With slippery roads around us we must be careful when we travel by car. Nothing is worse than the problems slippery roads can cause. Getting stuck on a slick spot is one thing, but getting in a wreck that can damage both property and person can be a complete disaster.
This time of year you often see articles and stories about four-wheel drive, and what it will and will not do for you in the snow. Add this column to the list of stories on this subject; we are going to break it down and tell it like it is. For some reason it seems that many people talking about this topic miss the most important point.
Four-wheel drive is extremely effective for helping you go. This is the bottom line, and a major truth in the entire debate that is often left to the side. When I say go, I mean that many times without four-wheel drive you get stuck in the snow, spinning your tires on the ice. This means that you go nowhere, or it means if you were making forward progress, that progress stops.
Nothing is better than four-wheel drive for helping you accelerate on slick surfaces, and maintain that momentum. Many people say that four-wheel drive doesn’t really help you that much, and this is just not true. Anyone reading this column that has a vehicle equipped with four-wheel drive, and they know how to use it, will understand.
Many times you lose forward momentum when going up a hill in the snow because the pull of gravity overcomes the coefficient of friction between your drive wheels and the snow-covered pavement. If you have four-wheel drive you have twice as many tires contacting the road as they are moving the car forward. On a hill the wheels may start to slip, but it takes very icy conditions, or a very steep hill in order for gravity to win the tug-o-war with 4WD.
Four-wheel drive is also good for giving you better control when turning a corner. This is one of the ways that front wheel drive really proves its worth in the snow is in turns. With front-wheel drive the wheels always pull the vehicle in the direction you want to go. Rear-wheel drive only pushes the vehicle in one direction, and we must rely on the wheels in the front to grip the ice and cause a change in vehicle direction. This doesn’t work well with rear-wheel drive in the snow. With front-wheel drive it works pretty well, with four-wheel drive it works extremely well.
Having made this point about four-wheel drive clear, we must now clarify some of the things that four-wheel drive does not do for you when driving in the snow. The most important of these is, four-wheel drive does nothing to help you stop. It has nothing to do with stopping whatsoever. This is noteworthy because a portion of the trouble that comes with driving in the snow is going, another major and perhaps more important part is stopping.
Another important thing is four-wheel drive doesn’t help you go faster than the speed you could go without it. Nothing does. Four-wheel drive gives you better control in turns but it doesn’t necessarily give you better control in a straight line. The only thing that will do this is slowing down, and keeping the throttle nice and steady as you go.
Many people with four-wheel drive get a false sense of security that makes them feel like they can go faster than everyone else. The reason four-wheel drive does not help you go faster is directly related to the other thing mentioned previously that four-wheel drive doesn’t help you do and that is stop.
When driving in the snow, we need to be able to adapt to changing conditions very quickly, but we can’t do anything quickly because the road is too slick. This is why even with four-wheel drive the best way to drive in the snow and ice is slowly.
Some people say that all you really need in the snow it the right tires. They say that even a rear wheel drive car can be great in the snow if equipped with a good set fo snow tires. There is no doubt that snow tires can make all the difference on any car, but no matter how you look at it, the car with 4WD will be far better once it has those same snow tires at all 4 of its corners. A 4X4 with bald tires is useless no doubt, but it’s still better than a rear-wheel drive car with bald tires.
So let’s get this clear: four-wheel drive will most definitely help you go in the snow. It will help you turn corners in the snow. It truly is better than front-wheel drive, and definitely better than rear-wheel drive. It will never help you stop, and it doesn’t help you go fast. So enjoy your four-wheel drive for the ability it gives you to go about your business when old man winter is with us. Remember to please do everyone a favor and keep your head on straight, slow down, and be careful.