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  • Winter Driving Tips from a Pro

    Posted on December 8th, 2011 ninarussin

    Thinking ahead is the key to maintaining control

    By Nina Russin

    Bridgestone Winter Driving School, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

    When I lived in Chicago, drivers prepared for winter, if for no other reason than its inevitability. In the southwestern United States where I now live, we celebrate not having to worry about snow and ice. The problem occurs when drivers who normally don’t encounter snow and ice decide to head for the mountains to enjoy some skiing or snowboarding over the winter break.

    What can an inexperienced driver do to ensure that his trip up to the mountains is a safe one? I asked Mark Cox, a professional race car driver and director of Bridgestone’s Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for some advice.

    “If you’re using good technique, front, rear and all-wheel drive cars all perform the same,” said Cox. “The idea that they don’t is an urban myth. However if you aren’t using good technique, they perform differently.”

    “You only have three ways to control a car,” Cox continued. Those controls are braking, steering and accelerating. According to Cox, the best way to maintain traction on ice and snow is by only using one control at a time.

    Mark Cox, Director, Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    For example, don’t accelerate into a turn. A car can only turn properly when the majority of the weight is over the front wheels. Acceleration transfers weight to the rear wheels, so the front wheels lose traction.

    “On the flip side, if you aren’t cornering you can accelerate, but do so in a straight line,” Cox explained.

    “Realize that it takes four to ten times longer to stop on ice and snow than dry pavement,” Cox continued. Drivers need to plan further ahead to be able to respond appropriately.

    “Any place where cars start and stop in the same spot, there will be ice,” Cox explained. The heat off the tires melts snow, which then refreezes into ice. Cox recommends moving over slightly in the lane to avoid ice patches in intersections.

    Drivers who plan to visit the high country with any regularity to seriously consider investing in a set of winter tires. Most people believe that winter tires are only important in deep snow. That is simply not true.

    Whereas all-season radials are compounded to work in a wide variety of temperatures, including the heat of the summer, they become hard and start losing traction when the mercury dips below freezing. Winter tires are compounded to stay soft in extreme cold weather to give the car a better footprint.

    All winter tires have some method of moving water out of the way. It isn’t the ice which causes cars to slip and slide; it’s the very thin layer of water which the warm tire creates passing over the ice patch that causes the wheels to lose traction.

    Some winter tires have sipes, small rubber blades which act like squeegees to push this layer of water out of the way. Bridgestone’s proprietary Blizzak compounding uses microscopic cells on the surface of the tire which absorb this thin layer of water.

    Snow tires also have void areas in the tread pattern. The voids give a place for the snow to collect so that the wheel can maintain traction with the ground.

    “People need to be aware of the condition of their tires,” said Cox. “The best tire for deep snow is a brand new snow tire with no tread wear. A half-worn snow tire is going to perform in deep snow like an all-season radial, and a half-worn all-season radial is going to perform like a summer performance tire, which should never be used in the snow.”

    For some car owners, driving in snow is a rare event. It doesn’t make financial sense for these individuals to invest in snow tires. Cox says that while he rarely endorses chains except for very deep snow and off-road driving, the newer cable chain designs can help in a pinch, and not be as hard on the vehicle as traditional chains.

    Cox stresses that in certain conditions such as deep snow, it’s essential for drivers to have the right equipment. Drivers who try to brave severe winter weather without the right tires put not only themselves but everyone else on the road at risk.

    For more winter driving tips, visit Bridgestone’s winter driving web site.

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