Winter Driving . . . in a Modern Car

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Times have, as the saying goes, changed.winter 1

If you learned how to drive before – roughly – the mid-1980s, you probably learned how to drive in a car without anti-lock brakes or traction/stability control. The skills acquired (hopefully!) such as learning to apply just enough braking pressure to slow the car without locking up the wheels – and to back off the brakes if the wheels did lock up (so that you could still steer the car) are great to have but to a great extent no longer apply.

In any car equipped with anti-lock brakes (which for all practical purposes is pretty much every car made within the past 10-15 years) one must unlearn the habit of modulating braking pressure. To slow/stop the car, you should apply the brakes full force. The ABS system will prevent the wheels from locking up while applying the maximum possible clamping force, which will slow/stop the car as quickly as is physically possible (short of hitting a fixed object like a telephone pole).

You can concentrate on steering.winter 2

This is a big deal.

In the pre-ABS days, many wrecks were the result of wheel lock-up and a subsequent uncontrolled skid caused by applying full braking force and not letting up. The car would skid in whatever direction it had been traveling unless the driver knew to let off the brakes a little – an instinctively hard thing to do, if the driver has not had training in the art of threshold braking.

With ABS, that problem is eliminated. Steering may feel heavier (as a result of the ABS system pumping the brake calipers) but you will be able to steer even with full braking force applied – and the same rules about steering into the skid apply.

When you apply the brakes, weight transfer occurs. Specifically, there is now more weight bearing down on the front wheels – and this aids traction. By turning into the skid, you also increase the car’s rolling resistance, scrub off speed, and by dint of both, reduce its tendency to slide off the road. It’s not a get-out-of-the ditch-free card, though. Excess speed (inertia) may be such that the car still slides off the road. This is why it’s important to compensate for reduced traction (in snow and rain) with reduced speed. And also to factor in the type of vehicle you’re driving. A 2WD truck, for instance, will be much more prone to loss of control – at lower speeds – than an AWD sport sedan. The truck’s center of gravity is higher – and it is lighter in the tail. The tendency of the back end to swing around when the brakes are applied is greater.

This can be compensated for to some extent by either gearing down or  – counter-intuitively – giving it gas (applying throttle) as you enter the corner, maintaining it through the arc of the curve. Your object is the same as steering into the skid: To transfer weight in order to increase traction. You should try to scrub speed before entering a curve – and avoid abruptly lifting off the throttle mid-curve. Journalists Test Ford Five Hundred Through Snow

However, this is a technique – like threshold braking – that few people who’ve not had some high-performance driver training possess.

Enter traction/stability control – which almost all modern cars now come with as part of the standard equipment package. Typically, these systems use the ABS to apply braking pressure to individual wheels during cornering maneuvers when a tipping point is reached that would otherwise result in the vehicle violently understeering (front end turning toward the inside of the turn) or oversteering (the rear end of the vehicle swinging around, often resulting in a 180 or even 360 degree spin-out).

Throttle inputs are frequently adjusted in tandem – all of it done automatically, with no input needed from the driver. Indeed, these technologies correct for driver error – and because few drivers have had real training in vehicle dynamics and car control, there’s little doubt that, overall, they have made driving considerably safer for most people. winter 4

These are the upsides to ABS and traction/stability control.

But, there are downsides, too.

One of the big ones is the way ABS/traction controlled cars fight you when, for instance, you’re trying to bull your way up a snow (or ice-slicked) road.

Maintaining momentum is critical, but made hard (if not impossible) when the traction control dials back throttle and pumps the brakes – even as you’re mashing the gas, trying to keep the thing moving. The really dastardly thing is that – in some cars – there’s no simple way to disengage the system. It is always on – or at least, partially on (even when the “off” button is pressed). Depending on the make/model, you may have to completely stop the car before you can turn the TCS off – and the last thing you want to do when trying to ascend a slick grade is to stop the car midway up the hill.

Or, you have to go through a series of literally Rube Goldberg-esque steps: Pull the parking brake handle up, start car, depress brake two times, then pull the hand brake up and down twice, release hand brake and depress brake pedal two more times. And no, I am not making that up. It’s the procedure for disabling the traction control in the current Toyota Yaris.winter 5

ABS, meanwhile, has a downside as well.

