Winter driving

From Akita Wiki

"If you rarely drive on the snow, just pretend you're taking grandma to church. There's a platter of biscuits and two gallons of sweet tea in glass jars in the back seat. She's wearing a new dress and holding a crock pot full of gravy."

The winter in Akita has enough snow to make winter tires necessary. Winter tires can be expensive, depending on the car.

In the winter, change to winter windshield wiper blades. The ones used in the summer will become useless if they are used much in icy weather. Or buy new wiper blades in the spring.

Getting your car winter-worthy

1. Make sure your battery is in good condition. Cold weather can stop a weaker or older battery from starting.

2. Ensure your tires are changed. Winter tires (tyres) are highly recommended but if you have all-season tires, those can also suffice for winter. However, if you have summer (performance) tires, you need to change into winter tires, as the rubber compound of the tires will harden (losing traction) and can crack while driving.

3. Change your windshield wipers to winter wipers if possible. Winter wipers are more resilient to freezing onto your windshield and are made of a stronger compound in order to withstand wiping off ice and snow.

4. Have an emergency pack ready.

5. Try to keep your gas tank as full as possible. This prevents water condensation build-up in your tank and lines, which can make car starting difficult, as well as dangerous in case you run out of gas in the middle of a snow storm.

6. Make sure your car fluids are filled and changed if necessary, especially the engine oil, windshield wiper fluid (be sure to get one that can withstand -30~-40 degree temperatures) and antifreeze.

Driving safely on icy roads

1. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.

2. Brake gently to avoid skidding. Most cars in Japan have ABS. It is no longer necessary to ease of the brake for fear of your wheels locking up. If the ABS begins to work, then break strongly. You should feel your pedal vibrate if the ABS has been activated.

3. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.

4. Keep your lights and windshield clean.

5. Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills. Using low gears also prevents the car from accelerating too quickly and allow a better engine deceleration.

6. Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.

7. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.

8. Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.

9. Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

10. If you lose control on snow/ice, avoid slamming your brakes suddenly. Gently apply the brakes and counter-steer (steer in the opposite direction) back towards the road. If you lose control while on ice, especially black ice, do not apply the brakes. Applying the brakes too suddenly, even gently braking may send your car into an uncontrolled spin. Your best bet is to allow the car to slow down naturally if possible, try to get the car to roll to a stop.

If your rear wheels skid...

1. Take your foot off the accelerator.

2. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.

3. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

4. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.

5. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid...

1. Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.

2. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck...

1. Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.

2. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.

3. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.

4. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.

5. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.

6. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services

Winter Driving Survival Kit

It’s a good idea to keep a winter survival kit in your vehicle. Having essential supplies can provide some comfort and safety for you and your passengers should you become stranded.

Recommended items include:

  • Ice scraper/snowbrush
  • Shovel
  • Sand or other traction aid
  • Tow rope or chain
  • Booster cables
  • Road flares or warning lights (Japanese cars should be equipped with a road flare)
  • Gas line antifreeze
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Small tool kit
  • Extra clothing and footwear
  • Blanket
  • Non-perishable energy foods – e.g., chocolate or granola bars, juice, soup, bottled water
  • Candle and a small tin can
  • Matches
  • Heating pads (or "kairo" heating packs)

Did you know?

Not only can the candle and small tin help with lighting, but also generate some heat while waiting for help.

See also

Traveling in Japan
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Cars Driving DrivingWinter DrivingDriving InfractionsRoadside Station
Licenses International Driving PermitJapanese License Transition (Test Course ElementsTest Course Maps) • Renewing your Japanese License
Ownership Buying a CarLeasing a carTransferring Ownership of a CarDisposing of a CarUser Shaken
Other Transport Trains • Akita Nairiku Line • Shinkansen • Buses • Ferries
Airports Akita AirportOdate-Noshiro AirportNarita International AirportHaneda AirportSendai AirportKansai Airport
Leaving the Country Traveling in and out of Japan • Residence Card • Visa ExtensionTravel Insurance • Buying Flights & Travel Agents
Other Topics Exploring AkitaGetting to Tokyo • Akita JET travel guideWhere in the World is Sugichi?Quirky Japan