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Driving tips

The 5 most common winter driving myths

Published November 26, 2013
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With one of the first storm warnings of 2013 hovering over our heads Tuesday evening, this seems like a good time to review our winter driving skills. There seem to be more misconceptions  regarding driving in winter than in any other season. Here, driving instructor Ian Law reviews   five driving myths he says are either confusing or dangerous or both.

More: Beware, ‘driving blind’ like this can net you a big ticket

1. You are safer in an AWD (All Wheel Drive) vehicle: This particular myth has been bolstered by some of the auto manufacturers who have linked their AWD technology to safety. In actual fact, AWD is a performance feature and not a safety feature. This particular technology only helps a vehicle to accelerate. It does not help a vehicle to steer any better or stop in a shorter distance. It all comes down to how much grip your tires develop. The tires on any vehicle can only develop a certain amount of grip and this is determined by the tire’s tread compound, tread design and the construction of the tire. Sending engine power through a tire will not magically make it develop more grip.

On slippery roads, a vehicle with AWD will not have more grip than a two-wheel drive vehicle with the same tires. It will only accelerate better. The AWD technology available in today’s vehicles is amazing. It can instantly and seamlessly divert engine power to the tires that have the most grip for accelerating. The downside to this technology is it can mask just how slippery the roads really are leading to driver overconfidence.

2. You don’t need winter tires when driving in the city: There may be less snow at times in the city but on the other hand, there have been times when the city has had more snow due to the lake effect compared to areas outside the city. Along with this, winter tires offer better grip in temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius. This includes improved grip on wet pavement, dry pavement, slush, snow and ice. Every vehicle is safer when equipped with winter tires for any winter road, city or rural. Those who refuse to install winter tires are probably the motorists stuck at the bottom of the hill holding up traffic when it snows. Yes, you should use winter tires even in the city. (Maybe that was our own Norris McDonald stuck at the bottom of those hills!)

3. You only need 2 winter tires Some motorists with either rear- or front-wheel drive feel that they only need two winter tires. Most will install them only on the driver wheels. Installing only two winter tires can be dangerous. Putting two winter tires on the rear of a rear-wheel drive vehicle means you can get going just fine, but steering and stopping will be greatly compromised. It is the steering and stopping ability that will keep you safe. Others with front wheel drive feel they need it only on the front of their vehicle. This will allow them to get going and steer just fine. The danger comes in the rear of the vehicle having very little traction causing an imbalance in handling and the greater chance of experiencing a rear-end skid (or oversteer) leading to loss of control.

4. You should let your vehicle warm up before driving This only wastes fuel and adds wear and tear. Modern vehicles are designed with close tolerances in the machining of their mechanical parts and really don’t need to be warmed up like vehicles of years ago. They also warm up faster and with newer and better lubricants, vehicles do not need to sit and warm up before being driven. This is especially true if you are using synthetic oils. These oils do not thicken up in cold temperatures like conventional oil and as such, they flow better in colder temperatures. Even on the coldest days, you need not idle any longer than 15 seconds before driving away.

5. If you start to skid, you should always put the vehicle in neutral  This really only applies to some rear-wheel drive vehicles. There are some skids that require the driver to actually apply the gas, such as a rear-end skid in a front-wheel or AWD vehicle. If you have put the vehicle into neutral, applying gas to recover from a rear skid will not help. Skid recovery skills are more complicated than most people realize and are specific to certain drive configurations. To recover from a rear-end skid in a rear-wheel drive vehicle is different than in a front or AWD vehicle. To best learn how to recover from a skid, locate a winter driving school that will allow you to practise in your own vehicle and show you how to control the vehicle you drive.

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