This is a great time of year! Yeah, I know, days are short, but they’re getting noticeably longer. The craziness of Thanksgiving and Christmas is behind us. It’s cold, or at least it’s supposed to be, but not for much longer. Meanwhile there’s much to enjoy: flannel shirts, warm soups and stews, reading and snoozing by a fire in the fireplace, snuggling under warm blankets, and the sound of your neighbor running his snow blower when you’ve already got your driveway cleared. You know what I really enjoy, though? Driving in snow.
Conditions have to be right, of course: driving is no fun in slush, on glare ice, or when traffic is all jammed up. But if it’s good and cold, and there’s hard-packed snow on the road, driving becomes an exhilarating art. I love it so much that I gave my son his first experience driving on a public road (at age 14, but don’t tell!) on a snowy night, in a Jeep, on a dirt road along a creek. It was quite cold, and snowing hard with small flakes that turned the headlight beams into cones of busy white particles. Beautiful. One of the high points of my life. He did fine, and is a good driver today.
As with any sport or worthwhile pursuit, you need the right equipment to drive well in snow. The best vehicles for winter driving are not huge SUVs or trucks with fat tires and 4-wheel drive. You want a well-balanced small or medium-sized car with not too much power, and good tires. Tall, skinny tires are best, because they concentrate the vehicle’s weight on small contact patches, giving you better grip. Four-wheel drive can be helpful, and front-wheel drive is generally an advantage, but give me a Toyota Corolla or an old Dodge Dart with four good snow tires, a good defroster, and good windshield wipers, and I’ll beat you to Boston in your Suburban or Audi Quattro.
The key to successful snow driving is smoothness. You can make surprisingly good time on a cold, hard-packed snowy road, but you can’t suspend the laws of physics even with anti-lock brakes and traction control. You want to avoid any abrupt changes in direction: start out gently, not breaking the wheels loose if you can help it. Build up some momentum if you’re going straight ahead, and especially if you have to go uphill. Slow down ahead of time for curves, downhill sections, and intersections. Don’t slow down before going uphill, though. There’s nothing more exasperating than being behind a nincompoop who stops at the bottom of a hill. I had to push a Mustang up the long hill west of the Tappan Zee Bridge once in my old 4-cylinder Mercedes 190; the driver panicked at first, but caught on fast, and when I passed her after cresting the hill she gave me a wave and a big smile.
Shameless plug: at Story’s Garage, of course, we can help you get your car squared away for winter. In addition to tires, wipers, and a good defroster, you want a good, strong battery, a healthy engine, and good brakes. We routinely check all these things whenever we service your car.
Now all we need is some snow! I hope to see you out there enjoying it with me!