5 Tough Terrains and How To Drive in Them

Bad weather can make even the smoothest Interstate dicey for driving. Here’s how to keep safe in sub-par conditions.

Aside from traffic congestion and the temptation to eat fast food at every rest stop, the nearly 47,000 miles of the American Interstate Highway System are generally a joy to drive, with wide lanes spread over well-maintained and well-lit pavement.

But nobody ever satisfied a lust for adventure by sticking to the Interstate. And bad weather can make even the Interstate a dicey drive. So here's a guide to keeping it safe when your driving conditions become, shall we say, less than optimal.

Icy conditions can make for the most dangerous kind of road for motorists. There's a reason the TV weather forecaster says to stay off the road when ice is expected.

If you must drive, the key thing to remember is that is can take up to 10 times as much road to stop on ice as on asphalt. Yes, 10 times!

So don't just leave a little extra room between you and the next car. Leave a whole lot of extra room. If you start to skid, take your foot off the gas and the break and gently turn into the direction of the skid until you regain control.

And remember, you're not the only car susceptible to easy skidding on the ice. Watch out for the other drivers around you too.

If your car is covered in snow, it's imperative that you clean off the entire front and back windshields, as well as the roof, before you start driving. Otherwise, you could be blinded when a pile of snow comes slipping down over your field of view.

Experts advise drivers to keep the radio turned off while driving in the snow and instead listen to the sound of the snow compacting under the tires. It will be loud. If that sound suddenly disappears it means you've hit a patch of ice and need to slow down immediately.

If you find yourself sitting in gridlock in heavy snowfall, get out of the car every little while to make sure the tailpipe hasn't been blocked by snow to the point it could be sending lethal carbon monoxide right into the car.

Sometimes the nice dry dirt road you took up to the country house has turned into a thick muddy sludge when it's time to head home. Whatever the reason, driving through mud requires a few basic precautions.

If safe to do so, a driver should get out of the car and walk up to the mud with a stick to see how deep it is before attempting to drive across. If you're in a vehicle that lets you engage 4WD, now would be the time to engage it.

Once you're moving across the muddy road, try to keep your speed up to avoid getting stuck, and if necessary jiggle the wheel back and forth to gain additional traction. That should help get you across the mud and on to your destinations, which will likely include a car wash.

The best strategy for driving through a flood is not to try. Just four inches of rapidly moving water can be enough to send a car floating instead of driving down the road, and that could be lethal.

If you must drive through a flooded area, pull over first and watch other cars attempting to cross. See if there are any unexpected dips or other obstacles you'll want to avoid.

Once driving through the water, stay in low gear and move at a steady, unhurried pace. Drive too fast and the car will push up a wall of water in front of the hood and almost certainly flood the engine, leaving you high and dry and surrounded by water.

Sand dune driving is a popular recreation in some places. But unless you drive a dune buggy to work, you'll probably need to take extra care not to get stuck if you find yourself driving over sand.

An important first step is to let some of the air out of the tires. At 15 psi, your tires will have a lot more grip than at normal inflation.

Turning on sand needs to be long, arching and smooth. Spin the wheel too sharply and you'll get stuck. If you do get stuck and then floor the gas and spin the tires, you'll get really stuck. Instead, calmly put the car in reverse and back yourself out of the jam.

And unless you want to deal with four flat tires, remember to put the air back in your tires as soon as you're out of the sand.