Wear the Right Shoes

11 Dec

Get yourself some snow tires. 

Your pickup or SUV? Its 4 or all wheel drive will help you get un-stuck, and it’ll help you get going on some slippery stuff. Its ground clearance may occasionally help you ford a river or drive over a big snowball. But its mass is such that it makes it especially difficult to stop. 

Your anti-lock brakes? They’ll help you avoid a skid by automatically applying and releasing the brakes in quick succession, but they won’t help you avoid an accident if you’re going too fast. 

Or if your tires suck. 

Last night’s commute in Buffalo was your typical afternoon first-snow crawl. Just about every route was packed in or going at a reasonably safe, slow speed. This is good. But if you have crap tires, or even decent all-weather tires, you might as well put skates on the bottom of your car, because they won’t cut it in this weather.

The best of all possible worlds? AWD or 4WD with snow tires. If you have a Subaru or AWD Audi with a good set of snows, your car will be bulletproof in the ice and snow. But the big secret is that you don’t need the extra cost, heft, and maintenance that comes with powering all four wheels, not in WNY, where the roads generally get cleared pretty well (unless you’re unlucky enough to try to drive on a secondary road in the city of Buffalo up to a week after a major storm. For some reason, the city itself is unwilling or unable to plow all of its streets within a reasonable time).

Get yourself some snow tires, instead.

For instance, some local tire stores will store your summer tires in the winter, and vice-versa. For free. Go in, pay about $100, and they’ll do the switchover, usually installing snows in November and summers in April. You extend the lives of both sets of tires, and you’ll have the appropriate shoes on your car.

You don’t wear flip-flops in 6″ of snow. You don’t wear snowboots when it’s 80 degrees out. Why do that to your car?

In some countries, snow tires are mandated. This is a smart idea and something that snowy climates should seriously consider. Driving is no joke, and if you’re hurtling a 2-ton piece of rubber and metal down the street in a snowstorm, other drivers should have some semblance of assurance that you’re appropriately equipped. Snow tires are different from summer or all-weather tires in that they use a softer rubber compound, and feature deep sipes that literally help the car dig into the snow and ice. The best set I ever owned were Finnish-made Hakkapeliitta 2s, which rendered a car that had no traction control into a snow tank.  I always had to get them online, which is a hassle, but I haven’t not put snow tires on a car since my second winter here. You can get a set of Blizzaks, which are very good, or whatever your local tire shop offers, which will be fine, too. 

You can’t leave them on all year, because the rubber compound only works well in the cold weather. But if you, for instance, go from no snow tires on a slippery day to snow tires, you’ll be astonished by the difference in traction you have. Not just start and stop traction, but especially lateral traction, when you’re turning. Traction / stability control will help, too. 

We’re known for snow. We get snow. You drive in it. If you enjoy having control over your car in the snow, ice, and slush – the ability to start, stop, turn, and drive with some modicum of safety – pay your local tire guy, car dealer, or mechanic a visit. Maybe go to Tirerack.com or some other online retailer.

But whatever you do, get yourself some snow tires. 

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4 Responses to “Wear the Right Shoes”

  1. Hank Kaczmarek December 11, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Very well written and timely article Alan. A good chunk of my years spent in the Auto Parts business I sold tires as well. As most folks in WNY know, a 4WD driven by someone not used to driving in snow or without proper tires for conditions makes for a false sense of security. I get most of my tires from Tirerack.com And pay the extra for the Road Hazard warranty.

  2. jimd54 December 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    Got my snows on my van last week. They make a remarkable difference. Speaking of vans, if you own a large vehicle I know it is a pain in the ass but take the time to brush the snow off the roof too. You need a big honkin brush to get up there but it sure makes driving easier for the guy behind you.

    • Sean Danvers December 12, 2013 at 9:50 am #

      Oh how I wish more people heeded your sage advice. I mean, this is a winter climate. Do people really not know that they need to brush their cars off before driving them?

  3. townline December 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Half the fun of winter is fishtailing.

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