Drive Safely When Things Get Wet, Part 1

As the weather gets colder and wetter, there are a few things to consider to make sure your car or truck is safe and comfortable for winter driving.


The grooves, channels and slits in your tire’s tread are carefully engineered to keep a small section of rubber in close contact with the road and channel water away from that “contact patch.” In most passenger vehicles, the tread pattern is designed to give you predictable grip during cornering, braking and accelerating, reduce noise, and provide biting edges when traveling on icy or snowy roads.  These “all-season” tires make some compromises at the limit, but offer a comfortable, safe and long-wearing tire. Some performance cars, though, come equipped with summer tires, designed for maximum grip on dry roads and in temperate climates, but they aren’t as good in bad weather, and certainly not intended for a winter trip to Tahoe.  Take a look at the sidewall and you’ll see some clues: M+S means mud and snow, used on tires with improved traction in those conditions; the three-peaked mountain indicates a winter tire, and the words “summer”, “winter” or “all season” might be part of the tire name.  The traction rating (AA, A, B, C) grades wet traction, and As are best. Even the best tire, optimized for road conditions, will underperform if not properly inflated or worn beyond the safe treadwear limit. Now’s the time to take a look and make sure you’re ready for the rainy season.


Your shocks and struts, along with springs and other suspension components, control the up-and-down motion that comes from driving over bumps, cornering, and accelerating/decelerating. When you hit the gas or brakes, your car squats in back or dips in front. This causes some weight transfer, and thus changes the grip at each tire, and your suspension components keep all that motion within predictable limits. If your shocks have 50,000 miles on them, they’ve cycled around 75 million times, and may no longer provide the ride and handling designed into your car. When the road surface is slick, excessive suspension motion can make braking and cornering less predictable. Make sure the parts you can’t see are still doing their jobs before you head off for the snow. A good repair shop should inspect your car at every visit and let you know when it’s time to change shocks, struts, bushings, links, and other parts of your chassis.


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