Controlling a Rear-Wheel Drive in the Winter

September 28, 2009
It is no secret that different types of automobiles handle and perform differently in winter conditions. Whether you have a car, truck, van or SUV, the characteristics and limitations of the vehicle will always vary.

One of the biggest factors to snow-handling is the drive- train outlay that your car uses. Unfortunately, some of us must struggle through the winter driving season with a vehicle that is powered only by its back wheels (a.k.a. rear-wheel-drive).

Here are some tips that will sharpen your driving abilities, just in case you ever fit into this category:

In dry conditions and on racetracks, rear-wheel drive cars are actually preferred because the front wheels can take care of steering operations without having to power the vehicle. This makes for easier and more precise handling. In the snow it is the exact opposite.

Rear-wheel drive cars and other automobiles without four-wheel drive (maybe you should have paid the extra when you bought your pickup huh?) become almost uncontrollable because their rear wheels cannot get enough traction. This phenomenon is often called oversteer or fishtailing. When this happens (and it will) you must remember to slowly steer into the direction that your rear-end is sliding to correct it.

The first thing that you can do to help control your rear-wheel drive is: buy a new set of winter tires, or possibly some tire chains. I would only recommend chains only for somebody with oversized tires (which tend to be fairly pricey to replace). Snow tires feature a unique tread pattern to help navigate through ice, snow and water. Plus, they are usually made from a softer rubber compound to give a vehicle more grip. This will increase your ability to accelerate without loosing traction and decrease the time and distance you need to come to a stop.  

If you drive a truck (which has very little weight over the rear wheels), it may be a good idea to fill your bed with a few hundred pounds of weight. Most people use sandbags or concrete to do this. It is cheap, effective, and will aid traction and handling in slippery conditions. 

Next, please understand that you will need to change your driving habits when the snow begins to fall. Slow down and do not be afraid to drive under the speed limit. When it is time to slow down, brake early and softly so there is no danger of sliding. Because rear-wheel drive automobiles are oversteer-biased, it can make for a more difficult situation when you enter a turn in the snow. Try approaching turns much slower than usual and stay closer to the center lane. This will make for a more controlled transition.  

Finally, take your vehicle to an empty, snow-covered parking lot and practice. Try initiating a skid and successfully correcting it. Do some quick lane changes and heavy braking to get an idea of how long it will take for you to stop. With a little practice and confidence, you and your rear-wheel drive vehicle will be just fine in the winter time.

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