On black ice, the distance it takes to stop the car may increase if the driver simply jams on the brake pedal. Reason? The ABS system works by automatically applying brake pressure just short of wheel-lock, then releasing pressure just enough to let the wheel continue to turn without locking up.

Friction – and inertia – are key players.

But on ice, friction is greatly diminished – and when braking force is applied, all four wheels may immediately lock simultaneously – which the system reads in the same way it would as if the vehicle were parked at the curb and stationary. The ABS is defeated – and the car will just slide. winter 6

On ice, the Old School method of threshold braking – manually (with your foot) applying just enough pressure to slow the car without locking the wheels up – will help keep you out of the ditch.

And the good news is you’ll still be able to steer – sort of – even if the wheels do lock up.

Be careful out there!

Throw it in the Woods?   


  1. Our last snow storm for the season, I think?? We have about 10 inches down and it won’t be stopping for a couple more hours. I saw this ‘how to’ video for installing tire chains. Thought it was pretty useful and worthy of sharing.

  2. More ditzy damsels in distress

    Why not get involved with some craycray shiksa with no conception of proper winter attire? What’s the worse that can happen?

    Stay safe. Never use your real name. Never tell them where you live or where you work. Never use a vehicle registered in your name. When you leave, make sure they aren’t following you.

    What can happen when ditzy damsel goes craycray

  3. Have only ever had one slide-off and, thankfully, it ended with my front tire bumping into the curb of a sidewalk and not my hood into the telephone pole another 5 feet away. Even at going less than 20 mph and moving into the right-turn lane, the ice was bad enough.

  4. Hey guys,

    I don’t usually comment on the car articles, but this is too good to not pass along.

    The weatherman on our local channel told us he used waxed paper in the door of his car just before we were to get sleet.

    The next morning he was able to open his drivers side door without any problems.
    He didn’t go into any specifics, but waxed paper surely will not damage the door seals as some other products might.

    • Dear Linda,

      Sounds good. Often old-fashioned remedies are the best.

      Mock me as a “metrosexual.” Take away my “man card.” But I sometimes enjoy surfing “hints for homemakers” type sites for good ideas!

      Here’s one I recently stumbled across, that suggests using inexpensive flat single bed bed sheets as curtains:

      Sheet…that’s cheap. ($4 Ready-Made Curtains)
      January 5, 2011

      Curtains. Are. So. Expensive.

      –Especially since I like to hang curtains all the way from ceiling to floor–that means I need 96″ of curtain as opposed to the standard 84″. And 84″ curtains are expensive enough at something like $15 a panel for even affordable options from Target?

    • Thanks for the tip, Linda.

      That got me to thinking I’ve got to be more like dom, maybe just pack a sh ton of wax in there, and on there. But wax paper ain’t a bad idear at all. Especially if an ice storm is on the way.

      Also, @Bevin, I think maybe you’ve got a dollop of redneck mixed in with that metrosexual streak you’ve got going. It’s not a bad idea, but tell me how to make ultra cheap blackout curtains for cheap, then we’re talkin’.

  5. Question: the doors on my truck freeze shut sometimes, is it a good idea to put Vaseline on the door seals to prevent that from happening? My window freezes shut sometimes, too. I was thinking about putting some on the felt-like channel to prevent it. Is that a bad idea? Is there a better idea?

    Does it happen to more modern cars, as well?

    BTW, this was a really great article/thread.

    • I wouldn’t put anything petroleum based on rubber. I’ve been using Armor All my entire life without issues. I’ve had many tell me Armor All is bad though. For the window channels I’ve been using silicone spray and just keeping them really clean. I also wax and keep the door jams really clean (the surface the seal mates to).

      • I’m an Armour All guy myself. But for some reason it’s not helping me now. Perhaps I’ll try doubling up?

        I have noticed that on some rubber door seals, after using Armour All, if you wipe your hand across the seal you’ll be marked by black from the seal. I tested this once on a vehicle that didn’t mark me when I brushed my hand across it. Sure enough, after Armour All, I was marked.

        I’ll give silicone spray a shot, too. I got some of that fancy ‘New’ WD-40 stuff I’ve been wanting to try out on something.

        dom wrote, “keep the door jams really clean”
        I’m not sure that’s an issue. Also, it seems to me the door freezes at the top, but I’m not certain. It’s probably the whole dang thing!

