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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Readers’ winter weigh-ins

When I recently offered winter driving reminders, many reader emails followed.  I’m encouraged that so many local drivers are applying careful thought to the process of negotiating slickened roads.

L.B. relayed a tip for effective stopping at icy intersections, writing, “It’s something I sort of learned 40 years ago while ice-racing on frozen ponds in Iowa.  It probably never sank in because I’ve always driven 4-speeds rather than automatics and of course one always has the clutch in coming up to a very slow icy stop.”

Clutch depression when stopping with a manual transmission indeed disengages the “engine-effect” on the drive wheels — an effect that adversely affects braking at ice-slickened locations.  Engine disengagement from drive wheels assures balanced braking during a final stop on icy surfaces, something I failed to mention in my previous column. 

L.B. now uses a similar procedure for vehicles with automatic transmissions.  He stated, “What I learned this year in my automatic rear wheel drive [vehicle] is that if I shift into neutral on very slow speed icy situations, I can stop at least twice as fast.  I figured out that even with no gas [pedal], the engine is still trying to turn those rear tires and with the light braking required in very icy conditions, the creeping is more than the braking. Shifting to neutral solves this conundrum and I get braking on all 4 wheels.”

F.H. reiterated the same tip, plus one for departing after the stop.  He offered, “With an automatic transmission, with the last phase of stopping, shift to neutral and gently brake to the stop.”  Then added, “Leaving the intersection:  Shift to a gear with higher ratio--auto or manual--one with a balance between too much power to the wheels and one that will not lug the engine.”

That advice is an extension of my recommendation to employ gentle input to vehicle controls during slippery conditions.  By using a “higher” gear, it “softens” the engine input to the drive wheels when pressing the accelerator pedal.  There is one caution to add to this procedure, however.  Using a higher gear for takeoff lessens the chance for wheelspin, but once the drive wheels do lose adhesion, they will spin at a sudden and faster speed than when in first gear.

J.W. sent a detailed account touting the superiority of modern all-wheel drive vehicles, adding compelling justification for their use in wintery conditions.  I concur — I stated in my column that nothing beats such vehicles equipped with quality winter tires for security and confidence for winter driving.

He also mentioned, “Your assertion that AWD doesn’t steer better than rear or front wheel drive is false.”  I really did not say such vehicles do not “steer better,” but generalized that they do not stop or turn significantly better than front or rear wheel drive counterparts. Maybe it’s in the semantics, but I simply intended to remind owners to not become overconfident by the “go ability” of their vehicles when it comes to stopping and making 90-degree turns from one road to another on slick surfaces.”

As noted, I concur that modern all-wheel-drive vehicles with torque-sensing transfer cases are incredible in slick conditions.  I have one that handles snowy straight-line acceleration like it was launched from a crossbow!

Still, four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles make up a majority of winter road slide-offs, so caution in turning and stopping them is warranted.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at