Driving in the snow can be a little unnerving at times. To help make it a little more manageable, some auto manufacturers have implemented a snow or winter mode for their vehicles. Not to be confused with your frost warning indicator, which can use the same symbol, this is a driving mode that needs to be activated. This indicator light may be a snowflake or a “W” to show the mode is engaged. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific information on your vehicle.
What the winter mode indicator light means
When you press the button to engage the winter mode, the indicator light on the dash will illuminate to show it is currently active. Press the button again to deactivate the winter mode and the light should go out immediately.
Winter modes may vary slightly between different manufacturers, but generally they will all skip first gear when you are starting from a stop. In the normal first gear, you have a lot of torque which can cause your tires to spin in the snow and ice. With winter mode activated, your car will start moving in second or even third gear so that your tires don’t spin and slip.
Any flashing with this indicator light indicates an issue is present and you won’t be able to use winter mode. In this case, have the vehicle diagnosed by a professional to determine the problem and have any necessary repairs done at the earliest.
Is it safe to drive with the winter mode indicator light on?
Yes, this light is designed to make your life easier while driving in wintery conditions. Use it if your wheels are spinning when trying to set off from a stop. Going uphill may prove difficult with winter mode, but you can turn it off temporarily to get over an incline. This mode is designed to help with very slippery roads and is not necessary for rainy weather. Some vehicles have a wet or rain mode which should be used instead.
The winter mode should deactivate automatically when the engine is shut off, but you should manually deactivate it if you move out of snowy weather. If your car’s winter mode light isn’t deactivating properly, our certified technicians are always available to help you diagnose any problems.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Does the Winter Mode Indicator Light Mean? and was authored by Spencer Cates.