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Black ice safety: Consumer Reports tips on driving in winter weather

Posted at 8:59 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 09:59:27-05

(CONSUMER REPORTS/WTVF) — You've heard the warnings: watch out for black ice. It can be dangerous, especially on the roads. Consumer Reports has some very timely and potentially life-saving information.

Black ice is moisture that freezes when temperatures drop, blending into the asphalt, and is often invisible to motorists.

“If there was ever a time that slow and steady wins the race applies, it’s in this case where you have the potential to lose traction,” said Jennifer Stockburger, with Consumer Reports. Stockburger oversees operations at Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center.

“Everything in slick conditions takes longer so leave yourself that room. It not only gives you that room, but it protects you from other drivers that may not be driving appropriately,” said Stockburger.

Think your 4-wheel or all-wheel drive will help on black ice? Think again. All vehicles have 4-wheel brakes and it’s your car’s anti-lock brakes that can help you safely stop and regain control. You’ll know they are working when they start to pulse against your foot, do not remove your foot from the brake – maintain firm pressure on the pedal and let them do their job.

If your car does begin to slide out of control, here’s the best way to regain control.

“There are really two kinds of skids, oversteer and understeer. In both cases, the reaction should be to turn in the direction you want the car to go. With oversteer, it’s very intuitive. You turn into the skid and when you gain grip, you end up going where you want to go. In understeer, you’re turning, but the car is going straight ahead and your gut is to want to dial in more steering. Don’t do that. Keep the wheel steady where you’re headed so that when you gain grip, you are going where you want to be. In both cases, avoid abrupt motions,” Stockburger said.

Easy on the brakes and easy on the throttle until you gain control – and remember to always buckle up.

Of course, we know there's ice on the roads now, but if you're ever not sure, keep an eye out for the little snowflake light on your dashboard. A lot of cars have it, and it’s a warning light that is controlled by a temperature sensor near your front bumper. It comes on when the temperature drops below freezing to warn you about the potential for ice on the road – warning you to slow down and be careful.