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Conquering Winter Off-Road: Basic Principles of Driving on Snow and Ice

Why does the car skid even though it hasn’t bottomed out? How to drive on virgin snow? Even the most inexperienced owners of all-wheel drive vehicles face similar questions in winter. But the main doubts and disputes arise regarding tires. Which tread is better – mud, all-purpose, or winter? The car service experts from Indy Auto Man claim that winter tires always perform better on snow, but they are only half the battle. Here are several main rules to follow when driving on snow and ice.

No Brakes

Not so long ago, experienced drivers carried a bag of sand and salt in the trunk in winter. In severe icy conditions, some climbs on unswept roads become insurmountable, and sometimes, you cannot even leave the gates of your own home. Added sand helps prevent slipping. But the slipperiest road surface is ice-wetted with water at about 32°F degrees or slightly higher – the so-called “black ice”. The beginners in these conditions make a common mistake: turn the steering wheel all the way, but the car continues to drive straight. They reflexively press on the brake and fly into a snowdrift. What should have been done instead? Set the front wheels to a less turned-out position, do not press the brake too hard, and use the wheels’ traction to tuck the car into the turn. Hence the second rule: if you find yourself in a slippery area, do not turn the steering wheel sharply and do not use the brakes if possible. And, most importantly, even on a flat and straight road, avoid high speed. Smooth actions with the steering wheel and gas will make the car, albeit reluctantly, still respond. Abrupt maneuvering is a direct path to trouble.

Just Drown

Snow is frozen water. You can only travel along it on skis, sleds, and tracks. Sometimes, on ultra-low-pressure tires, if you are driving a 4×4 SUV. Everyone else first digs to a solid foundation and then moves forward. This is how the paws and hooves of animals, human legs, and car wheels work. So, for driving in deep snow, narrow tires with good winter tread are best. It is better to keep the pressure no lower than when driving on asphalt. This allows the tires to reach the hard bottom under the snow quickly. At the same time, the car yaws less, cutting ruts in the snow more easily.

Back and Forth

A snowdrift is always better to overcome at speed, accelerating in advance. Just make sure first that there are no solid obstacles underneath, such as concrete blocks or something similar. While moving, always work the steering wheel a quarter turn left and right, pushing the snow in front of you with your wheels and effectively using the side grips of the tires. If the car stops, don’t accelerate or skid! Engage reverse gear and go back a little along your track. Then forward again. So, little by little, you can make a rut even in deep virgin soil. The main principle is to trample the snow under the wheels for better support. It is more difficult if you need to change direction. In this case, each wheel will follow its path, and there will be four tracks. Take your time and continue to use the back-and-forth technique. This will take more time but it will allow you to get out on your own. But it’s still better to maintain as straight a vector as possible, avoiding turns. Or you will have to take out a shovel and dig. In the snow, as on the sand, this is the most reliable means of salvation, which should always be with you.

So, the basic rules for successful driving on snow are as follows:

  • Use only winter tires and outside the city – studded ones.
  • On ice, avoid sudden steering movements and brake actions.
  • When driving in snow, do not reduce tire pressure.
  • Before storming a snowdrift, make sure there are no solid obstacles underneath it.
  • On virgin soil, steer left and right, and if you can’t move forward without slipping, back up and try again.
  • Always keep a shovel in your trunk.

And to avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, never skip regular car maintenance, which is especially vital in winter.

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