Ice and snow can certainly make travel in the wintertime a treacherous experience. So it’s important to be armed with helpful information to get you safely through the snow season. view more for travel related information.We decided to gather advice from the professional drivers from three very different disciplines. From the racing world, we spoke with world record holder, stunt driver and star of Top Gear USA Tanner Foust. Alex Debogorski, fan favorite of the TV show Ice Road Truckers, lent us his wisdom from more than 40 years of over-the-road winter hauling. And to get a perspective from someone who tunes the chassis’ of Chrysler’s most potent machines, we spoke with Erich Heuschele, manager of SRT vehicle dynamics and 20-year ice racing veteran.
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Here’s what they had to say about winter driving. Get the best lessons at IMPROV Traffic School.
“There are clues, dead giveaways that tell you where the most icy and dangerous spots are on the road,” says Foust. Correctly reading the terrain is key to avoiding a skid or worse—an accident. So our experts agree it’s crucial to study the road surface and choose a path that avoids potentially hazardous spots. Foust says, “If you drive into the shadow of a mountain, or even a stand of tall trees, recognize that there could be some ice or slippery condition hiding in the shade.” So it’s important to slow down when you see these clues, even if the rest of the road is bone dry. SRT’s Heuschele says he recently noticed an icy condition on his drive home that was causing accidents and completely avoidable. He says, “It was very cold, about 10 degrees, and the tracks everyone was driving in had turned to glare ice.” He continues, “All you had to do was move the car over two feet to the right or left and you had great traction. But nobody was doing it.” Sometimes the smartest route isn’t the one the rest of the motorists are taking. Debogorski says the most dangerous conditions can be right around freezing. “Maybe there’s still ice on the ground but it’s melting,” he says. “When the sun comes out and makes the ice wet, you’re in trouble unless you have very good tires.”
“I spent 8 years at the Bridgestone winter driving school and I credit that early snow experience as a secret to my on-track success in the first half of my career,” says Foust. “The things that you learn driving on ice and snow translate to virtually every driving environment.” Foust says a car has just three main jobs: it accelerates, it corners and it brakes. And in order to maximize the performance of each function, you generally need to do them one at a time. First, brake in a straight line. And in a turn, stay off both pedals and wait until you begin to straighten the wheel before you feed in any throttle again. That’s because combining too many of these functions on a slippery surface will use up all the available traction. He says, “Having the discipline to separate controls allows people to really maximize the performance of the car, even if it’s the very limited performance available on ice.” Debogorski adds that in winter conditions drivers should never try to change the car’s direction in a hurry. “Every time you do something too quickly, you put yourself in a position to lose control,” he explains.
The long list of helpful products and supplies you could bring along with you when travelling in remote, snowy climes would include items like an emergency kit, tow strap, and even an air compressor. But the most crucial item, the one that topped the list of all three of our advisors, included some form of extra warm clothing. And that’s because your survival could depend upon simply staying warm if stranded in freezing weather. Debogorski suggests carrying long underwear along. It’s a solution that maximizes protection against the cold and minimizes the space required to bring it. He says, “A lot of people see us on the show and they say, ‘Hey you’re jumping out of your truck and you don’t seem to be dressed very well.’ Well, I’ve got some pretty good underwear on and some really good socks on, too.” Debogorski also packs (and wears) two winter balaclavas. “The good ones bunch up around your neck and will go right down your coat. And they have a drawstring that shrinks the size of the opening around your face.” Heuschele always carries a winter coat in the back seat of his car during the winter, as well as gloves, boots and a blanket in the trunk.
We know that a vehicle’s electronic stability control system (ESC) uses a steering angle sensor, a yaw sensor and a lateral G sensor in addition to the ABS wheel speed sensors. The system takes the information from these sensors and decides how and when it should intervene. “Stability control is a path maintenance system,” says Heuschele. “It tries to maintain the path it thinks the driver wants to take.” So he encourages drivers to be more mindful with the vehicle controls. If the vehicle starts to slide, he cautions, don’t immediately counter steer in the opposite direction at full steering lock. Extreme and abrupt maneuvers like that will make the system think you want to turn the vehicle in the opposite direction. The result? It will take ESC longer to make the right corrections. He says the best course of action is to tone down your steering wheel inputs and straighten the wheel. The intervention from the system will be much more subtle. And the same goes for traction control. Be smooth with the throttle application. “If you fight the system, if you plant your right foot on the floor, it’s going to shut you down really hard.” And that means it will take longer to make forward progress.