Most drivers in the snowbelt agree: Winter driving is a drag. Cold weather affects the way you interact with your car and the way your car interacts with the road. Freezing temperatures can make your vehicle's cabin extremely uncomfortable, while snow and ice can seriously compromise your ability to maintain control of your vehicle.
Fortunately, modern cars, trucks and crossovers offer a variety of features that make them both safer and more accommodating when the temperature plunges. Here are 10 of the most helpful car features for winter driving:
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ADVANCED SAFETY FEATURES
Modern vehicles come with a variety of automated safety features that can make a huge difference in winter driving. Some, such as antilock brakes and stability control, are now required by government regulations. Others, such as adaptive headlights, forward collision avoidance, automatic emergency braking and lane departure prevention, may be standard on some models and optional on others, sometimes as part of a technology package. All these features can help improve control or visibility on winter roads.
Getting stuck in the snow and sliding out of control on ice are among drivers' worst nightmares. All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive deliver power to all the vehicle's wheels to help it accelerate better and maintain traction on slick surfaces. Various types of all-wheel-drive systems are now available, including those that drive either the front or rear wheels all the time and engage the other set automatically as needed as well as ones that power the rear wheels under normal conditions and engage the front set when a lever or switch is thrown. You can find all-wheel drive on all types of vehicles, ranging from compact sedans to SUVs to full-size pickups.
ENGINE BLOCK HEATER
Engine block heaters can help a vehicle start and warm up faster in frigid temperatures. They generally work by using household electrical current to warm the oil dipstick, oil pan, or other parts of the engine to keep fluids and metal components closer to normal operating temperature. Engine block heaters also help prevent excess wear, reduce emissions, and create a more comfortable environment by allowing the vehicle's heater to produce hot air more quickly.
HEADLIGHT WASHERS AND WIPERS
One of the worst things about winter driving is reduced visibility in snowy, slushy conditions. Snow, ice and road salt can accumulate on headlights and reduce their effectiveness. Headlight washers and wipers can help clear blockage, allowing the lights to shine without obstruction.
Electrically heated seats may seem like a luxury feature, but they can now be found on the option lists of even modestly priced compact cars. On cold mornings, they can warm a driver and passengers much more quickly than the vehicle's heater, which doesn't become effective until the engine warms up. Being comfortable while driving is essential for safe and alert vehicle operation, so heated seats could even be considered a safety feature.
HEATED SIDE MIRRORS
Electrical heating elements keep outside mirrors free from fog and ice, working much like a defroster does to keep the rear window clear. This feature is now available on most modern cars, except for a handful of economy models.
HEATED STEERING WHEEL
Drivers in warmer climates might not realize how cold steering wheels can get in the winter. This feature uses electric current to keep the wheel comfortably warm however frigid it is outside.
Remote start systems allow you to fire up the engine from the comfort of your home. Most systems are activated by a button on the key fob, while others can be engaged with a cellphone app. Remote start systems are available for almost all vehicles, either from the manufacturer or as an aftermarket add-on.
WINDSHIELD WIPER DE-ICERS
Snow and ice can freeze wipers, making them unusable. A windshield wiper de-icer works to thaw wiper blades so they don't remain stuck to the glass. All cars have a standard windshield defroster as part of the heater system, of course. But some models offer electrical heating elements on the lower portion of the windshield or heating devices on the wipers themselves for even faster de-icing.
Most people think that all winter tires have metal studs in them. This is no longer the case, although such tires are still available for extreme conditions. Most modern snow tires use a combination of unique tread patterns and specially formulated rubber that remains soft at cold temperatures to maintain traction on ice and snow.
EDMUNDS SAYS: If you live in a cold climate, consider opting for some of these useful features the next time you buy a new car — or add them to your current vehicle.