Proper driving should always involve analytics. Considering vehicle speed, traffic density, potential obstacles and noting what is or may be happening down the road are all paramount.
But during winter driving conditions, an analytical approach is mandatory for successful results. Lately, I have listened to television weathercasters and field reporters continue to recommend that drivers slow down for safety while navigating wintry conditions. That advice has merit, as reducing vehicle speed in slippery conditions is the first line of defense for sure.
However, that lone piece of advice is not enough for a good outcome. Precision drivers take much more into consideration when tackling our winter-slickened streets.
For starters, your vehicle type is an important variable. The primary differences are rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. More and more drivers are opting for SUVs with all-wheel-drive, which expectedly is the best choice for winter driving. They get moving from a stop and climb hills much better than their counterparts with two wheel drive. But they only turn slightly better than the others and do not stop any better at all.
Since the early 1980s, manufacturers began switching most of their model lineups from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive for simplified production. That gave drivers in states with harsh winters a bonus in that those vehicles had better takeoff traction and hill-climbing than the old rear-drivers. Just like the old days when rear-engine, rear-drive autos like Volkswagen and Corvair had that advantage. That is where the advantage ends though, since their inherent front-heavy imbalance causes handling problems like understeer. Understeer is when you turn the wheel, but the car does not — the front end slides, especially if the wheels are spun.
A rear-wheel drive vehicle is better front-to-rear balanced and once going is more stable than a front wheel drive on slick roads. To get going, though, a good traction tire is necessary.
I heard another weather person advise listeners to “get studded tires put on.” Anyone who took that advice would be driving on tires that have less adhesion in cold weather, bare and wet conditions (the most prevalent around here) than even the cheapest non-studded alternative. Some studies show a slight advantage on glare ice with studs, but that advantage is nil when compared to the best winter-specific non-studded products. It’s getting harder to find studded tires, since major manufacturers and retailers, like Goodyear and Costco have shunned them totally.
Become adept at reading the road. If the hill you are about to crest is totally ice-laden with packed snow, don’t crest that hill — no vehicle can handle that regardless of type or tires. If the intersection you are about to stop at is glare ice, move to the looser snow at the edge of road if possible. Gentle turning and stopping from lower speeds is the way to go.
And don’t drive if you doubt your or your vehicle’s ability to handle it. Now that the hourly weather forecasts are available on our phones, pay attention the details. Like today, forecasts show below freezing and snowing in the morning with temps well above freezing in the afternoon. Postpone unnecessary trips until weather is forecast to improve.
Monitor your outside temperature gauge for the potential expectation of black ice — where roads look wet, but may have a frozen surface. If your reading is 34-35 degrees, the presence of black ice is unlikely.
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