Many of my childhood memories growing up in Edmonton involve winter driving - mainly in my father's silver 1977 Aspen. This car was a neighborhood legend. The local mechanics down the street would literally come out and applaud when we drove by, because they couldn't believe the Aspen (a.k.a. The Grey Ghost) was still moving.
The Aspen was particularly finicky in the winter and we had all kinds of tips and tricks to keep her on the road. I thought I knew everything there was to know about preparing the car for safe and successful winter driving. But with the advent of modern car technology, I've had to radically change my approach to cold weather car care and driving preparation.
Here are a few of my tips for those of us who still have an old school approach to cold weather driving:
1. The car doesn't take 15 minutes to "warm up". I remember back in the day when all the neighborhood dads would go start their cars and then go back in the house for breakfast. It was a real smog fest out there. These days, engines are designed to heat up far more quickly - and letting them idle for too long can actually damage the engine. Letting the car run for up to a minute is generally sufficient - maybe up to 4 or 5 minutes in extreme temperatures (which will give you just enough time to clear any snow or ice off your vehicle).
2. Using a hairdryer to unfreeze your door lock isn't the best approach. Neither, as it turns out, is using a cigarette lighter to heat up your car key. Modern keys often have a transponder in them, which can be damaged by heating and can cost a lot to replace. The best way to bust into a frozen car lock these days is to use an alcohol-based lock de-icer. If your locks freeze regularly, this is a sign that the lock mechanism isn't lubricated properly - be sure to keep your locks in good working order by lubing them with a graphite-based lubricant several times a year.
3. Adding several bags of sand in the back does not give you better traction. It's good to have a bag of sand or cat litter in the back for getting yourself out of a ditch, but most cars these days are front- or part-time (FWD based) all-wheel-drive. So adding weight in the back actually reduces the traction in the front. Plus, the stability control systems in most cars today are calibrated to a known vehicle weight - adding weight in strategic areas could potentially cause these systems to be less effective.
4. You don't have to pump the brakes to stop on slippery roads. If your car has anti-lock brakes - and modern cars do - the best plan is to put your foot on the brake and keep it there until the car stops. The great thing about ABS is that they handle the pumping for you - faster and far more accurately.
5. Full body snowsuits are no longer required. In the Grey Ghost, the "heater" was often "Dad blowing on your hands to keep them warm". You also needed the snowsuit to protect your clothes when you slid out the passenger side window when you got to school (the Grey Ghost only had one functioning door). These days, it's important to have proper winter clothes with you if the car breaks down, but you don't have to bundle up inside - in fact, your seatbelt will be more effective if you're not wearing a huge parka.
I don't miss the Grey Ghost and its various quirks - but I sometimes wonder if all of these breakthroughs in car technology have their drawbacks too. If nothing else, all-wheel-drive and "snow mode" settings have contributed to excessive cockiness on the roads in winter. We've all watched in horror as people whip past us on the snowy highway in their ultimate driving machine, only to hit some ice and slide into a ditch seconds later. One thing that hasn't changed since we switched to cars from horses is this: with great driving power comes great responsibility.
Has new driving technology changed the way that you drive in the winter?
- Rose R.