Flagstaff and other northern parts of our state just got their first snow of the season. Down here in the Valley of the Sun, it’s still sunny, albeit finally getting cooler. Because a change in seasons brings changes in driving conditions, we’ve compiled a list of things you should be aware of when you hit the roads this winter. 

Before You Leave

Plan your route and notify someone who isn’t traveling with you where you’re headed and what your ETA is. 

Check Your Car

Make sure your vehicle is equipped for driving in snowy, icy conditions. ADOT recommends making sure all of the following are ready to go and operating as they should:

  • Battery
  • Ignition and exhaust systems
  • Wiper blades and fluid
  • Motor oil: Change it to a winter grade
  • Radiator: Make sure the antifreeze can handle freezing temps
  • Thermostat
  • Defroster
  • Heater
  • Brakes
  • Headlights, taillights and brake lights
  • Tires: Depending on where you’re headed, you may need snow tires, chains or studded tires. Studded tires are permitted on Arizona roadways from October 1 to May 1. 

Be sure to start with a full gas tank and try to keep it above three quarters full, ADOT recommends. Don’t forget your driver license. 

Driving an electric or hybrid vehicle? If your battery is due for replacement, replace it before heading out. If not, make sure it has sufficient voltage and that the charging system, belts, and battery connection cables are tight. 

Stock Your Car

Just like in the heat of the summer, there are specific things you should keep in your car for safety — especially if you’re traveling to the high country. Things you should carry in your car to be safe in AZ in the winter include:

  • Coat and other layers for your core
  • Gloves, scarves, warm hats, and extra socks
  • Food and water (think nonperishable food, like granola bars)
  • A first-aid kit
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • An extra cell phone charger
  • A travel tool kit
  • Battery cables
  • An ice scraper
  • A small folding shovel (in case you need to dig out of snow)
  • Safety flares
  • A road map (just in case you find yourself without cell service)
  • Prescription medications

While On the Road

Slow your speed. 

Drive more slowly overall, and accelerate and brake more slowly on wet, slippery roadways or in a snowstorm.

Increase your following distance.

Add five or six seconds to your following distance. You’ll need more time to brake on wintery roads or in a storm. 

Drive smoothly. 

Sudden or jerky movements can cause your vehicle to move in unexpected and even unsafe ways on slippery roads. 

Manage skidding with skill.

If you feel your car start to skid, always look where you want to go, not where your car is heading in the moment. Don’t hit the brakes and don’t panic. If your front wheel is skidding, ease of the gas and the front tires will shortly regain traction. If your rear wheels skids (you’ll feel yourself beginning to spin out), turn the wheel in the same direction that the rear is sliding and ease off the accelerator. As the rear wheels regain traction, you can steer back in the right direction. 

Be alert for deer and elk.

The high country is deer and elk country. Watch carefully for wildlife to avoid hitting an animal, pay attention to posted signs, and realize that if you see one, there are probably more. 

Respect the snowplow. 

If you encounter a snow plow, never pass it. Plowed snow cause reduced visibility, and salt or sand from the spreaders can damage your vehicle. Stay at least four car lengths behind plows and equipment. 

Want more winter driving tips? Contact us to find out more about the types of classes we offer.