Front-Wheel Drive In Ice Or Snow

In the past twenty years, front-wheel drive cars have nearly replaced rear-wheel drive! Many drivers (especially older drivers) may not be aware of the tricks to keeping your FWD car on the go in ice!

In the past twenty years, front-wheel drive (FWD) cars, once rare, have all but eliminated rear-wheel drive as the passenger car norm. In normal everyday driving, there is virtually no difference in the way a front-wheel drive car handles from a rear-wheel (RWD), or even all-wheel (AWD) drive car. But in slippery conditions the handling characteristics differ considerably. And slippery doesn't necessarily mean on rain, ice, or snow. Anytime a car is at the limits of adhesion, a "slippery" condition exists. For example, a slippery condition can be freeway exit taken at too high a rate of speed, an emergency avoidance manuever, or braking heavily in a turn--any situation where the tire is being asked to do more than it can do.

What is front-wheel drive?

Early car manufacturers realized early on that the cheapest way to manufacture a car was to put the engine in front (they were used to having a horse up there, anyway!) and send the power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Why? Simplicity. Supplying power to the front meant engineering a way for these wheels to steer and provide power at the same time. It was easier to just work around the problem by sending the power to the rear wheels--they were just there for the ride, otherwise. So many Americans grew up knowing nothing else but RWD in passenger cars. When the cars started shrinking in the late 1970's due to gas shortages, manufacturers turned to FWD as a way of adding space to the cramped interiors--Americans were used to bigger cars, afterall. FWD allowed them to gain interior space by installing the engine and transmission sideways and eliminate the driveshaft tunnel running between the seats.

Do you have front-wheel drive?

Nearly every domestic or non-domestic compact or sub-compact made in the past twenty years has front-wheel drive. Look in the car's manual if you don't know.

What about all-wheel drive?

Though many of these tips are true for all-wheel drive, these driving techniques are front-wheel drive specific.

Tip One: IF YOU START TO SKID IN A TURN , EASE OFF THE GAS UNTIL YOU REGAIN CONTROL. Most passenger cars are built with handling charcteristic known as understeer. This means the front wheels tend to lose grip before the rears. This is done to present the average (no one, is, I know but bear with me) driver with a far less complicated emergency driving situation. Imagine if the rear came snapping around everytime you rounded a curve too fast! By simply easing of the gas, a weight transfer to the STEERING wheels gives them traction to navigate the turn, without sacrificing traction to the DRIVE WHEELS. Remember, a FWD drive car has most of the weight of the car in the front to begin with.

Tip Two: IF YOU'RE AT A STOPLIGHT ON ICE OR IN SNOW, DRIVE LIKE YOU HAVE AN EGG ON THE ACCELERATOR. Remember, the name of the game is maximizing weight on the front wheels, and minimizing weight transfer to the rears. By trying to accelerate heavily, you're throwing the weight to the rear wheels-- and they're there for just for the ride. BE SMOOTH!

Tip Three: FWD DOES NOT HELP YOU STOP BETTER. It doesn't matter if you have RWD, FWD, or AWD-- all coasting or braking cars are essentially the same. They are all limited by the grip available to the tire. Sometimes a false sense of security develops in FWD or AWD drivers becaause of the mountain-goat like grip available in the ice and snow. But under braking, all these advantages DISAPPEAR.

These three tips may make the difference between a close call and a collsion. Practice them in a parking lot-- they work! And remember, the only contact between you and the road is a wallet-sized patch of rubber at the bottom of each tire. It can only handle a certain amount of lateral force before it loses grip, be that braking, turning, or acceleration. If you only do one of these functions at a time, you can devote the tire's full potential to the task at hand.

© High Speed Ventures 2011