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Driving in the Snow

01/12/2011

With Christmas getting closer the potential for snow driving is becoming greater so in advance here is the Weekendtoyz guide to driving in the snow…

This post is more aimed at general road driving however does have some relevance to rally driving or racing in bad
weather conditions. Also it continues the section on avoiding accidents.
In general the best advice would be not to drive in the snow unless it’s absolutely necessary
however if you do the main thing is not to panic, not to go too fast and not to drive to close to
other drivers.
Its worth remembering that the wider the wheels the less grip you will actually have on the
snow. This is because a wider tire spreads the weight of the car out over a larger surface area
and is less likely to penetrate through the snow to the tarmac underneath than a tire with a
smaller surface area. You could be in a sports car with wide wheels, all round drilled and
vented brake disks but there’s no way you’re going to stop quicker than an old ford fiesta with
front disks, rear drums and skinny wheels and tires! In other words, keep your distance.
You need to be able to feel the road conditions through the car, on an icy road the steering
wheel will feel lighter than normal. You may feel the back of the car getting light as it over
steers or the front of the car slide as you get under steer into corners.
People seem to just panic and hit the brakes as soon as they start to get a bit of under steer
or over steer. This is the worst thing you can possibly do as you will lose any remaining
traction you did have and continue to hurtle towards the kerb, or static object of some
description. Chances are you’re not moving that quickly anyway so you have time to think
about the situation. You need to analyse the situation, for example you have turned the wheel
but the car is still going straight. Ok so you’re in a state of under steer, in a front wheel drive
this will have probably occurred because the driving wheels have started to spin. Taking this
into consideration you should lift off of the accelerator, be careful not to turn the steering
wheel further into the corner, it won’t help, and in fact it will make the situation worse as the
more the wheels are turned in, the more traction is required. The wheels should gradually find
grip as the car decelerates and very suddenly the car will start to turn.
Still hurtling toward a static object? Ok don’t panic, keep the steering wheel pointing the
direction you want to go, again without turning it too far. Give the handbrake a very quick tug,
keep the button pressed in as not to accidentally lock it on. The back wheels will lock and put
the car into a state of over steer. Our aim here is to get the front of the car to point in the
direction we want to go so feel free to tug the handbrake again if the angle isn’t tight enough,
we can then turn the wheels to face straight or counter steer if the car is pointing in at a tighter
angle than we want to be going, then very gradually accelerate. This should pull the car in the
direction we want to go.
This said there are situations in the snow where you are quite helpless. For example if you
were to lose traction down a hill it can be very difficult to regain it again before you have hit
the car in front. Once the wheels are locked you’re not really going to get any grip so
remember to keep pumping the brakes on and off, however in a modern car the ABS should
do this for you. Your only real options are to run the front inside wheel into the kerb to slow
you down or if the other side of the road is clear try to steer around the car in front. With any
luck the extra room you now have will be enough for you to regain traction.
It’s worth having a spade in the boot and making sure you have warm clothing. If you do get
stuck at least you have a chance of digging yourself out without getting frost bite.

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