        The lack of a channel runner thingie across the top to run water away from the top of the door is the one thing I don’t like about Toyota’s. And, a lot of newer cars, for that matter.

        Thanks for the reply. It’s kind of embarrassing being locked out of your vehicle.

        Insert image of a man attaching a hairdryer to an extension cord while standing in 5″ of snow, here x. …Hmm, maybe that’s what the woman in the photo is doing? Looking for the extension cord.

          • 90’s single cab.

            Do you think windshield fluid has residual/preventative effect?

            If so, that would be great, mix up a batch of 80/20 with Armour All?

          • No clue, I was half kidding but don’t think trying would hurt anything. If you have serious wet freezes where you’re at I don’t anything other than parking it under a shelter will help. I have a ’91 GMC that sits outside in the elements. I’ve been keeping it clean and never had the doors freeze up on it. You’re sure it’s not the locking mechanism?

          • Yeah, I keep all my mechanisms/seals/surfaces/tracks/whatever clean and lubricated always. My family and friends think I’m really weird. I think people who like to keep purchasing or repairing shit that would otherwise last forever (or a really long time) if properly maintained really weird. My friend Dan calls me the maintenance man!

          • Ha! The maintenance man! ….But that’s cool.

            I guess I’m half-way in the middle between, ride it hard and put it away wet, and … your position.

            If I can pull up on the handle, I’m ass-u-ming it’s not the door latch that’s holding the door closed.

            The door is not locked.

            I wonder, are you one of those guys that actually lowers the spare tire carrier and lubricates it once a year?

            I might be one of those if I ever had a truck that had a spare tire carrier that wasn’t rusted in place already. …Maybe.

          • Ha!

            “are you one of those guys that actually lowers the spare tire carrier and lubricates it once a year?”

            I haven’t gone that crazy. I suppose next time I fill up the spare that might not be a bad idea. Lately I don’t have as much time to tinker as I’d like because I’m caught up making shit from concrete! I can’t stop mixing concrete! Today I was about to start mixing and the fucking outside freeze proof spigot strung a leak! Had to haul down to Lowes and get an entirely new one and install it. I was still able to go through about ten 60lb bags.

          • -The- time to learn you should have lubricated the spare tire drop down, is not when you need it, and you find out it’s rusted in place. Let me tell you.
            That happened to a friend of mine on a cold Winter day in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t enjoy riding shotgun that day.

            Also, it’s good that you got a driving passion for concrete. I’m a bit jealous at the moment,

            And hey, even if you didn’t want to be there, wasn’t today a great day to be at Lowe’s? By coincidence I was there too, the place was empty as all get out and I got the best service ever. Bored store workers were so very glad to help me out it wasn’t even funny. Well, maybe it was a little funny, but it was nice getting all that extra uninterrupted service and undivided attention. Just for kicks I was half tempted to ask one to walk with me through the store so they could answer any question I had.

          • Wow, it completely skipped my mind.

            “wasn’t today a great day to be at Lowe’s?”

            Totally forgot Sunday was the “Super Bowel.”

            The service was excellent and the place was empty!

            • The one good thing about Fuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhtttttball!

              Of course, the assholes had to riot to show their support for “their” team:

          • I have been known to time my driving and shopping with big sporting events. It’s nice. Far fewer people about.

            When I worked retail as teenager I liked working when the ‘big game’ was on. Grocery store so it sucked right up to start of the game and then it would go—- DEAD. The people would leave. The rest of the shift would be easy.

        • vinylex? I’ve never seen or heard of that before.

          I kind of figured you’d be a Johnston’s Wax kind of fellow.

          J/K,… it’s just that I saw a number of people online say they use that on their guns and I was thinking about it.

          I don’t recall my manual, or any manual I’ve read, say anything about what to use. Probably due to faulty recollection?

          However; in my many years of owning so many vehicles, this is the first time I’ve had this problem more than just once.

          The other time my vehicle was covered by a solid globe of ice.
          This time, it’s from just simple freezing rain or average snow. Way more than once.

          • Guess you’re right… can’t find it in my newer cars’ manuals… maybe it was in the service manuals or in those for my older cars.

            Vinylex is made by lexol. much better IMO. Can also control the gloss level by how much is used.

    • As to freezing door seals… I don’t have much trouble that way, but it does happen now and then.

