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Friday, February 1, 2013

Winter is Here...How to Drive in Snow

Greetings, Jeep Lovers!
Here in beautiful, central Massachusetts, predicting the weather can be tricky.  You may have heard the old adage, "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait 5 minutes."  We've had some crazy storms in the past few years and other times when we couldn't find enough snow to fill a snowcone. Let's face it, there's a reason why we drive Jeeps, right?  Well...actually there's a LOT of reasons to drive a Jeep, but today we're talking about the one that involves safely maneuvering through tons of white, frozen water.  Let's discuss our options, useful accessories and strategy; that way we don't have to worry about snow and ice and can focus on avoiding the zombie hoard.

The Basics - Easy on and Easy Off
When I first started riding a motorcycle, more than a decade ago, I came very close to serious injury many times.  The engine was huge and my experience level non-existent.  Oh, and I was in Los Angeles - home of the ten-lane freeway.  After pulling wheelies by mistake, splitting lanes (legal there) or shooting through intersections a little too close to the red light, I received some very helpful advice from a riding buddy.  "Easy on, easy off." When a flick of the wrist is all it takes to go from 0-60, it can be easy to misjudge the necessary throttle.  Easy on, easy off probably saved my life.  As it turns out, it is exactly the same advice needed to navigate safely down snowy roads.

At the beginning of movement, let grace be your guide, as you press the gas pedal and move from a standstill, to a slow roll, to a traction-building traveling speed.  It goes without saying that you don't want to be at top speed any time traction is an issue, but driving on snow requires a special balance - the wheels can't spin too fast or it won't cling to the road, or too slow to have friction between the snow trapped in the tire ridges and the snow on the ground.  Wheel spin is pretty much your enemy.  In terms of stopping, leaving space between you and any obstacle in your path is a must.  Err on the side of caution - too much space first.  You can always decrease space if necessary, but you can't get it back once you've gone too far.  Just because we are equipped with some pretty amazing 4-wheel drive technology doesn't mean we can stop on a dime.  Far from it.

Tires
Ugh...this is a tough one.  I mean, as Jeep owners, we LOVE our tires.  Raised, bumpy, off-road specialzed...you name it, we love it.  But snow changes things...Narrow tires are king when you're trying to get traction in snow.  More vehicle weight (and, therefore, downward force)  is concentrated in the smaller surface area and traction levels go up.  I know some jeep owners that switch over to winter tires that are not at all like the tires they roll through the summer on.  This is a valid option.  Matter of fact, my friend gets years of use out of his tires by doing this.  "But I like my biggies!" you say?  Well don't despair...narrow tires only get you through if the snow is up to the axle and no higher.  At that point, floatation rules take over and your nice, big tires will do a heck of a lot more good getting you to market.  You have to be the judge - how much snow you're likely to get, how bad winter will be and where you will be driving are all factors to take into account when planning for old man winter's onslaught.

Straps, Cables and Chains, Oh My!
We talked in the last blog spot about the benefits of a winch, so we'll leave that out of this post, but your options for increasing traction on tires are many.  It's not really tough to figure out which way to go, it's a matter of price and perceived risk - how much snow will you be dealing with.  Straps, cables and chains are all useful for extending the tread and traction of your tire, in order to capture more snow and give you better leverage at pulling through the stuff.   Figure out your price point and ability to get the things into place and you're off and running, because when it comes down to it, anything is better than nothing when it's needed.  However (and this is important), when you are dealing with ICE, all bets are off.  In fact, certain options make travel much, much worse in the wrong conditions.  For instance, cables often come equipped with small, tubular traction boosters that give the cable a more aggressive footprint in snow.  Guess what happens when you hit ice wearing these?  That's right, roller skates.  They will literally act like ball bearings and you can kiss traction goodbye.  That's why, regardless of which method you choose to purchase and keep in the back (untangled and ready for use, of course), you have got to be able to get them on and off easily.  Practice.  Work on it.  Master it.  If you even think black (or any other color) ICE is a factor, get those things off your tires and drive as slowly as possible.

Just a few more tips and you're on your way!  Firstly, if you have four-wheel drive engaged, remember that it's really only effective at slower speeds.  It won't help you if you're burning down the highway in hazardous conditions, not that our drivers do that, but thought I should mention it.  If you don't find it necessary to hit 4H or L, great!  You can save some gas, as long as you're able to safely control the vehicle.  Keep in mind, driving in snow if you're in a rear-wheel drive vehicle means you're driving from the rear.  Adjust your turning and maneuvering accordingly.  While we're on the subject, get your headlights and maybe even flashers ON, if you're caught in a blizzard or anywhere there's limited visibility and/or frequent road hazards.

We love our customers.  We want you coming back to Lahti's Jeep for a long, long time.  So drive carefully, wave to other Jeep owners (or everyone you see, if you'd like - they'll get a kick out of it), be prepared to tow your non-Jeep driving friends out of sticky situations and enjoy winter.
Until next time, stay safe out there!
- J.M. for Lahti's