urge to step on the gas OR the brakes during a turn (press the clutch only), don’t put on the brakes hard on an icy downhill, and always use your hand brake (aka emergency brake) when parking.