The Safety Cult wants you to be afraid of driving in the snow. It wants you to rely on “technology” rather than skill to get through the snow. It’s why so many people can’t deal with driving in the snow.
A counter-intuitive way to make the point is to point out one of the most capable-in-snow vehicles ever made – which had no “technology” to speak of beyond an engine and a transmission. It didn’t even have snow tires. What made it so adept at fording through the frozen effluvia were two attributes that are not found in almost any new car and no new car, together.
People are told by “experts” that rear-wheel-drive means not being able to drive in the snow. These “experts” have convinced millions of people they must have at least front-wheel-drive and (ideally) all-wheel-drive and the proposition appears sound. After all, having all four wheels pulling for you – and being pulled rather than pushed – seems advantageous vs. just two wheels pushing.
Unless, of course, something is pushing down on those wheels.
The Mystery Car that forms the subject of this example was not just rear-drive. It was rear-engined. The weight of that engine pushed down on the wheels that were pushing the car forward – and they were able to cut down through the snow to the pavement below because they were tall and skinny, like pizza pie plates. This latter being the second attribute – and one unavailable with any vehicle built in the past couple of decades.
Perhaps you know the Mystery Car’s name.
It was the original VW Beetle. Designed decades before there was “technology” to “assist” in snow driving.
It had no traction or stability control; no “modes” for snow.
Instead, effective design for dealing with snow. Something the Germans who designed it knew a lot about. If you knew how to drive it in the snow, an old Beetle could and would get you through it.
Today’s cars are designed at cross-purposes for dealing with it.
The one rear-engined car you can still buy new – the Porsche 911 – rides low on wide wheels and steamroller tires that negate the snow-day traction advantage of having the engine sitting on top of the drive wheels. Porsche 911s handle superbly. But they’re made for the snow like Pierre Trudeau is made for mixed martial arts combat.
Front-drive/all-wheel-drive cars have the functional advantage of pulling rather than pushing – and all four wheels pulling. But they often have the disadvantage of wheels (and tires) that diminish these advantages. “Sport” tires designed for dry and wet weather grip but not for traction in snow. They also often ride so low to the ground that they ride over the snow, compounding the problem. Most also have “technology” – traction/stability control – that can reduce it in certain situations where a driver in control would do a better job of maintaining the vehicle’s momentum.
When the “technology” senses wheel-slip (loss of traction) the electronic reaction is to reduce engine power and (sometimes) to apply braking power. This does stabilize the vehicle’s “line” – its direction of travel. But it can also reduce its momentum at precisely the moment when that is the last thing you want – assuming you want to make it up that snow-and-ice-slicked incline.
A driver who knows how to control his vehicle can do so even when the vehicle isn’t tracking straight. A good example of this being the professional drifters who go through the corners sideways – but under control.
Of course, this takes skill – something no longer expected of drivers.
Many new vehicles have traction/stability control that either cannot be fully disabled – as in entirely turned off by the driver – or which peremptorily comes back on after the vehicle reaches a certain speed. This takes control over that from the driver, who is presumed to need it even in situations where a skilled driver doesn’t.
No modern cars have ABS – anti-lock brakes – that can be even partially disabled. This means you cannot lock the wheels up – which can give you more control in certain driving situations. Note that race cars do not have ABS. And high-performance driving schools have cars fitted with ABS off switches.
With ABS – which usually works with the traction/stability control system – the wheels will continue to rotate as the system applies braking pressure and then releases it – which can increase stopping distances on ice, for instance, vs. a driver who knows how to apply the brakes on ice.
The classic Beetle gave the driver full control – over everything. Down to the shifting – as most old Beetles had manual rather than automatic transmissions. It gave the driver the necessary equipment for dealing with snow, in other words – rather than “technology.” If the driver had the skills to use that equipment, snow was not a problem – just as a framing square is all you need to build a square wall or straight set of stairs – assuming you know how to use a framing square.
If you don’t, all the “technology” in the world isn’t going to make up for its lack.
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