A Slippery Slope – Winter Driving Part 1

Those of you who know me on Facebook have been treated to my rants about winter tires for a number of years.  Some 25 years ago I moved from the beaches of the Carolinas and Virginia to the snowy climate of Michigan.   I asked many of my neighbors, co-workers and customers who worked at the major car companies for their winter tire recommendations. I was shocked at the replies.  Apparently the “local experts” had no need for winter tires.  My favorite was response was “We don’t need them, why do you think automakers sell cars with all season tires?”  The first rule of sports is always proper equipment.  Why should driving be any different?  But after equipment, the next most important thing is training.  And for this reason we have wonderful driving schools like The Bridgestone Winter Driving School by The Center for Driving Sciences in Steamboat Springs.

DSCN9699Before we begin with the Winter Driving School, let’s start with what I call IOE = Illusions of Equipment.  There are 3 main illusions about winter driving equipment that can be very dangerous.  In some cases these illusions can actually cause the accident people are thinking they are avoiding.

 

DSCN0052Illusion #1 – All Season Tires are good enough.  First, All Season Tires aren’t.  That’s why driving experts tend to call them “No Season Tires”.  I think they were dreamed up by a brilliant marketing team somewhere – apparently those people were really good at their jobs because most people believe it.  Rumor has it they are working on this year’s presidential election so be careful about believing everything you hear.  All Season Tires are a compromise design, and as with most compromises, they can be serviceable sometimes but they don’t do anything particularly well.  Especially winter driving.

DSCN0016Illusion #2 – I only need Winter Tires if it snows alot.   Winter Tires are more than snow tires.  Some of the things that make them better in snow, also make them better when the temperatures turn colder.   To better understand why, you have to look at how tire performance is achieved.  Manufacturers have a few tools at their disposal to design and engineer tires that function differently in different conditions.  Stiff sidewalls are good for high performance driving, open tread blocks are good for driving in loose road conditions (like snow), and softer rubber compounds provide more grip.  When temperatures drop, rubber becomes harder and looses traction.  Which is why Winter Tires have special soft rubber compounds, so they work in low temperatures even when there is no snow.  To see this for yourself, all you have to do is go outside when its cold and try and stick your thumbnail into your tire.

20160129_123555Illusion #3 – I have 4 wheel drive – I don’t need Winter Tires.  The benefits of all-wheel or 4-wheel drive are clear, better traction to accelerate in all different types of conditions.  But that traction is limited to acceleration.  4-wheel drive vehicles may actually take longer to stop (since they are heavier) and for the same reason they may not turn better either.  In fact, a rear-wheel drive car with Winter Tires will most often out perform a 4-wheel drive vehicle with All Season Tires in snow and icy conditions.

DSCN9682These illusions are simple, widespread and potentially dangerous.  If your area has cold winters and more than occasional snow, buying Winter Tires can actually save you money.  For many vehicles a set of Winter Tires is less than the cost of your insurance deductible.  And they will make your summer or all season tires last longer.  As Bridgestone says on their website, the best way to think of your car’s tires is to compare them to your shoes.  A canvas tennis show is perfect for the summer but not so good if it is snowy.  By the same measure you wouldn’t wear snow boots to the beach in the summer time.

Tips-3-Picture

If you want to see a video demonstration about the items discussed here I would suggest watching this episode of Motorweek and skip to the 7 minute mark.  You will never drive in the winter without Winter Tires again.

winter

Come back tomorrow for Part 2  – the benefits of training

 

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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