Experts debunk 4 winter driving myths
We've all heard of these methods used while driving during the winter. But are these good practices, or are they just myths?
Traveling in the snow and ice is dangerous, especially in a car.
Drivers are often misinformed about the safest ways to operate and take care of a car in winter conditions.
Myth #1: You should always let a vehicle idle before driving it in cold weather
While it may be convenient to hop into an already warm vehicle, idling a car before driving it in cold conditions can be bad for your health, wallet and car.
The carbon monoxide an engine emits while running a car is dangerous and fuel is consumed faster.
Some argue that these sacrifices are worth it in order to protect their vehicles.
However, Dustin Stec, a Bridgestone AutoCare manager, argues that there is no benefit at all to letting your car run for a while before driving it.
Mike Roach, right, of New York, a junior at Towson University, clears snow from his car after getting stuck in Towson, Md., Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
The common misconception stems from the fact that there was a time when “heating up” a car was necessary.
“Years ago when cars weren’t computer controlled or fuel injected, you had to rely on mechanic delivery of fuel,” Stec said.
“In the wintertime when it was exceptionally cold, that component of the carburetor didn’t work well, and it had to warm up before it worked efficiently.”
Stec said that today’s technology allows a car’s computer to compensate for the temperature difference in order to make it work immediately and efficiently.
Myth #2: Four-wheel drive makes a car safe to drive in the snow
Though four-wheel drive is a serious advantage in reaching a destination in the snow, it cannot assist in stopping a car.
“Stopping relies on driving correctly and having winter tires on your car in snow and ice,” Stec said.
He argued that driver education and safety trump reliance on a vehicle’s capabilities. Four-wheel drive is an asset, not a safety net.
Chris Welty, a Bridgestone tire specialist, also claimed that winter tires are a necessity and that they allow a driver to stop 30 percent faster in snow and ice.
“They are the most important part of the car in inclement weather,” Welty said. “When it is cold enough that you can see your breath outside, it is time to change your tires.”
He said that people often confuse winter tires with all-season tires, but that tires should change with the seasons.
He also finds that many people think letting air out of a vehicle’s tires will create better traction.
“Tires are designed and intended to operate at a certain pressure rating, and decreasing or changing that pressure rating in an attempt to get better performance decreases the performance of the tire,” Welty said.
Myth #3: Your parking brake can help you stop in winter weather
Experts argue that it may be best to stay away from the parking brake.
“By pulling the parking brake on a car in a panic situation, you would negate the ability of the car to enable its anti-lock braking system, therefore decreasing the stopping ability or the capacity of the car,” Stec said.
The parking brake also has the potential to freeze when trying to release it in extreme cold.
Tires will perform at 100 percent when braking, but steering will reduce the brake’s capabilities, Welty said.
“Steer away from an obstacle if you cannot brake,” Welty said.
Myth #4: It's safe to pass other drivers who may be moving slower than you
A snow plow works on a road in Oregon. (Photo/Oregon Department of Transportation)
Though it's tempting to pass a slow-moving car when you're in a rush, it might be dangerous amid wintry conditions.
“If you encounter a snowplow, it means that what is in front of it may be difficult,” Welty said. This could signal that it's best to hang back.
If you do decide to pass another driver, be sure to use caution.
“When you want to pass someone and your wheels go from dry or wet asphalt to ice or snow, the car can abruptly become out of control when you hit the gas pedal.”
By Randi Ivler, AccuWeather staff writer
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/ready.
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