      Owner’s manuals usually have what lube to use on the door seals. Usually some sort silicone spray I think.

  6. My first experience with antilock crap scared me to death.

    I had to make a panic stop (frikin clovers!) and the brakes started pulsating. I couldn’t tell if it was going to stop in time or not. Ran up over the curb just in case so as to not kill Clover.

    If it had been an older pickup I could gage the stopping distance by tire screech.


    • On my old Phase 1 S-10 the wheel speed sensor went bad (a common thing) it disabled the the anti-locks. I had no inclination whatsoever to spend a ton of money to replace the whole assembly just to fix it.

      When I sold it, the new owner pointed to the light on the dashboard and said, “What about that?”
      I told him many people consider that a good thing.

      I wonder if a person could just snip the wire coming from a wheel speed sensor and install a switch for when they want to turn off their anti-lock brakes, perhaps do the same to VSC?

      Probably not, though. Probably open yourself up to too much trouble as well if the bastards found out?

      • Hi Panarch,

        Bondurant has “off” switches installed in the cars he uses in his driver training course. He uses late model Cadillacs, among others.

        So it is definitely doable.

    • The new Yaris is the first car I got with ABS, and I don’t like it either. And I had a rotten first experience with it, too, on the DAY I BOUGHT THE CAR. No lie! We’re headed out of the dealership (no studs on the new car; have to head into town to get them put on), and my wife is in front of me, and stops at the bottom of the little hill out of the parking lot. And I… do not stop. The brakes are doing their “thrum thrum thrum” routine, and I’m coasting along toward the back of my other car, while my wife obliviously sits at the bottom of the hill and DOES NOT MOVE. Fortunately, I did get stopped before impact (wasn’t going very fast to begin with), but, just like you, I had no idea whether or not I would. It was stopping on its own time, and I had no way of judging it.

      • I’ve dealt with this same scenario. So aggravating – and dangerous.

        I have no issue with ABS – or traction control – provided they are optional and can be easily turned off by the driver at any time, simply by pushing a button or throwing a switch.

        What’s insufferable is that this stuff is forced on us.

      • I thought the ABS infinite loop was coded out years ago. It’s what happens when you let computer geeks control mechanical things… basically there’s an if statement missing… if speed < 8mph then no antilock. My '97 has this software bug… nearly crashed once as my car went about 3-5mph through a red signal… ABS just cycling away… I had to use the horn and people got out of the way… Would have skidded to a stop in about three feet at that speed with locked brakes.

  7. After having driven a manual transmission ’98 Subaru Forester until 2012, driving a newer Town and Country is a terrifying experience in other than dry conditions. The Forester practically drove itself in bad weather. Now, I am a nail biter when conditions are bad. It’s hard to overcome the reflex of pumping brakes. I don’t even know when to start braking. The first time I knew something was different was when the car bucked its way almost into an intersection on wet pavement. Terrifying!
    I want my Forester back, or even my ’69 VW bug.
    Thanks, Ralph Nader, for all your help.

  8. Ah, winter driving. I used to enjoy driving into work (which was long) in the winter–only to see the idiots in SUVs that thought they could drive in anything. I’d see them particularly at the bottom of a freeway offramp….slammed into a tree. They’d be over confident in making a turn and skid right down on to median and hit the trees.

    I’ve 180’d a real 4 wheel drive vehicle back in the 80s twice when I was just starting to drive. Of couse, back then and there, we had studded tires and chains. Those aren’t very common any more..least around where I now live. I think the studded tires are actually illegal. Not sure about the chains…

    • Studs are definitely legal up here (and quite common); I have them on both of my cars as we speak. I do own tire chains, but I’ve never actually used them; bought them before we moved here, since driving the Alaska Highway in October… anything can happen, weather-wise, and you’re out in the middle of noplace.

  9. Good info, but I’m still curious to know the best way to handle a slide in a fwd car. Raised on rwd, I steer into the skid and let off the throttle. Some say that’s not what to do with fwd.

    My awd Subaru also feels funny in a slide–it seems to want to follow the wrong direction. Interestingly enough, I can make its rear end step out just like a rwd car, but it’s much quicker to recover so you have to watch how quickly you countersteer.

