And for far too many out there, winter driving isn’t second nature. To help those out there that put off winter driving like the plague, we’ve come up with some top tips relating to that snowy, slushy substance that will haunt you for the next few months, because you definitely don’t want to be learning how to drive in snow when you got 15-inches of snow last night and have to get to work in twenty minutes.
A big part of being prepared for winter driving is knowing what you have. And I don’t just mean knowing what kind of car you have. It’s the little things. Is your car AWD, FWD, or RWD? What type of engine do you have? What tires do you have? It’s these that need to be known first before you ever drive in snow because these dictate how you’ll handle certain situations.
Take for example what wheels the motor is driving. Having the motor drive the rear wheels of the car in the snow can be tricky. It can be done, but without the proper tires, or proper throttle application, it can become a handful to manage.
One of the biggest improvements for winter driving can be made by changing your tires. All-Seasons are great for rain, a bit of dirt, everyday driving and a light dusting of snow. Although, if you live in a place where multiple inches can accumulate over a short period, winter tires are necessary. Snow tires have an increased number of grooves and ridges that help provide extra traction. However, without a steady right foot, you aren’t going anywhere.
Smooth Throttle Progression
Whether you race competitively, or just want to get from A to B, smooth throttle is key for maintaining traction. When a tire comes into contact with snow or ice, it essentially has a barrier between it and the pavement. Without that contact, the tire can’t get the same amount of traction it would normally and thus make it more likely to spin.
Giving yourself more time to accelerate allows the tires to work harder to maintain traction. Same goes when you are already at speed. Hitting the throttle tends to upset the cars traction and with that your forward momentum. Keeping your foot firm and smooth is tantamount.
Left Foot Braking
We understand this concept might strike fear in many. Why would you learn to left foot brake, when your right works perfectly since you learned to drive? Because braking with your left foot is faster than braking with your right.
When accidents are broken down, they’re broken down into nanoseconds. Not minutes, not hours, not even seconds, but fractions of a second. And with each passing fraction of a second, the likelihood of you getting into an accident increases. You may think that you can get your right foot over to the brake faster than most people, but it just can’t. Keeping your left foot ready and waiting gives you a faster reaction time, and are less likely to crash.
What you do have to remember is that you need to be just as smooth and progressive as you are with the accelerator. If not, you’re likely to lock up and cause the accident you intended to avoid. But how do you correct when everything goes wrong?
What to do in a Slide
You’ve hit the brakes too hard, smashed the gas, or hit a patch of ice and tried to over correct. What do you do? People assume that braking will solve everything, or grabbing the emergency brake will stop the world. Both make everything worse. When you’re in a slide, your wheels have lost traction, therefor you need to somehow get them to where traction will increase.
The way to correct safely is to lift off both the brake and the gas, steer into the turn, and wait until traction is recovered. This may sound like a hope and a prayer, but it works as we’ve used the method repeatedly. Recently, we took a turn entirely too quickly and the car started to understeer badly towards a small ravine. We slammed on the brakes doing the very opposite of what is detailed above, and locked up the tires.
A few feet before the ravines edge, we let go of the brake and steered into the slide thereby giving me more traction. It was only after that was we were able to steer the car from the ravine and save our butts. Sharp inputs never solve anything, they make matters worse, and speaking of making matters worse.
YOU’RE NOT INVINCIBLE
One of the biggest issues comes from people with big SUV’s or AWD cars and think they’re invincible. They believe that it makes them tough as diamonds. In fact though, 90% of the accidents we’ve witnessed during winter involved these cars. People believe that AWD is the end all, be all for snow. It’s not. It helps provide traction off the line, and that’s it. It doesn’t provide better braking or help correct a slide. All it does is allow you to accelerate faster.
Know that, understand that, accept that, and learn from the things above and you’ll be a better driver in the snow. Will you still go off the road, possibly, but if you learn the aspects of your car, and truly understand the physics that happen to a car traveling in snow, then you’ll be less likely to be calling for a tow truck and freezing your butt off come this winter.