According to the Federal Highway Administration, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, resulting in over 1,300 deaths and more than 116,800 injuries annually.
"Winter weather can be challenging for drivers, no matter their level of expertise," said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelly Blue Book's website KBB.com. "Preparation starts by purchasing a vehicle with appropriate winter driving capabilities, and it extends to paying close attention to important details such as tires, washer fluid and other maintenance items that are critical to help keep passengers safe in inclement weather."
All-wheel drive counts. All-wheel drive aids acceleration and maximizes available traction, sending power to all four corners. This comes in handy when accelerating from a stop on wet, icy or snowy surfaces and makes it less likely that you'll get stuck, particularly on slippery inclines.
However, the type of tires on your car matter more. It's important to remember that the tires are the only part of a vehicle that actually touch the ground. As a result, they are ultimately responsible for the level of traction a vehicle will or won't have, regardless of how good its traction control, stability control, or all-wheel drive system. If the tires can't grip on snow and ice, you're not going anywhere. Snow tires (or "winter" tires) offer more traction than all-season tires.
There is no one-size-fits-all setup. However, where you live, the amount of snowfall the area sees, and your level of driving comfort should dictate which type of vehicle and tires are right for you. Keep in mind that winter tires will wear rapidly in warmer temperatures, so you should be ready to change your winter tires out when the weather changes.
Be practical. While the top option remains an all-wheel drive vehicle fitted with winter tires, if you're budget-conscious, front-wheel drive with winter tires is another good option. Due to the price premium seen on today's all-wheel drive vehicles, experts suggest buying a car that fits your everyday lifestyle, rather than occasional needs.
Don't use a mixed set of snow tires. Make sure to fit matching snow tires to all four wheels, rather than a mixed set at each end, which can compromise handling.
Have your vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. You should ensure your vehicle has all necessary maintenance performed, including checking tire pressure, fluid levels, the function of the heater, defroster, and wipers, as well as the health of the brakes, battery, and all belts and hoses.
When in doubt, slow down. Even with a fully-winterized vehicle, staying alert and traveling at safe speeds are essential to driving safely in winter weather.