CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Winter Driving Techniques

Winter (for some of us) is coming upon us and that means we’ll be driving in all sorts of horrible weather from slush to ice to freezing rain. Car companies have done wonders in just the last decade to make cars safer and easier to drive with traction control/stability control, abs, many standard airbags, seatbelts, weather adapting transmissions and better tire technology.

However, many of us do not own cars with many of these features (most notably abs and traction control). Many cars are simple: front disc/rear drum brake, manual transmission, and little else aside from airbags and seatbelts (ie, no abs or power steering or all season tires).

How would you cope with winter weather in such a simple yet common car? Then, how would you cope with winter in a fully loaded car?

When the roads are slippery, good driver judgment and four winter tires are all you need.

Yep, 4 good winter tires are worth more than all the features you listed put together.

Yup!
JoeMario has summed it up very nicely.
No matter what you drive, a set of 4 winter tires (not old-technology snow tires) will allow you to go, turn, and–most important of all–STOP with much greater safety.

Don’t think of this as an extra expense because your regular tires will be out of service for a few months, thus saving tread wear on those tires. And, even if you have to spend $600-700 for a set of winter tires and steel rims, if they save you from only one fender bender, they will be worth it. If they save you from a serious accident, they will be priceless.

Get a set of 4 winter tires on their own steel rims, drive conservatively and leave an extra-long gap between you and the car in front of you, and you will be maximizing your winter safety. Also–be sure to clear all snow from your windows, headlights, directional signals, and tail lights before you drive. I am appalled every year at the number of cars on the road with rear lights completely obscured by snow.

This strategy must be fairly effective, because I use it, and I have not had an accident since 1971.

I’ve coped with winters fine for over 40 years with such a simple car, thank you. I’ve done it with good tires, good technique, and good sense. We even did fine with bias ply tires on RWD vehicles with drum brakes and really pathetic handling. My '64 Fairlane comes to mind.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think airbags, seatbelts, and new tire technologies are all great, but the ABS and TCS is overrated. And it does not susbstitute for good tires, good technique, and good sense.

When was the last time Honda built an Accord without power steering and all-season tires?

If you have one, please tell us how old it is.

I’m with the others, the best thing you can do for winter driving is install four winter tires. It makes a HUGE difference, regardless of make, model, or features.

Having said that, millions of people get by without them.

Once you try them, however, you’ll be sold.

Well, except for that guy this moring with the Outback.

First, if I lived up north, I would have a second set of steel rims with quality winter tires mounted on them. If I was merely visiting in bad weather, I would have tire cables in the vehicle. These cables are a modern replacement for chains.

Second, I would only drive in bad weather when absolutely necessary.

Third, whenever I make trips up north, I make sure my car is stocked with emergency supplies, like a flashlight, sand or cheap kitty liter, a shovel, an ice scraper, blankets, etc.

Lastly, whenever I drive on snow and ice (which isn’t often), I take things nice and slow, and plan stops and turns far in advance. Many northern drivers don’t like it, and ridicule my slow moving vehicle with Florida plates, but I ignore it. They can drive their cars the way they like, and I shall drive my car the way I like.

1st, put on the winter tires and that is on all 4 wheels. As far as driving is concerned, there is a lot more night driving in the winter so make sure the inside of the windshield is clean and keep the headlight lenses clean. New wiper blades and/or put on the winter wiper blades (encased in rubber to maintain effectiveness when regular blades “freeze up”), and keep the gas tank 1/2 full or more.

Attitude adjustment when driving; all puddles can be black ice. You really don’t know where the shoulder of road ends and the drainage ditch begins. Get used to the idea of driving without seeing the center line on the road. Most important as soon as any precipitation starts slow down and increase following distances about 4X normal.

I’m not sure the new technology on cars and SUV’s really helps much. Most people might believe in and rely on these systems too much. I’d rather not have my ABS brakes kick in, if they do that means I didn’t leave enough room to stop. If your antiskid control kicks in you are going way too fast for conditions. Traction control seems much to abrupt on my cars, it means I am being too heavy on gas.

The secret to winter driving is to be gentle; that is gentle on the gas, gentle on the steering imputs, and gentle on the brakes. The goal is to get whereever and not end up in the ditch. How long it takes to get there is no longer important. Just keep moving even at 40 mph you’ll get there eventually.

The folks that buzz along at 70+ mph with any kind of winter precipitation are asking for trouble and often they find it in the ditch.

Good responses; no amount of technology is a substitute for KNOWING HOW TO DRIVE. These gadgets will not do the thinking for you. If you rely on them you will end up in the ditch or in an accident, as testified by the many $50,000 hi tech SUVs in the ditch after a snow storm.

