from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

I was watching drivers on my way to work during a snow storm and realized many have no clue what to do when it gets slippery. Two snow flakes fall and the brains of at least half the drivers on the road go into neutral. Without a brain controlling what they do, they slip, they slide, they bump curbs, they bump each other and they bump you and me. Why is it that drivers feel they’re immortal or that snow only affects the other person and why does everyone avoid preparing for the inevitable? Beats me, but drivers afflicted with snow-skills-disconnect really should stay home.

On the other hand a little preparation beforehand can make life a lot easier, less costly and safer. Naturally it’s important to have your car mechanically sound and have all its lights and safety-equipment functioning properly but there’s another important part of winter driving and that’s you. Are you up to the task of driving in snow or on ice? If you’re like the majority of drivers you’re completely out of your element when it snows.

Here are some basics for driving in snowy or icy situations. First be aware that everything is more difficult when it’s slippery. Turning the steering wheel doesn’t necessarily make the car go where you want, hitting the brakes harder does not make the car stop better and the car ahead of you is always much closer than it is in the same situation on dry roads.

So what to do? First find a safe spot quickly and test how your car will react to braking and steering before you need either to avoid a collision. Then keep your speed low and always allow a lot more distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Also remember that just because the road is clear in one spot doesn’t mean it will be clear in every spot so be prepared.

If you do lose control of the car you have to regain control and that means doing something counter-intuitive, steering into the skid. In other word if you are sliding to the right but you want to go left do not steer to the left steer right, steer into the skid. When you keep the steering wheel turned in the direction you want to go rather than the direction of the skid it is nearly impossible for your tires to regain traction. But by steering into the skid the tires will more quickly gain traction and you regain control of your car. When you regain control slow way down and gently steer in the direction you wanted to go.

Also too heavy on the brake pedal will cause brake lockup which means the tires can not rotate. Locked wheels in a skid means there is little hope of regaining control. If this happens rapidly pump the brake pedal to allow the wheels to rotate momentarily which will help restore control. This is even true if your car has ABS brakes because contrary to what you may think if all four wheels are on a slippery surface they will still lock up. The reason behind this is ABS looks at the difference in rotating speed between the cars four wheels and if there is a significant difference the ABS takes over to prevent wheel lockup. But if all four wheels are already locked they are all turning at zero rpm so there is no difference in rotating speed and the ABS system will not work.

Here’s a word of warning, if you do get stuck don’t rock your car. Unless you know exactly how to do it, rocking can destroy a transmission in less than two minutes. These are just a couple of the basics you need to know to be a capable winter driver but you would do well to study and practice the long list of other driving requirements to be truly winter safe.