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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Driving In a Winter Wonderland

Winter hit my area hard in the past couple weeks, and with the cold and the snow comes the rash of accidents from folks who either never learned to drive in inclement weather or were never taught. Even if you live someplace that rarely gets snow, you may find yourself in a place that does, so driving in it is a skill worth learning.

4 Wheel Drive
A 4x4 is a great thing, and very handy to have. The added traction and clearance are a great aid in getting where you want to go. However, four wheel drive and all-wheel drive do not mean four wheel stop. Slick is still slick, and you will still slide. You aren't exempt from the laws of physics or the rest of the tips in this article.

Check Your Tire Pressure 
This is something you should be doing on a regular basis anyway, but it is particularly important in the winter, as cold temperatures cause air to take up less volume, lowering your tire pressure. This increases stopping distance, hampers maneuverability, increases tire wear, and dramatically reduces fuel economy. It is a simple thing, but vital to monitor.

In addition, make sure you have appropriate tires for the weather:
  • Summer performance tires are completely inappropriate. 
  • All-season tires will usually suffice, especially on passenger cars. 
  • My truck wears something a bit more aggressive, but that is because I spend a lot of time in the dirt and mud. 
  • If you can afford them, a set of snow tires are a very worthwhile investment.

Take Your Time
Increase the following distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. Travel speeds can be markedly slower than usual, so give yourself added time. In one storm this winter, I saw my commute time triple on what is normally a 25 minute drive. Watch the news or your weather site of choice, and plan ahead.

Be Gentle
By this I mean "Have gentle control inputs".
  • Use a lighter foot than normal on your gas and brakes. 
  • Use smaller, more frequent steering corrections. Big, rapid control inputs get magnified by slick surfaces, and cause catastrophic loss of control. 
  • Also, avoid using cruise control in these conditions; maintain as much manual control of you car as possible.

Practice
For me, this is the fun part.
  1. Find an empty parking lot with minimal obstructions, and make your car skid and slide. 
  2. Learn where your brakes will lock and the vehicle will slide. 
  3. Figure out which direction it likes to slide. 
  4. Learn to turn into a skid, and how to apply little braking during the slide. 
  5. Don't get out of hand, as you don't want someone to call the police, but learn as much as you can when there's nothing to hit.

If You Do Get Stuck
Stay with your vehicle.
  • If you're stranded away from civilization, you can tie a bright piece of cloth to your antenna and use your flashers to be more visible. 
  • If you're using your car's heater, do so in short intervals and shut the car off in between. 
  • Make sure that the exhaust pipe is clear when you start the engine, otherwise deadly fumes can build up. 
  • Don't leave your car unless remaining is entirely unsafe. A two ton block of metal and plastic is far easier to find than 200 pounds of human.

Plan ahead, be smart, and stay warm.

Lokidude

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