Take Cover…It’s Snowing!!! (AKA: A Mom’s Primer on Winter Driving)


I belong to a Facebook page that is geared at members of our community. With the recent blast of winter weather that Connecticut has seen, the page has been plush with posts expressing disbelief that school hasn’t been cancelled, or complaining about the impending snow. This always makes me wonder (and I sometimes have to bite my tongue) because..news flash…you live in Connecticut – it’s GOING to snow in the winter!

That being said, in reading the posts, I realized that the biggest source of frustration in these posts has to do with fear of winter driving. With the number of transplants from warmer climates, I realize that many people around here haven’t had much experience handling wintery roads. Having grown up in New England and having spent MANY hours driving in these conditions, I thought I would share some little tidbits here. I realize that this is not a mom-related post…directly anyway…but if it can provide a little insight to someone who has to drive their kids around, then I’ve done my job.

The Difference Between Front Wheel Drive, Rear Wheel Drive, and All/4 Wheel Drive

How many times have you heard someone say, “I won’t have any problems…I have an SUV/4WD…”?

AWD/4WD helps your vehicle actually get moving, but once you are moving and get too much speed, it won’t help you to slow down or stop (without some assistance from your car’s transmissions or brakes). Remember high school physics: “An object in motion stays in motion…?” In effect, with an AWD or 4WD vehicle, you are more likely to have more success at getting places but not necessarily avoiding ditch-diggers

So yeah, AWD and 4WD cars can be dangerous because they: 1) create a false sense of security, and; 2) do not correct idiotic driving.

When it comes to the difference between front wheel drive and rear wheel drive, if you look at the laws of physics, on a FLAT surface with no other friction, both options would be equally as effective. Google “is it easier to push or pull a heavy object” and you will find out why. However, we all know that ideal state does not always mirror reality. In most cars, the weight rests in the front of the car, because the engine sits up front. The added weight provides additional traction to the wheels that are doing the work and therefore, generally, a front wheel drive car will be slightly more effective than rear wheel drive on slippery surfaces.

Does this mean you’re doomed if you have a rear wheel drive car? Let me let you in on a little secret…throw a bunch of bags of sand or kitty litter in the trunk and you will be fine. This trick got me through numerous winters in my old Volvo boxcar (a rear wheel drive car prone to fishtailing). The added benefit is that if you get stuck somewhere, you’ll have traction grit to sprinkle on the ground!

This was my exact car (same color, too!!!) Credit: http://www.vehicleville.com/vehicles/images/133598783971414.jpg



I am always amazed at the number of people around here who do not switch to snow tires in the winter. “But I have ALL SEASON TIRES…“, you say? Well, I hate to break it to you but in deep snow conditions, All Season Tires ain’t gonna cut it. Snow tires can make the difference between being stranded and getting home.

So, what EXACTLY is the difference? Think of it in terms of shoes:

Summer Tires – Summer tires are a lot like sandals. Much like sandals, these tires don’t have a lot of tread on the bottom because they are designed to have more “road contact” (i.e. more rubber as opposed to grooving). They look and work great with the summertime outfit, but you’d probably not want to wear it in snowy, icy conditions. Many summer tires become VERY RIGID in the cold weather, turning them into the equivalent of hockey pucks (hard, shiny objects that gliiiiiiide across an icy surface).

All Season Tires – much like, sneakers, all season tires are very versatile. They tend to have better traction than sandals, with a little bit of grooving on the soles. But let’s be honest…in the iciest conditions, sneakers might work, but they are not the most ideal form of footwear. They might get you through some tricky surfaces, but try to go up an icy hill in sneakers and you’ll REALLY wish you had snow boots. You might get there eventually, but not without some slipping, sliding and added stress.

Snow Tires – snow tires are like snow boots – they were DESIGNED to handle the snow. The composition is ideal for the temperatures that you will be facing (in other words, THE FRIGID COLD), and the grooving on the soles are best designed to handle packed snow and ice. These tires tend to group the icy surfaces better (they are often a little stickier than other tires), to give you some added traction.

