Winter Driving: Must-Haves, Nice-to-Haves, Don’t-Needs

The snowflakes are already flying in some parts of the country, and that means that winter, dreaded winter, is just around the corner. If you live in a place where snow is a frequent occurrence, you should pay attention: What are the best features in new cars that you shouldn’t venture outside without, which ones are just the marshmallows on your hot chocolate, and which ones can you live without?

Must-Have Winter Features

ABS brakes, electronic stability control and traction control: The good news is, if you’re buying a 2013 or later new car, these features are already built into your car by federal mandate. They’re incredibly helpful on slick surfaces and can help drivers stay safe in sloppy weather. They aren’t infallible, though; don’t take chances just because you have these features. If you’re looking for a used car, put cars with these features near the top of your wish list. On the flip side, if you’re stuck in snow, turning stability and traction control off can help you get your car unstuck.

Heated front seats: When the Chevrolet Volt debuted in 2011, engineers opted for heated seats because they warm the driver and front passengers faster than heating the air. Even if you have a good heater, heated seats will make those cold moments go away faster.

Emergency gear: Keep a shovel, blanket, flare, bottled water, jumper cables, flashlight, a basic tool kit and additional washer fluid with you in the trunk. You never know when you’ll need them, but you definitely don’t want to need them and not have them.

Nice-to-Have Features

Heated steering wheel: If you’ve ever grabbed a below-freezing steering wheel with your bare hand, you’ll understand why we love this one. Instead of gingerly poking at the icy wheel with your fingertips, these heat the wheel quickly, and the best ones distribute the heat all the way around the wheel, and not just in certain spots. Once you’ve used one, it’s hard to go without.

Four-wheel drive/all-wheel drive: This one really depends on where you live. If you live somewhere like, say, Syracuse, N.Y., where the average snowfall for the past 20 years tops 120 inches per year, these systems could make your life a lot easier. If you live somewhere along the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s going to be a judgment call. While these systems help you maintain better control of your vehicle, they will not make you or your car invincible. Also, these systems may add enough weight to your car to lower your fuel economy.

Winter tires: Great on snow or ice, they can take longer to stop when it’s warm and dry out. Again, be cognizant of whether your need is great enough to make what is often a pricey purchase, and one that can only be used for a portion of the year.

Remote start: A great way to get your car warmed up on cold mornings. Becoming more common in new cars, there are plenty of aftermarket starters available too. And let’s be clear: These remote starters are for you, not the car; most engines are ready to go almost immediately, no matter how cold it is. Just remember: Never run your car in a closed garage; carbon monoxide fumes can be deadly.

Don’t-Need Features

Heated windshield: While in concept, this sounds great, in execution, it can be kind of a distraction. The windshields have a series of squiggly lines that, once discovered, are almost trance-like in how they draw your attention. And, if your car has heated wipers (which are becoming more common), or even just a strong enough defroster, you’ll be set.

Heated rear seats: This one may cause controversy, but do we really need back seats that warm, as well? This feature can be found in cars as affordable as compacts, but since many cars are filled only with a driver, these seem like overkill. Your children might not agree, but that’s what building character is all about, isn’t it?

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