Driving on snowy or icy roads requires special attention to safety. Although it's impossible to have ideal road conditions 365 days a year, there are certain precautions you can take to make winter driving safer. Here are some tips and suggestions from your premier Denver Auto Repair location to help you get ready for the hazards of winter.
1. Be prepared: Before you set out in winter weather, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped, says Pearl. That means snow tires or chains in extreme conditions.
2. Slow down: Driving too fast is the No. 1 winter driving error, Pearl says. "Read the road to choose the appropriate speed," he instructs. Slippery roads make every mistake happen faster and more dramatically. And don't think antilock brakes, stability systems or other vehicle control mechanisms will help you if you're sliding, Pearl warns. "If you're going too fast, you're going to go off the road and nothing's going to change that."
3. Look ahead: "Winter drivers need to use their eyes more effectively," states Pearl. Not only should you be aware of road ice and other slippery conditions, but you should also double the distance you normally allow between you and the car in front of you. An easy calculation for this distance is four car lengths for every 10 mph you are traveling. That means if you are doing 40 mph, you should leave 16 car lengths between you and the vehicle ahead. Also, says Pearl, look ahead and get ready for corners and other obstacles before you arrive at them. "A good driver looks ahead and anticipates problems. An inattentive driver doesn't watch the road and is forced to react to problems, usually abruptly."
4. Brake before you enter a corner: Smoothly apply your brakes before you reach a corner and then release the brakes and use all the grip of the car to corner. Then, once you are through the turn, accelerate out. "Enter a corner with too much speed and then try to adjust in the corner and you will lose grip," warns Pearl. When the wheels are braking, their surface becomes static and they can behave like four hockey pucks and can move multi-directionally (that is: spin). If that happens, you will likely lose control of your vehicle.
5. Practice the smooth and effective use of the vehicle's controls: As in the cornering instruction above, Pearl teaches his winter driving students to use their vehicle controls smoothly and surely. "The steering wheel gives people the most trouble," he observes. "They're too rough and imprecise with it." The result of bad steering wheel control is that your vehicle will become imbalanced. Once that happens, you'll probably skid. Therefore, it's important to stay in control of your vehicle's weight distribution. That takes some understanding of your vehicle's physical dynamics.
6. Be informed: Regardless of whether your vehicle is rear-wheel, front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the results of a loss of balance are the same, Pearl explains. What you need to understand is where the bulk of your vehicle's weight resides and how your engine power can affect that weight. In a pickup, all the weight is in the front with the engine and the cab, so, with little weight over them, the rear wheels have tenuous grip and the back end can easily slip out. Likewise, a rear-wheel-drive muscle car, such as a Ford Mustang GT, has a lopsided power-to-weight ratio, so its back end is also prone to losing grip on slippery roads. A front-wheel-drive, front-engine sedan, such as a Honda Accord, also has a light rear, so that if you abruptly lift off the accelerator in a corner, all the weight shifts to the front and the rear has little grip. The result can be that the car will pull to the side in a corner and spin out.
7. Learn how to control a skid: Although this is probably best learned and practiced on a driving course, Pearl describes what you should do if you find yourself in an over-steer situation (meaning: your car is turning too much). "You have to go against your natural tendencies," he says. "Turn into the skid. You also need to accelerate." That last piece of advice seems to freak people out the most, he admits. "People don't think about accelerating to control the car." However, many over-steer skids can be controlled and a disaster averted simply by releasing the brake and gently accelerating. This transfers the weight from the front to the rear wheels, which allows you to steer into the direction of the skid, gain control of the vehicle and continue safely on your way. If you drive a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, cautions Pearl, be careful not to over-accelerate or the tires may spin and you will over-steer and slide out of the turn. In an under-steer skid (when your car refuses to turn and is sliding), once again it's important not to react instinctively by over-correcting the steering wheel, by braking or by doing both simultaneously. Under-steering is usually caused by entering a corner too quickly and then turning. To turn the vehicle effectively, your wheels need grip. If you react to an under-steer skid by turning more, you're only asking for more grip, which is unavailable. The same is true if you brake. Instead, Pearl advises, in an under-steer skid, carefully adjust your steering wheel until you regain some grip at the front wheels. Once grip is restored, gently and precisely add steering. Of course, this requires room to maneuver, but if you adhere to point No. 3 above, you should have plenty of room.
Mastering control of your vehicle in snow and other winter driving conditions comes with learning proper driving techniques and with experience. In time, encourages Pearl, you should develop what he calls a good "seat of the pants" feel for winter driving, meaning an intuition about how your car will behave in certain situations and circumstances.
If you have been unfortunate enough to succumb to an accident due to the snow, or any other reason, visit your Denver Car Repair Center, at one of our local Groove Auto dealerships. Our experienced Service consultants and technicians will be able to take care of you and your vehicle and get you back on the road as quickly as possible.