    • @Ross- Your Subaru is not 4WD but AWD. That means they are not locked up but controlled by the computer brain which makes corrections in its own time not yours. My understanding of FWD is to straighten out the slide, use power, then turn in. But I am not Bob Bonderant, and only glanced off of his school in my past training.

      One of the scenarios I went through was 4 bald tires on a wet and heavily soaped (using Tide detergent) roadway of 3 lanes approaching an intersection at 30 MPH, with three lights over the lanes. Whichever light turned green was the one I had to make the transition into before clearing the intersection. Lots of cones knocked down playing that game :).

      All bets are off when you loose it on ice. That is where we experience the laws of physics at their best.

    • Hi Ross,

      I drive (and have driven) a lot of cars – and one of the things I’ve learned is that while most modern cars tend to (and are probably designed) to understeer – which is a sort of idiot-proofing, to keep inexperienced drivers from really losing, and losing it in a way that’s much harder to recover – some do so to a much greater degree than others. Some – typically, “sport” coupes/sedans, etc. – are more neutral; others have (a few) seem like they’ll never let go… until they do. And then they are prone to snapping around just like that.

      In all cases, you want to try to avoid uncontrolled/sudden weight shifting, as caused by panic braking or too abrupt steering/throttle inputs. These things are what lead to loss of traction – and set in motion the chain of events that lead to loss of control. You want modulated, anticipatory inputs (most of the time; there are times when “full military power” is the only thing that might save your bacon). The key, though, is to try to avoid unsettling the car. Ideally, no course corrections once in the curve; consistent throttle application as you apex, powering on as you come out of the curve. Similar principles apply in snow – only you’ve got less traction to work with and you must tailor your control inputs accordingly.

      Two of the most useful experiences I’ve ever had were driving at GM’s “Black Lake” proving ground/test track and at Ford’s “winter driving” proving grounds.

      Black Lake is a vast expanse of perfectly flat asphalt – wetted down by tanker trucks. It’s a controlled way to demonstrate the effects of reduced traction. So also Ford’s set up, the difference being the Ford course is an actual road course. Uneven terrain, hills, off-camber corners. Lotsa fun!

      • Eric, your explanation of oversteer and understeer above don’t seem right. My understanding is that oversteer is getting out more steering than you put in with the wheel, I.e. The traditional rwd car or pickup kicking the tail out with judicious throttle. My understanding of understeer is more of the plow ahead effect where turning the wheel more adds no turning. Am I off base?
        Fwiw the WORST under steer I’ve ever experienced was in a high school girlfriends Gremlin with 258 six straddling the front wheels. That freak simply wouldn’t turn over 10mph on gravel. (The gremlin, not the honey…)

  10. My father taught me that accelerate-in-a-curve trick, only not on entering the curve but right after that while in it, i.e. just after first turning the steering wheel and completing the transition to the full curve (after slowing down earlier in anticipation, not by braking unless necessary but rather by slackening off the accelerator). I don’t know how he learned it, as he never had formal lessons but just kept upgrading paperwork as his experience built, starting with completely unlicensed and unregulated wartime driving in North Africa. At one point in the ’50s he even drove a roadroller from the Basra docks to its importers followed by an impromptu parade of street urchins, since nobody around was qualified to drive it anyway and somebody had to do it…

    • Yup!

      Another tip I learned along the way: Look where you want to go. Not immediately in front of your car – but down the road ahead.

      Inexperienced (untrained) drivers fixate on where they are at any given moment, not on where they’re headed. At speed, things happen fast and by looking ahead, you keep up with the car (so to speak).

      Got that, by the way, from one of the best. Bondurant himself.

  11. “Or, you have to go through a series of literally Rube Goldberg-esque steps: Pull the parking brake handle up, start car, depress brake two times, then pull the hand brake up and down twice, release hand brake and depress brake pedal two more times. And no, I am not making that up. It’s the procedure for disabling the traction control in the current Toyota Yaris.”

    Was the choice of car explicitly for my benefit? It’s good to know how I can turn off the traction control. 😉

    That said, I find I’m a vastly better winter driver than most people around. Right in front of one of the places I work, the road takes a big left hook. When we had the ice storms back in November, people were sliding off the road there pretty consistently all day long; nobody could negotiate that corner at all. I had no trouble with it, and this is entirely because of what you say above: scrub speed coming to the curve, and accelerate lightly through the curve. Every clover in creation comes up the the curve and full speed and tries to break going around it — foolproof recipe for sliding into the ditch!

