Living in the Valley of The Sun you probably don’t do much driving on snow and ice. And that could be more of an issue than you might realize, especially if you plan on doing a little snow skiing this winter up north. A little advanced knowledge in driving in winter conditions could save you from some expensive repairs or even physical harm.
Winter roads can be trouble. Ice, snow, slush, and sludge all create a mess that can be difficult to drive in. On top of that, it gets dark much earlier and sweeping snow, on-coming headlights, and a dirty windshield can make visibility difficult. Sometimes, our tires lose grip with the surface of the road, causing the vehicle to slide out of control. This guide shows you how to keep your cool and recover from an ice-induced skid.
This type of skidding occurs when you apply too much pressure to the gas pedal for the available traction. It occurs when there’s a lot of soft snow on the ground, usually when you’re starting from a stopped or slow traveling position. In this situation, the tires will start to spin faster than the car is traveling. What happens next all depends on whether you’re driving a front-, four-, or rear-wheel drive vehicle. But regardless of the outcome of wheel spinning, the cure is simply backing off the gas until the tires regain traction. Then try accelerating again, but press the gas gently, slowly gaining speed.
Sometimes wheel spinning can work to your advantage. If you’re the bottom of a large hill and there’s a fresh layer of the fluffy, white stuff on the road, you can rev your engine and spin the tires to strip away the top layer of snow. Your tires will then be in contact with the road surface beneath where traction is ensured. This may mean the difference between getting to the top of the hill or sliding back down.
Wheel spinning should be avoided in turns, because your car may slide off of the road completely or into the other lane and oncoming traffic. Also, if there’s packed snow on the ground, the spinning tires may only pack the layer of snow more and create a sheer layer of hard snow or ice, which clearly is ineffective when it comes to traction.
The opposite of wheel spinning is when the tires lock up, causing the car to skid. This happens when the brakes are pressed quickly and hard. The tires may stop, but the car will keep moving. Usually it occurs when the roads are slippery, and the tires have no traction or grip on the road. If this happens, you should release the brakes until the tires start moving again. You may not even need to take your foot completely off the brakes to do this. Once the tires start to move, try braking again, but more softly and with a slower progression.
Most modern cars have anti-lock brake systems (ABS), which will prevent the wheels from locking up. Instead, the brake pressure will pulsate to all four wheels so that the tires keep turning. ABS may make it harder to brake quickly on loose surfaces, such as snow or gravel. Increase your following space and give yourself extra braking time to compensate.
Understeering, sometimes called “plowing” or “pushing,” is when a car is turning a corner and the front tires lose grip with the surface of the road. The car will continue to travel straight, even though the wheels are turned. It typically occurs when the car is going too fast for the conditions and can be handled by gently applying the brakes. Do not slam on the brakes, as that will only make things worse.
Understeering can occur during several other instances. For example, in a front-wheel drive vehicle, spinning the front tires can cause an understeer skid. It can happen if you lock up the front tires while turning a corner. Sometimes understeer occurs in lighter cars or those with soft suspension. If there’s not enough weight on the front tires, they aren’t being pushed down into the surface of the road, but rather sitting on top of the snow.
The most common – and natural – response to an understeer skid is to over-turn. However, the issue is not with the wheels, but with the traction. Slowly brake, feel the tires catch the traction, and then slowly accelerate into the turn.
The opposite of understeering, oversteering is when the rear tires lose grip and the rear of the vehicle starts to slide sideways. It most often occurs because of wheelspin in rear-wheel drive (and some four-wheel drive) cars. Simply ease off the gas pedal and continue to steer in the direction you wish to go.
This skid can also occur if you are driving too fast and try to turn a corner while applying the brakes. It can also occur in pick-up trucks, front-wheel drive autos, and other vehicles that are light in the back. What happens is there is simply not enough weight on the back tires, so they slide, unable to get traction. In this case, release the brakes and maybe even gently press the throttle to put some weight back onto the rear tires to stop the slide.
Fishtailing, or counterskidding, happens when you fail to properly correct an oversteering skid. The rear of the car will slide back and forth, gaining momentum, until the vehicle skids out of control. It must be handled quickly and efficiently within the first or second skid.
If you experience oversteering, look down the road to where you want to drive and point the tires towards that spot. As the car straightens out, straighten out the steering wheel so that the entire time, the tires are pointing where you want to go. This kind of skidding occurs if you are late in making steering corrections or if you overcorrect and then continue to make the same mistake. Steering is key. Make gentle corrections to prevent the rear of the car from sliding back and forth.
Hopefully you’ve learned some techniques to make your next excursion up north a safer one!
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