Winter Travel in New England

Winter Travel in New England

If you are coming to New England in winter, check the temperatures here before you depart. If the temperature here is below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, a spring or fall jacket is not going to cut it. Getting from the airport to a car is going to be painful if you didn’t carry a real winter coat on the plane.
No matter what the temperature, I recommend a coat with a full sized hood. The hood will act as an umbrella in rain and a hat in the cold.
If it is below 35 degrees with snow, rain, or slush on the ground, sneakers will not be enough. In the time it takes you to get to the car, your feet will feel frozen and that discomfort will quickly spread to the rest of your body. If you don’t own a pair of proper winter boots that are lined, then work boots or hiking boots will be better than sneakers.


If you are traveling to cold climates with electronic devices, be aware that leaving them in the car over night may damage them. LCD screens are particularly susceptible to freezing and the display may crack if left for several hours in freezing temperatures.

Cold weather causes more drain on batteries. Keep electronic devices and spare batteries close to the body. If it is cold and your device is not working, despite having new batteries in it, try rubbing the batteries between your hands to warm them up and then put them back in the device and try again.

Car Rentals Suggestions

If you are headed into snow country, 4WD or AWD is preferred, though not required.
If you rent a four wheel drive, or all wheel drive vehicle, remember that while it will get better traction going up hills or driving in deep snow, it will be NO safer or less likely to skid than its 2WD counterparts. Drive with the same caution in bad weather.
If you can avoid it, don’t rent an SUV or minivan that only has rear wheel drive for driving in snow. A car of any variety will handle better and be safer.

  • Before getting into your rental car, look at the tires to see if they have the tread required for driving in snow. Most car rental companies will not have snow tires on their cars but at least you will know what you are driving if you look first.
  • Find out what type of braking system the car has as it will make a difference in how you should react if a spin out situation does occur.
  • Don't allow the gas tank to go below half full and don’t let the rental company send you on your way with an almost empty gas tank if there is snow on the ground. A full tank of gas will prevent damage from freezing and it will add weight to your car which will give you better traction. I keep my tank full when it snows.
  • Check the wiper fluid and if it is empty, fill it before driving too far.

Driving On Snow and Ice

  • If you are going the posted speed limit while on snow or ice, you are probably going twice as fast as you should.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Don’t attempt to make a turn with your foot on the brake. Anticipate your turn by applying gentle pressure on the brake before you arrive at the turn. Remove your foot from the brake before turning the steering wheel. If you are a tourist in unfamiliar territory and your exit snuck up and surprised you, opt to miss the exit and find your way back to it later. If you slam on the brakes and turn the wheel fast in the snow and ice, you’ll surely miss the exit anyway and very likely wake up in a hospital bed.

Handling Your Car While Skidding

If your car does not have anti-lock brakes and you start skidding on the ice, gently pump your brakes to maintain better control and prevent your wheels from locking. Do not slam on the brakes full force.
If your car does have anti-lock brakes, apply solid pressure on your brakes when skidding on the ice. Pumping your brakes prevents the anti-lock system from taking over.

If you find yourself in a serious spin despite following the braking directions above, turn the wheel into the spin, being careful not to overcompensate. It is a knee jerk reaction to turn it in the opposite direction that your car is spinning in. Don’t do it.

If You Get Stuck in Snow

  • Do not spin your wheels. This will not get you out of the snow and may damage the car.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  • Try to rock the car by gently pumping the gas pedal, then letting off, wait for the car to roll to a stop then pump the gas pedal again. I’ve freed myself from many a pile of snow by rocking the car in this way.

If you get stuck in the snow and can’t get out, or your car breaks down in the snow, stay in the car and wait for help. Run the engine and heater sparingly. Make sure that your exhaust pipe is clear of snow and ventilate your car by cracking a window so that carbon monoxide fumes won't poison you.

Well, now that I have discouraged any and all winter travel in New England, I hope that you have a safe journey. Most people who drive carefully will not encounter any of the situations listed above, but it can happen, especially to people who are not accustomed to driving in winter weather.

Go slow. Leave plenty of space between you and all other traffic. Pump the brakes slowly and anticipate in advance. Never turn the wheel with your foot on the brake. Wear appropriate winter clothing.

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