    You know where I learned to do this? Mario Kart. No lie.

    • Good stuff, Darien!

      We have a curve around here just like yours. Every time it gets slick, the Clovers pile up in the ditch. For exactly the reasons you laid out. They enter the curve too fast, panic, jerk the wheel/hit the brakes/let off the throttle… and into the berm they go. It’s kind of funny to watch them. (This is not a high speed curve; I’ve never heard of anyone dying or even being seriously hurt.)

      But sad, too.

  12. A few years ago a coworker recommended when going down a steep icy hill to put the vehicle in neutral instead of downshifting. It does work, since there’s no way for the wheels to slide (unless you hit non-antilock brakes), and rolling resistance is much greater than sliding resistance. If you get going too fast you can feather the brakes a bit, but if not ABS pay close attention to what they are doing.

    It does feel a little strange the first few times you do it though.

  13. Hi Eric, et al,
    Serendipitous article. I just returned from driving to and from Texas…..on my return I witnessed the effects of the recent ice/snow event that plastered pretty much everywhere I drove. On my return, I10 was closed from Lafayette, LA going east. I rerouted and was able to make it to Meridian, MS via an alternate route. It was evident that many people did not understand how and whether to drive under those conditions. I saw many 18 wheelers jacked either in the median or on the side of the road… of which surely resulted in a fatality. In Birmingham I got to see literally thousands of abandoned cars and trucks. My cousin in Atlanta said it was the same there…..the interesting thing is that when large numbers of people were stranded, the help self-organized via the internet to provide places to crash (Walmart and Home Depot stood out in their assistance) and/or transport to homes and shelters. No government action required….much like the Katrina relief efforts in which FEMA was an absolute hindrance. I hope that people will learn from this experience to be more prepared. It seems more likely that we will have a lot more cold winters, based on sun activity……this also adds to the extremely poor track record of the AGW crowd’s predictions……gotta laugh about that….anyway, thanks for the technical discussion and I hope your health improves drastically and soon……good reason to stock antibiotics…..

  14. Yep. I rented a new Ford Fusion SE in New England last month. During a snow storm I was trying to claw up a steep grade in the mountains (as I have done with front-wheel drive cars with good success). However, that traction control fought me tooth and nail to the point where out of fear for my life I just kept the pedal to the floor until the smell of burning brakes was overwhelming and the car came to a grinding halt. I was forced to make a u-turn, go back down the road and get a better running start, as I couldn’t figure out how to turn the traction control off. Ultimately, this worked but I was shocked at how this “safety mechanism” would put me in such a dangerous situation. I thought the crown of the road was going to slide me into a ditch.

    Except for this up hill condition, I otherwise found this car to be absolutely idiot proof in snowy conditions though. I could purposefully mash the accelerator or brakes at any time without any negative consequences at all. In fact, I hated this car because it was no fun at all. Since it has an electric parking brake (which locks up all four wheels) there was no getting it sideways. I had to resort to reverse doughnuts, but the traction control would only allow me a small slide. What a bummer.

    • Speaking of “fun” in cars – remember the old days when you could “do donuts” in a parking lot? I’ve tried to explain that to my kids and tell them how much fun that was, but all I can do is tell them. I can’t show them because all of our cars are front wheel drive and all have anti-lock brakes (and one has that irritating traction control), which make “donuts” nearly impossible….

      (Sigh)….some days it’d be nice to have an old car without all of the “safety” built in…

        • back ion the day of the old T Model Fords, two speed panetary gearbox with spring clutches to activate the sets, when the low speed clutch got worn the trick was to BACK iit up the hill…. the reverse clutch did not wear much as it was rarely used, and reverse gear was a lower ratio anyway, going through two reduction sets.Steinbeck, in his very fun novel Cannery Row describes such a scene in hilarious detail when “Mack and the boys” are out on an adventure in a borrowd car.

      • Back when I couldn’t afford 4 winter tires, I would just use 2 on the front wheels. I could crank the wheel hard into a turn, hit the gas and just spin all day.

        Technically not the same thing as a donut, but the effect is similar.

      • Dear Mike,

        Like I say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

        Why couldn’t they have just left well enough alone?

