• Driving in Winter

Carte Blanche - Driving in Winter

Jim Kenzie By: Jim Kenzie November 25, 2020

Through a combination of bad luck and bad management (mine…) I ended up having to drive a Ford Mustang GT to Muskoka about ten days ago to attend the preview of the Genesis G80 sedan, featured elsewhere in Wheels today. The Ponycar was equipped with a powerful V8 engine and six-speed manual gearbox. And summer tires.

There were fairly heavy snow flurries coming off Georgian Bay on the drive up. The snowplows and salt trucks were already out on Highway 400 northbound. There was also an accumulation of snow on some of the back roads, and a few icy patches. I encountered some slippage on the steep hairpins in the driveway down to the “cottage” (more like a summer mansion…) on Lake Rosseau where the event was taking place.

But I not only got down that hill fine, but I got back up the hill the next afternoon. And home safely that evening.

I still recommend that you fit proper winter tires to your vehicle. I don’t think you should trust so-called “all-season” tires that I prefer to call “no-season” tires because they’re no good in summer and no good in winter. Still, this experience got me to thinking about all those years, all those decades (or so my grandparents told me…), when all they had were rear-wheel drive cars like this Mustang, but without the ABS brakes, traction control and directional stability control systems which are universal these days. Not to mention that in those days they didn’t even have radial tires – you have to be of a certain age to know there was such a thing as “bias-ply” tires.

They did have what were then called “snow” tires, big clunky things with coarse treads that howled like banshees on clear paved roads that, of course, even in bad winters are still the norm after the plows have done their work. Many people chose not to even put those on their cars.

How did our species survive?

The fact is, driving on roads that are slippery due to snow, ice or even just rain, is no big deal.

It’s just that the best way to find out how your car reacts to poor weather conditions for the first time is not when you are steaming into a corner way too fast. There’s only so much directional stability control can do for you.

Practice makes perfect, so I suggest you avail yourself of some practice. In a lovely celestial coincidence, as I type these words a few days before you’ll read them, the first major snowfall of the season is turning Kenzie World Headquarters, about 40 klicks west of The Big Smoke, into a winter wonderland.

Big flakes are falling and it’s up to 10 cm already.

So consider doing what my Dad did many years ago. Shortly after I got my licence he took me in the family car to a deserted parking lot, and let me drive it in the snow to get a feel for how it reacted. If I made a mistake, the consequences would be minimal. In these COVID times, there have seldom been more empty parking lots. So give it a try.

Maybe even shut off all those driver assistance systems so as to get a feel for how the car reacts in case they fail. It does happen. If you have driving-age kids, take them with you. It proved to be a bonding moment for my Dad and me. It will make you and your kids better drivers.

And that would be good news for all of us.

Driving in Winter