Along with the abominable snowman and the reason why winter is colder is because the earth is farther away from the sun, winter driving also has its fair share of myths.
So as we Canadians start preparing for another long season of trudging through sub-zero temperatures, slush and snow, take note of this list of winter driving fables.
Winter Tires not All-Season Tires
1. I can get by with just using my windshield wipers and rear defroster to clear the snow and ice from my car when starting out in the morning:
No you can’t. Despite advertised to work in spring, summer, fall, and winter, all-season tires are best left in your garage between November and April here in Canada. Not only do specific-to-winter tires have deeper grooves to shed snow and slush compared to all-season rubber, their cold-weather tire compounds stays soft enough to supply proper traction below 7C — something all-season rubber can’t.
2. Unless your daily commute involves tip-toeing across a frozen lake, forget about it. There are fundamentally two issues that bust this myth. Firstly, wider tires tend to ‘float’ on top of the road surface, and letting air out will only make your tires wider. For winter during, you want your tires to ‘bite’ into the snow and slush. So narrower is better.
Secondly, if you lower tire pressure too much, the sidewalls may flex too much, and cause a blowout. Just be smart and stick to what your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends.
Computer Controlled Traction and Stability Control Systems
3. Statistics have proven one of the biggest gains in car safety has been the advent of computer-controlled traction and stability control systems. These features can reduce engine power or apply the brakes — or both — to limit the amounted tire spin in adverse road conditions.
The only time you should turn these systems off is when you have come to stop in deep snow, where even with all your systems on, your vehicle is not making any forward progress. In this case only, a spinning tire may gain some traction, If not, it’s probably time to call for a tow.
Don’t Gear Down – Let Anti-Lock Brakes and Stability-Control Systems Do Their job
4. If you are braking, it is best to let the anti-lock brakes and stability-control systems do their job. Gearing down will only cause the vehicle to transfer more weight to the front of the car, making the brakes’ job even harder. And you don’t want low gear for accelerating either. Low gears multiply the amount of torque being applied to the wheels. That’s why some modern cars with ‘snow’ settings for their transmissions automatically start the vehicle in second-gear instead of first.
ABS Brakes Are Better
5. This is a tricky one in that it can technically be true in certain situations, although we’d still take a car with ABS over a car without any day of the week.
Yes, a car with anti-lock brakes can take longer to come to a complete stop than a car without. ABS brakes prevent the wheels from locking up by rapidly pulsing the brakes off and on. On low-friction surfaces, this increases the stopping distances marginally.
The upshot of this is that you can steer during a panic stop in an ABS-equipped car, whereas a car with ABS brakes will simply lock the tires up and plow straight ahead.
Never Let Go of the Steering Wheel
6. Never — and I repeat, never — ever let go of the steering wheel for any reason, regardless of season or road condition. This is one of the most dangerous things you can do behind the wheel, as you’re surrendering control of the car. Having both hands on the steering wheel will allow you to react to changing conditions and respond to other vehicles. Without your hands present to make steering inputs, you won’t be able to react to slides or skids.
Two-Wheel Drive Equally Distributes Power to Wheels
7. All-wheel drive is useful for but one thing: Getting you started. A car’s power is more evenly distributed to four wheels than two, allowing for reduced slippage when setting off. What all-wheel drive won’t do is help you stop or corner.
A proper set of snow tires on a two-wheel-drive car is safer than a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive car without proper rubber. Remember, it’s not the number of driving wheels that have power, but the number of tires with traction on the road that allows you to stay on course in slippery conditions.
Don’t Put Extra Weight in Your Vehicle’s Rear
8. Maybe if your winter beater is a 1961 Chevy Impala. But most modern cars are either front- or part-time (FWD-biased) all-wheel-drive. So putting additional weight in the rear would only reduce the amount of traction at the front. Even in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, today’s stability control systems are geared towards a known gross vehicle weight, so any adjustments could cause these systems to not work as effectively.
Stay in Your Vehicle – it’s Safer
9. Unless you are in the middle of a multilane highway and blocking traffic, you’re better off staying in the car and waiting for help to arrive. To prepare for such an incident, make sure you equip your car for winter driving with a set of reflector triangles, flares, a blanket, and a fully charged cell phone.
Make Sure You Maintain Good Visibility
10. Ask any professional during instructor: Poor visibility is the biggest cause of driver error. After all, you can’t avoid something you can’t see. So anything you can do to make sure you can see out of your vehicle in the winter helps. If that means having to put on your gloves and grabbing a proper snow brush and giving your car a good cleaning before heading out into traffic, so be it — you’re Canadian. It’s winter. Get over it.