        I’m not opposed to progress. Without progress, we wouldn’t have cars in the first place.

        But shouldn’t it actually BE progress, rather than just added complexity whose costs outweigh their benefits?

  15. I hadn’t thought about the traction control on an icy hill – good to know if I ever take my wife’s truck on an icy day.

    Because Austin winter lows hover near freezing we sometimes get ice days – roads that are skating rinks; if you stop on a slightly tilted road, your car will slide sideways to the edge. We had two days like that recently. The most common problem I encountered was newer cars stuck on hills. No problem in my old Land Rover – just keep the wheels moving and it’ll pull you up the hill. Perhaps the newer cars’ traction control kicked in, slowing them down, which made climbing the hill impossible.

    • Hi Mike,

      Dom and I have been talking a lot lately (due to this god-awful winter) about the hassles on ice (and hills) that ABS/traction control bequeaths unto us.

      It’s a double whammy, too. The skill level of the average driver is arguably much lower than it has probably ever been. Take such a driver – and put him in a car that is more challenging to drive on a slick hill – and the results are all too predictable!

    • My driveway is a small hill and I keep getting burned with that f$%king traction control which re-enables every time the car is started.

      • Me too. I’ve never stalled out more in my life as when I got a car with traction control. I’m amazed I can stall my car while holding the gas pedal to the floor!

    • Hi Mike.. boy, your tales of your old Landie sure bring back memories. I had a string of them through the Seventies and into the Eighties. Nothing like them.

      As to handbrakes/parking brakes, most 4 wheel disc systems do use a small drum on the inner face of the rear disc, mostly good for parking. Too small to use as a mechanically operated service brake, a la rear drum units.Favourite stunt with the early BMC Minis was the handbrake turn, and the refined version (requiring the fitment of a slight mod to the lever set itself) fiddle brakes, where one could apply ONE SIDE only on the rear.

      As to the handbrakein the Rovers, those tiny (I believe 8 inch by about 2.5) shoes trying to grip on the inside of that tiny drum, spinning at nearly five times axle speed (with stadnard 4.88 crown and pinion set) was never very useful for scrubbing off speed. Downgearing was SO simple and effective, though, one never needed to fret about “emergency” brakes. the one drawback I found with that system, though, (admittedly not a common circumstance) was when my old beast lost the pinion bearings in the rear diff. To make it back home, I merely drew the axle shafts, replaced the driving members and end caps, then dropped the driveline from the Third Motion shaft of the gearbox. Thus, the front diff and driveline fed the only power to the road wheels. It all would have been fine, except that the rear main seal on the gearbox was a bit incontinent, generously distributing the 90 weight hypoid lube over the inside of the handbrake drum. One time I had forgotten my “mods” and left it parked on somewhat of an incline, first gear high range. Front drive engaged (yellow knob duly punched). The hill was steep enough, the drum slippery enough, I returned after a short absense to find the car not where I had left it, but further down the hill. After that, I formed the havit of leaving it parked, “brake” applied, but in low range. Those cars never were known for great brakes.. but hey, with all those gears you hardly ever needed them anyway.

  16. If I recall, Chrysler made Bendix “Sure Brake” 4-wheel ABS available on the Imperial from 1971 to 1973. It worked like this:

    The system had a speed sensor on each wheel, and an electronic control box in the trunk. Sure-Brake was a three-channel system: It used one brake-pressure modulator for each front wheel and one modulator to control both rear wheels. Modulators were vacuum canisters that operated cutoff and relief valves to stop hydraulic pressure from going to the wheels.

    It wasn’t offered after 1974, and ABS wasn’t offered again in almost all cars until the early 1990s.

    One reason was its high cost (about $350 in 1971.) Although this was chump change compared to the Imperial’s $6,000 base sticker price, some people thought it wasn’t worth it.

    Another reason is that the necessary technology was in its infancy and, as such, was expensive to produce and maintain.

    Most importantly, people panicked when they heard the clunking sound that the system made and didn’t use it properly. That was because it wasn’t really sold to people.

    After Imperial stopped offering ABS in 1974, one thing they offered was 4-wheel disk brakes. Anybody know how the parking brake acted on the rear disks? It’s fairly straightforward with rear drums (the cables activate the shoes instead of the wheel cylinders) but I’m trying to envision how that might work with calipers.


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