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Driving in Snow: Seven Tips From An Ol’ Sales Guy

Driving in Snow: Seven Tips From An Ol’ Sales Guy

What a snowy¬†hit we’re taking here in the Alpine region of Europe this week.

As bad as it often gets here, I grew up with worse snow in Upstate New York.¬† We learned how to drive on roads that were hardly plowed and with tires that weren’t nearly as advanced as they are today.

When I was New York State Sales Manager for a California winery back in the 80’s, I was sometimes forced to drive across the entire State of New York in¬†heavy snow.¬† I recommend getting a hotel when it gets bad, but I sure learned a lot by grinding on.

A few time-tested skills can make all the difference between getting home a little late or calling a tow truck.

Here are a few tips that I swear by:

  1. Don’t drive if you don’t have to.¬† Do you really need to go see that client?¬† Clients usually understand and, very often, they’ll prefer to cancel too.¬† Do you really need to pick-up that material?¬† If it can wait, then… let it wait.
  2. Drive slow.¬† No-brainer, right?¬† But then, you think, this piece of road is pretty straight, and… Forget it!¬† There’s nothing more incovenient¬†and time consuming¬†than sliding off the side of the road.¬† If you think slowing down is silly, then do the math.¬† In snow, your traction can be 10% of what it is on clean roads.¬† At half your normal speed, you’re still ice skating.¬† “Slow down.¬† Take it EA-sy!”
  3. Drive even slower downhill.¬† Do the math above.¬† Now factor in gravity.¬† Maybe you should be going 10% of your normal speed.¬† Have you ever gone sledding?¬† It’s all physics.¬† Science doesn’t forgive.
  4. Keep your RPM’s low.¬† Drive in higher gears, even at slower speeds.¬† This is counter-intuitive, but it’s winter driving’s best kept secret.¬†¬†“Torque” gets better traction than “rev.”¬† In other words, your car will handle better, and your wheels will grip the snowy road better, if you go 40 km/hr in fourth gear as opposed to second.¬†¬† This also applies to pulling out from a dead stop.¬† Try letting your foot off the clutch while hardly accelerating, and then¬†shifting gently into second gear when you get to 10 km/hr.¬† Now we’re into mechanics and physics.¬† Too much for this post, but in the snow,¬†you’ll simply be fighting the laws of science if you get¬†your engine’s¬†RPM’s up to 3,000 before shifting into the next gear.
  5. Don’t spin the wheels if you get stuck.¬† This is directly related to the low RPM thing above.¬† And more science.¬† If you get a bit stuck, the last thing you should do is spin your tires!!!¬† This will only turn the snowy surface under the tires into glare ice while digging a hole.¬†¬†Then you’re sunk.¬† (Literally.)¬† So the minute your tires start to spin, let off the gas.¬† Your tires will usually grip with the torque and grind their way out of the snow.¬† If not, let the car rock back, then give it a little goose of gas again, then let it rock back further, goosing and rocking a little more each time until you can give it just enough gas to grind your way out.¬† Torque, goose¬†and grind.¬†¬†Don’t rev,¬†spin and dig holes!
  6. Use your hand brake.¬† This one has been a lifesaver for me (perhaps literally) on more than one occasion.¬† Say you’re going slow and you¬†step on the brakes; and in spite of ABS-Braking, you lose your steering.¬† Most (but not all!) hand brakes apply to the back wheels only.¬† This¬†allows your front wheels to keep rolling… and steering.¬†¬†¬† It’s a last resort, but if you’re in trouble, it might be your only resort.
  7. Don’t over-steer.¬† Over-steering is what gets¬†drivers into the most trouble¬†in snow, after speed, of course.¬† Let’s say your right tire gets into¬†deeper, unplowed¬†snow.¬† As an alert driver, you might yank the wheel to the left.¬† But this could actually send you further into the deeper snow, because your tire is now resisting the snow as opposed to rolling over it.¬† Over-steering in¬†the open but icy road, on the other hand, could¬†send you into an outright¬†spin.¬†¬†When you need to correct your steering in deep snow or ice,¬†hold the steering wheel straight and firm, and pull it just slightly, in this case,¬†back to the left.

Perhaps I need a disclaimer here.  Use these tips at your own discretion.  Disclaimer or not, I firmly believe that these seven points can save you a lot of misery while driving in snow.

I’ll be the guy other people are passing.¬† Chances are, I’ll be a few minutes late.

I hope you’re a few minutes late,¬†too.¬† It’s better than calling a tow-truck¬† Slow down.¬† Take it EA-sy!


Photo by Carlos.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/42177787@N04/4312793881/sizes/z/in/photostream/

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