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Media post: Everything You Thought You Knew About Driving on Snow Was Wrong

Experts say that the biggest problem with winter driving is speed, and not knowing it will take much longer to stop. Here’s some other advice to avoid problems when driving in winter conditions.

Some snow is more slippery

The amount of grip available on snow can change sharply depending on the temperatures. Warm snow is weaker and gives way more easily, so tires have a harder time getting a good grip. If its warm enough so water is forming it can be especially slippery because water acts as a lubricant.

Smooth moves are important

On dry pavement, tires have so much grip that drivers can accelerate hard and make sudden turns. But that all changes on a slippery surface. Tires can quickly lose what little grip they have when the roads are slippery out. On dry pavement it may be possible to brake while going through a turn but on snow it is safest to slow the vehicle first and then make the turn.

4WD isn’t “all you need”

The folks at at Atlantic Volkswagen (West Islip, NY) noted that it’s amazing how many people overestimate the capabilities of all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles. Its as if AWD vehicles can be used in any weather. The beauty of AWD is to help get you moving from a complete stop but when it comes to braking and cornering, AWD doesn’t give you any benefit.

Winter tires are best

For winter driving, the winter tires are far superior to the best all-season tires. One reason is a special tread design with “additional biting edges” called sipes. In addition, winter tires have a special rubber compound that stays more pliable when the temperature drops. One downside is that the softer compound doesn’t last as long as the compound on an all-season tire. Another is that the cornering and braking on dry pavement may be diminished.

The Quebec government considers winter tires to be such an advantage that in 2008 it began requiring them on passenger vehicles between December and March. Those tires must have what’s known as an “alpine” symbol, an icon with a mountain and snowflake, on the sidewall indicating they meetinternational standards for winter performance. The law applies only to vehicles registered in Quebec.

Anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control

Anti-lock brakes are designed to automatically pump the brakes and help the driver maintain control when trying to stop on a slippery surface. Electronic stability control uses sensors to determine if the front or rear of the vehicle is going in a direction that’s at odds with where the steering wheel is aimed. Then, it applies one or more brakes to try to nudge the vehicle back in the right direction. And those systems work best with winter tires because they need traction to be most effective.

What to do when it goes wrong

When you do start losing control, you need to look where you want to go rather than staring at whatever obstacle you might run into.

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