What’s the condition behind the almost universal attraction for drivers to watch snow blow off their cars and trucks as they head out on winter roads? Is it something akin to a child’s fondness for splashing in mud puddles or sticking their tongues to frozen metal gate posts? Is it laziness or from being rushed? No matter what the reason, we’ve all seen vehicles on the road covered in snow with barely a porthole-sized section of unfrosted glass through which we see the driver huddled down, chin on the steering wheel, desperately trying to navigate his or her course – and sometimes, more than we’d care to admit, it’s us behind that wheel.
If you haven’t been given enough reasons to take the few minutes required to clear your vehicle of snow and ice before pulling out of your parking spot, here are a few you might not have considered.
Police services have quite a few tools in their fine-books to address snow-covered and frosted-glass vehicles. They range from verbal or written warnings to major fines and even demerit points. And yes, they’ll still make you clear your vehicle off before allowing you to proceed down the road. While police services don’t generally advertise snow-covered vehicle enforcement blitzes (as they do for impaired or aggressive driving), they are all on the lookout this season for offenders and if you can’t see their flashing lights through your snow-covered windows, at least you’ll hear the siren.
What other time of year would anyone ever consider it safe to operate a vehicle on a public road when better than half of the windshield, door glass or rear window is opaque? Ice- and snow-covered roads provide enough of a risk to safe driving, so why compound that risk by operating your auto without clear vision forward, to the sides or rear? Then there’s the danger to other drivers and pedestrians. Snow blowing off your vehicle reduces visibility for other drivers but it doesn’t end there. Ice can also form on vehicle surfaces and when the interior warms up; the bond between the ice and the roof panel weakens and with little warning, large sheets of ice can be blown off the roof onto following vehicles. While we might think there’s little risk of these ice sheets causing any damage, many windshields are shattered every winter due to this carelessness. And of course, if a driver swerves to avoid a large sheet of ice heading toward his or her car, there’s the risk of colliding with another vehicle.
Every winter, drivers are faced with repair bills caused by not clearing snow and ice off their autos. When heavy snow and slush slides forward down the windshield during braking, it can mangle wiper blades, arms and damage the linkage and motor. The same can happen to the rear wiper. Wiper systems can also be damaged when snow isn’t cleared away from the bottom of the windshield. A pile-up here can prevent the wipers from completing their sweep-cycle, leading to overheated motors, stripped arm fasteners and broken linkages. Then there’s the damage to roof racks and decorative trim. Another area to consider is the vehicle HVAC system. Most vehicles’ fresh-air intakes are located just below the front wipers. When loose snow isn’t cleared off before starting the vehicle and turning on the heater, this snow can be drawn into the system, where it can waterlog a cabin air filter or cause problems with heater control doors and linkages.
It’s relatively easy to prevent all of this from happening by clearing off the vehicle before pulling out of your driveway. Get a good quality snowbrush. If you drive a taller SUV or minivan, consider purchasing a lightweight step-stool to make reaching the roof easier. Auto retailers who have to clear large numbers of vehicles use long-handled foam brushes to avoid damage to trim and paint, and these are now available with collapsible handles so they can be easily stored in the trunk. Avoid letting the working end of your snow brush touch the ground; it can pick up grit or small stones, which can easily scratch the paint or glass surfaces. Keep the brush bristles from getting iced up by drying the head out with the vehicle’s heater on the way to work (just place it on the floor, bristles up, under the dash in the path of the floor vents). Avoid using household brooms as their stiffer bristles can easily scratch paint.
Clear the snow away from the driver’s door area before opening it; this avoids sucking in a drift of snow onto the seat and flooring when you swing it open. This means the best place to keep your snowbrush overnight is just inside the door of your home.
Don’t beat on ice that has formed on the vehicle’s body to break it off, as this will only lead to trim, body metal and paint damage. It’s much better to let the engine’s and the HVAC system’s heat do the work from the inside out. Washer nozzles are especially prone to snowbrush damage.
Don’t forget to clean off exterior lamps. Many vehicles now use LED lighting for exterior lights and these low-power bulbs don’t develop enough heat to melt snow or ice. It’s just as important to be seen as it is to see others around you, so take an extra minute to make sure your lights are clear.
A popular question this time of year is: How long should we let our vehicles idle in the driveway before heading out? The answer: Until every square inch of glass is clear enough to see through, and every flake of snow has been brushed off.