Here in Michigan winter driving is something that everyone who drives a car has to deal with at one point or another. Winter driving isn’t easy, but then again—what type of driving is?
Winter means different things in different places. Here in the Midwest, it means alternating ice, snow, and rain (and sometimes all three at the same time). It tends to make driving a little trickier than usual. Having grown up in Michigan, I have over a decade’s worth of winter driving experience under my belt, which is just enough to know that you have to be prepared for anything.
While we’re in the depths of winter, there are a few things to keep in mind while you’re out there on the road, no matter what conditions your run into.
Traction helps get you going, but it also helps you stop. In the winter, as the temperatures drop below 40 degress, the rubber that makes up your summer or all-season tires hardens, reducing the friction between you and the road. This makes it difficult to accelerate (especially if there’s any ice or snow on the ground), reduces cornering speed, and increase stopping distances.
All Wheel Drive / Four Wheel Drive
All Wheel Drive (AWD) and Four Wheel Drive (4WD) systems work wonders when traction is limited by increasing the amount of traction available.
What AWD and 4WD systems don’t do is provide better traction.
This is a fact that many truck and SUV owners don’t seem to grasp—driving quickly in poor conditions, often passing the rest of us who are driving, understandably, more carefully.
These are the same people who we’ll see stuck in a ditch further down the road.
Snow tires are designed to improve traction in slippery conditions and stay pliable in cold temperatures—they’re purpose-made for the winter conditions many of us see in the Northern states.
They have deep, wide treads and are made of softer rubber than the all-season tires that came with your car. This helps allows you to get moving easier, corner more stably, and come to a stop more safely. Snow tires are probably the single best investment you can make for winter driving.
Unlike four-wheel- and all-wheel-drive, snow tires do provide better traction.
Just make sure to take them back off when spring comes around—they don’t last very long or perform well in warmer temperatures.
Some states allow drivers to install studded tires or snow chains on their cars. These can greatly improve your tracking on snow and ice, however they’re not legal everywhere. In Michigan, we’re not allowed to use them, so I can’t speak to how well they perform. Before you opt for these more aggressive winter weather options, make sure to check your state’s traffic laws.
In the cold, the wet, and the slippery, the only real way to keep from getting into an accident is to slow down.
Starting, stopping, and turning are all more difficult when there’s snow and ice on the ground. Taking it slow gives you more control and opportunity to stop when you need to.
Everyone has a different comfort level when driving in wet, icy, and snowy conditions. Much of this depends on your skill, your experience driving in those conditions, your experience with the car you’re driving, and condition of the equipment on your car. Bald tires can make the most experienced drivers have trouble in the best conditions and snow tires and add confidence to a novice driver.
What winter driving boils down to, though, is staying within your comfort level as well as paying attention to the conditions on the road around you. You might feel comfortable driving the speed limit with snow on the ground, but if the other cars around you don’t, the safest thing to do is fall in line and take your time.