One word of advice – some people think it’s ok to just get snow tires mounted on the wheels that “do the work” (front wheels for FWD, rear wheels for RWD). If you’re going to go to the trouble of getting snow tires, you will be safer getting them for ALL FOUR wheels as opposed to just two.

Using Your Car’s “Technology” to Help You Out

Back when I took driver’s ed, a component of our training was becoming comfortable with a car in slippery conditions. If you drove an “ancient” car like I did, your car might not have had anti-lock braking technology and you might have been taught to “pump your brakes.” This basically prevents your wheels from locking up (and prevents your car from acting like a giant hockey puck on ice).

Almost every car manufactured recently will have the “pumping action” already built-in in the form of “Anti Lock Brakes” (ABS). If you own a car that was manufactured recently, you really don’t need to pump the brakes anymore. HOWEVER…if you’ve never experienced the sensation of ABS braking, do yourself a favor and go into an empty parking lot next time it’s slippery out. Get your car moving slowly and try to apply the brakes. Your brakes will likely make a “chattering” and feel a little weird under your feet – that’s the ABS system in action. If you wait until your driving on precarious roads to experience this for the first time, chances are that it will scare the cr*p out of you. A tip – if and when you do experience this for the first time, do not let up on the brakes. Hold them down because letting up will “reset” the sensor, effectively disengaging the ABS.

What Exactly Do the Other Gears in the Car Do??

The advent of automatic transmission has made people “lazy” when it comes to driving. Have you ever looked at your car’s gear stick and wondered what the gears beyond Park, Rear, Neutral and Drive do? Have you ever wondered when it’s appropriate to throw your car into manual mode or a lower gear?

If you’ve ever driven a stick shift, you may already know how to use the car’s transmission to safely get you around – after all, there IS a reason why you have multiple “speed transmission” in your car. If you own an automatic and you’re lucky, your car may have a “snow mode” which might take care of shifting into proper gears for you – you can pretty much turn it on and feel pretty good that you’ll be ok, gear wise. If you’re not so lucky, it might be a little bit of a guessing game.

All that aside, most cars today are very smart and will take care of shifting into proper gear given your conditions…but if there’s one thing you should know, it’s this: on a very icy downhill, shifting your car into first gear when you’re at the top of the hill will keep your car from going too fast without you having to use the brakes. I’ve never been able to get anyone to satisfactorily explain the physics behind HOW this works (this site seems to explain it), but trust me…it works.

On the day that this post publishes, we are anticipating a snowstorm in our part of the state. Hopefully this post will have provided SOMEONE with a little extra insight into how to be more confident in snowy conditions. Bottom line is…practice will make perfect…no amount of knowledge will really replace experience. So, in the meantime, I urge you all to be safe, be careful and drive slowly.

4 thoughts on “Take Cover…It’s Snowing!!! (AKA: A Mom’s Primer on Winter Driving)

  1. I’m with you, a resident New Englander that was taught most of this stuff (granted, before AWD and ABS) as a condition of getting behind the wheel. Oh, and when in the middle of a slide, in spite of yourself, turn TOWARD the slide to avoid a spin out. So many tricks! I still prefer, when possible, to call it a snow day and get to playing.

  2. Love this post! Another tip I’d love to add is to PLEASE clear the snow off the TOP of your car!! I’ve caught a windshield full of ice/snow blown off the top of the car in front of me – it comes hurling at your face, makes a horrifying CRASH sound (even when it doesn’t break your windshield), and I’m suddenly driving totally blind with a windshield completely covered with snow! Also, it’s the law – you’re supposed to take the snow off the top of your car before you drive it around.

    1. Haha, I saw that the other day – a lady was driving her car PILED up with snow and she had just dug out a space just large enough to see out her front windshield.

      1. It’s actually a LAW now in CT that you have to remove the snow from the top of your car or you can get a ticket!

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