Get ready for winter road conditions: Tips to choose the right brakes and stay safe

Jan. 27, 2017

When winter arrives, it inevitably brings with it challenging driving conditions. Snow and ice litter roadways, creating obstacles and causing unpredictable vehicle response. For example, most winters in the Northeast will see snowfall one out of every four days on average. Slippery conditions are difficult to avoid and preparation for driving during this time of year is essential. You can ensure your safety with conservative driving, adequate maintenance, and the use of quality brakes that are appropriate for your vehicle and application. Choosing the right brakes for your vehicle will improve your vehicle’s performance in winter months and keep you safe on treacherous roads.

Ice, Snow, and Skidding

Everyone dreads driving on icy winter roads. The decreased traction between your tire and the road can dramatically increase the braking distance of your vehicle. This causes serious misjudgments and surprise slips on the road. To avoid accidents when driving in slippery conditions, be sure to keep more distance between you and vehicles ahead of you to anticipate this greater stopping distance.

When applying the brakes in icy conditions, steering problems can also occur. It is important to drive more slowly than in normal weather to allow time for correction. Understanding how your vehicle reacts to steering while skidding can prepare you for emergency maneuvers and reduce the likelihood of skids resulting in crashes. To prevent skidding before it happens, the America Automobile Association (AAA) suggests driving at half the posted speed when any icy or snowy precipitation is present. Matching your driving speed to the corresponding conditions may sometimes be inconvenient, but it will ensure that you arrive at your destination safely.

As you drive, keep your eyes open for slippery patches. Bridges freeze first and stay icy longer than other roadways, and areas covered by tree shade are also more likely to remain icy longer than the rest of the road. Black ice is treacherous, but knowing where it is likely to occur will help keep it from catching you unprepared.

It is also important to know your braking system before icy conditions set in. Many people react to sudden obstacles by pressing hard and quick on the brakes. If you do not have anti-lock brakes, this is dangerous and can cause your brakes to lock. When driving over ice, this will cause unpredictable skidding. If you have anti-lock brakes, it is appropriate to press hard on the brakes in cases of needing to stop quickly. This may result in some vibration, which is normal to expect as the anti-lock braking system activates.

Another winter weather factor to consider is dealing with the effects of road salt. The addition of salt makes the road safer but can cause corrosion of various braking components, including the rotor surfaces of the brake and the anti-lock braking system (ABS). This means that it is essential to properly maintain your vehicle’s brakes and ABS components, and to use quality replacement parts when repairs are necessary.

Cold Weather Maintenance

There are many maintenance preparations you can make to your vehicle before winter begins. Start with checking the service schedule in your owner’s manual, and consider scheduling a comprehensive maintenance check-up. A thorough check-up should evaluate your braking system, as well as tires, tire pressure (which contracts in winter weather), oil, lights, exhaust system, and ignition system. All of these systems work together to keep your vehicle running safely through the winter and should be at 100 percent before driving conditions begin to deteriorate.

It is also essential to make sure the heat and defrost systems work properly, not only for comfort but for safety. While heating certainly keeps the driver and passengers warm, it also keeps certain vehicle components from freezing and malfunctioning. In the case of defrost systems, frosted windows can be hard enough to fix when frost grows on parked cars, but it is even more dangerous when frost or fogging occurs on moving vehicles. They will decrease visibility, making it difficult to judge your position in relation to other vehicles and increasing the likelihood of crashing.

In addition, taking the time to check and replace windshield wipers and windshield fluid levels can make a tremendous difference in safely making your way through severe weather conditions. It is much better to over-prepare than to be caught driving in the snow without adequate methods of removing it from the windshield. Besides driving with operational windshield equipment, clearing gathered snow from the hood and roof of your vehicle will prevent it from flying or falling onto your windshield or the windshields of other vehicles while driving. In some states, it is even illegal to neglect doing so.

Finally, cold weather can drain car batteries faster than in mild weather. A vehicle battery loses 35 percent of its strength at 32 degrees F and up to 60 percent at 0 degrees F. During cold temperatures, starting an engine can take up as much as twice the current needed during summer conditions. Checking the status of your vehicle’s battery may help avoid issues with starting up on particularly cold days.

Professional Recommendations

Bendix Brakes suggests that while checking your braking system, your technician should not only check brakes for wear, but also should check ABS components to ensure the anti-lock braking system is operating properly and the ABS sensors are clear of any corrosion or road salt. If your brakes require replacing, look for brake rotors that are resistant to corrosion to reduce this occurrence in the future. Bendix premium brake rotors come with a special silver-aluminum-zinc-based corrosive protective coating that resists road salt and moisture. This coating also extends the life of the rotor and ensures a rust-free rotor contact surface for the brake pads by providing free-flow heat venting of the rotor.

While the lifespan of brake pads varies considerably based upon typical traffic and driving style, the average replacement interval for this component is 40,000 to 50,000 miles. When it is time to replace brake pads, look for pads that do not contain copper, which can pollute nearby water sources as the pads wear down and disintegrate. By 2025, all brake manufacturers in the United States must eliminate copper from their friction formulations following the California and Washington Proposition 65 regulations. Satisfying this regulation as well as general environmental and expense concerns, Bendix has created premium copper-free brake pads with superior stopping power under all road conditions.

Be Prepared for Winter

Careful driving and timely maintenance of your vehicle will make all the difference as the weather gets colder and precipitation makes things slippery. This includes making an investment in reliable brake system components. Top-quality braking systems last longer, require less maintenance, and can ensure your vehicle handles difficult conditions safely. Challenging road conditions are to be expected during the winter, but the right preparation will ensure you make your way to every destination safely no matter the weather.

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