Take a winter driving course from the AAA or similar organization. My whole familiy has done that since we have 5 months of winter here.

Personally I prefer no ABS, Traction Control or Stability Control.

The same way grandpa did, and his son survived, who did it the same way his father did as did your father.  

All this things are great, but while I want them on my car and would avoid cars that lack most of them, The real safety device in a car is the nut behind the wheel.

Even with all these safety devices, good winter driving should always include an enhanced “cushion”. Not only front and back, but to the sides as well. Keeping additional space between you and your “environment” on slippery roads is essential for safe vehicle operation.

The most important component in the car is the “nut behind the steering wheel”, and the most important tool is common sense. Easy on the gas and light on the brakes, slow & steady wins the race!

It’s all about technique. Last winter my Bronco in the shop having a new hub installed when the snow came. I was left with my summer-tire shod Mustang GT w/supercharger and 4.10 gears to get around in. Once I had shoveled my driveway sufficiently I got out on the road (some plowed, some not) I didn’t have any real problems. The only close call was getting out of the unplowed parking lot at work. But I made it out via my “Turn off the traction control and keep your foot in it once you have momentum philosophy”.

It’s not what you drive, it’s how you drive it.

I dealt with a fairly simple car for the last 8 years. automatic, FWD, good rated all seasons for a couple years, disc/drum brakes. I got by OK, but not that great when it came to the slushy stuff and I can remember almost spinning out a time or three.
I haven’t had my new car long enough to test it out in winter driving, and I have the horrid factory tires(Eagle RS-A) on it still. This one has AWD, traction control, abs, and a whole list of high tech wizardry that’s supposed to help keep me on track. time will tell though

I think it is a really bad idea when the “go/no go” decision is made in the affirmative based on the vehicle you are driving. We are not talking about extremes like one car has bald tires and one car has a set of Blizzacks on it. What I mean is stay home when it is so bad that you are tossing the idea around “well the FORD has traction control so I guess that will pull me through”

At my last mid-west BMW Dealer (in Milwaukee) people picked Blizzacks for their BMW’s by a wide margin and 90% were on dedicated steel rims. Strangely I can only recall one BMW X-5 (all wheel drive, no choice of transfer case range in the models I worked on) with Blizzacks (or any other dedicated snow tire). The rule was do not drive those Blizzacks very far or very fast after the pavement temp. went up as you will ruin them quickly. They develope a high/low tread pattern that causes alot of vibration. BMW’s need (and always have needed) all the help they can get in regards to winter traction.

In Switzerland we had people have the slip percentage in their rear diffs. changed in an effort to find some traction. This was after the tires and the sand. I always carried a large piece of carpet just to get the car to where it was already plowed as I have seen cars parked, it snowed, the owner tried to drive away and was stuck simply because there was snow on the ground. Here in the States I saw a Dodge dually parked on the side of the road (overnight) and it snowed. Well this snow and the shoulder incline was enough to prevent the driver from pulling onto the roadway. At times it is amazing how little snow it takes to halt all progress.

PRACTICE.

A few years back my wife asks
" How do you guys just seem to know how to drive in that crap ? "
So it got me to thinking the difference between her and me even though we live and drive in the same conditions.

PRACTICE

“You guys” ??
It’s not a guy thing but the stereotype comes from guys I’m sure. As teen hot shots we’re more likely to be in the icy parking lot screwing around with slides and donuts when the girls are staying home 'cuz the weather’s bad.
Even now in bad weather , she opts for me to drive… " You know this crap weather, YOU drive."
The end result ? PRACTICE.
I’m practiced up and she’s got no clue.

I tell her multiple times to get behind the wheel for the intent purpose of getting the feel of it.
I tell her that the big toe on her right foot needs to be able to FEEL the grip ( or not ) of the tires. The big toe can tell her when too much brake will cause a slide.
This practice will tell her how to change her driving technique to meet the weather conditions.
But no.

I feel much better with her Escape having automatic all wheel drive but constantly remind her to slow, brake, and stop like walking on egg shells.
Without the the practiced feel of the road conditions the regular 4x4 with an on/off switch was still over her head. She could not feel the proper times to choose to use it or not.

Agreed. Good tires and driving skills ie traction points. Accelerate slow and easy. Brake slow and easy. Turn the steering wheel slow and easy. ABS is BS…

Snow means slow

The colder it is the better traction is

Trust me. Haul Road trucker. (Ice Road Truckers) TV gave it that name. Around here its The Haul Road.