Why Traction Control isn't a Substitute for Winter Tires

Photo Credits: www.autoblog.com

To preface this article, I live in New England, and as some of you might know we got a ton of snow this winter. Like several feet in just a few days… yeah the roads were terrible. That brought up the question, what makes a car good in snow? Recently someone I know who for the purpose of this article we'll call Nick because that's his actual name, bought a FWD car. He was saying how it's good in the snow because of it's front wheel drive. My argument was that it doesn't matter if your car is rear wheel, front wheel or all wheel drive, with a good set of winter tires they're handle about the same. Sure AWD and FWD is better for accelerating in snow, which some people say is not necessary and to those people I say you've obviously never been stuck on the train tracks in a blizzard while watching a train barreling toward you. But hey, that's for a different article, maybe one titled, "Why You Should Never Try to Beat a Train in a Snowstorm". Anyway, back to what I was saying. Besides some small differences, no matter the drive train all cars will generally be fine in the snow. So that's what I said to him, and his response made me die a little inside.


He said that rear wheel drive was all but impossible in the snow, an opinion that many people seem to hold. His reasoning behind this belief was that because if a Dodge Challenger couldn't move on a snowy road, no rear wheel drive car could. After a little prying I was able to figure out that the Challenger in question was on summer tires. So lets think here… three hundred plus horsepower going to the rear wheels wrapped in summer tires. Of course it doesn't work, it's not meant to, it's not designed to. They distinguish between summer and winter tires for a reason. That was the first problem I encountered with his story. The second one was that when I mentioned the fact that it had summer tires he brushed it off saying the traction control was on so it didn't matter. That, combined with all the car accidents we've had this winter compelled me to at least attempt to dispel any misconceptions about winter driving, specifically winter tires and traction control.

As most people know, they only part of your car that touches the ground are the four bottom patches of your tire. If you break traction, those four sections are no longer gripping the road well. The role of traction control is to re-establish a solid connection between your tires and the road. This is assuming of course that you have any traction in the first place. As many people also know, snow is not a good surface for maintaining traction on. Therefore when you're on snow, traction control can work it's heart out and you'll still go no where because there is no traction to find, no solid connection to the ground it can get. All it can do to keep from slipping is to cut power altogether which is not particularly useful.

I'll put it in a way maybe more young people can understand, because that's the age group who Nick falls into. Think about connecting to a wifi hotspot on your phone. If you move out of range for a moment then move closer again. Your phone will try and re-establish that connection, and usually it'll find the signal again. Now say that there was no hotspot in the first place, your phone can't connect to the wifi hotspot because it's not there. No matter how good a phone you have you can't connect. Same thing with cars, no matter how good your traction control is, how many wheels are being driven, or where they're being driven, you won't find traction if there is no traction to be found.

Winter tires remedy this problem because they actually give you traction they don't just manage it. With snow tires your car can get traction on snow, similar to a summer tire on pavement. To reference the example, winter tires are like not having the wifi shut off. Your traction control can work in conjunction with the tires and actually help as opposed to continually cutting power and aimlessly spinning tires. I know they're a pain to store and swap for summer tires etc. In the end though they're really worth it if you plan to drive a lot in the snow.


Now full disclosure I drive an AWD car and I think it does edge out RWD and FWD in some areas. The point of this article is to try and educate some of the people who feel like because they're in AWD or FWD cars they're invincible to adverse weather. You wouldn't believe the number of vehicles off the road every time it snows here in New Hampshire, even after the roads are fairly clear. There's no substitute for properly maintaining your car (yes, that means appropriate tires) and just plain driving responsibly when conditions are bad. So I'd like to pose a question to anyone reading this who lives in a snowy area. Do you think winter tires are a good idea and worth the effort and are all seasons at a point where they're just as good?

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