Driving in the snow creates one big problem for every driver, thus requires preparation of some sort, and that is traction. You can have AWD, 4WD, FWD or (if you’re crazy) RWD, but if you don’t have the proper setup you won’t go anywhere. Cars will slip and slide all over the place if they aren’t well equipped, and sometimes that means dropping a ton of money on snow tires or a little money on snow chains. Some people might do both, just as a contingency and they'd be right. Getting stuck in a snow storm or blizzard is no way to spend a hard-earned vacation. Make no mistake, without chains or snow tires that can happen.
Snow chains exist to create traction for tires that otherwise wouldn’t be able to. If you have street tires in the snow, chances are you will have a hard time driving because the tread of the tires was designed to only handle dry (or wet) tarmac, and nothing else. So to fix this you need to give your tires the ability to negotiate through snowy conditions, and thats where snow chains come in. They are essentially metal cages that wrap around your tires. You can pull over and put them on relatively easily, but depending on the conditions can be a pain. For instance, if you’re stuck in a blizzard you’ll probably be freezing cold by the time the ordeal is over. Remember to put them on your drive wheels. In other words, if your car is FWD then put the chains on your front wheels.
Once you have your snow chains on, you’re going to need to treat the car with a different kind of attention. You’re going to need to reduce your speed by a lot less than what your tires are rated for. There should be a speed rating in the owner’s manual that came with the chains, but just in case it isn’t, the recommended maximum speed is 30 mph. Aggressive acceleration and braking could put too much strain on the chains and cause them to break. Snowy conditions warrant slow and cautious driving anyway, so driving slow shouldn’t be a big adjustment.
You need to have snow chains if they are the only thing you can do. In other words, if you have a RWD car that has street tires on it, you’ll need to put chains on in order to get through snow. Snow tires are built for handling the snow, and are a necessary option as well, but sometimes circumstances don’t allow extra money spent on new tires you’re only going to use for one weekend. Chains are a good alternative and do work, but chains can break off so be aware of that.
Depending on where you’re going, you’re going to need to choose the right tire. Snow tires have deeper tread, so when driving on snow the tires will penetrate to as close to the pavement as they can get, and thus work to prevent slipping by providing traction. Some winter or snow tires will have studs protruding, thus acting as a more solid contact patch on icy surfaces, where the studs will dig into the pavement. Be sure to check with the laws of where you’re going if you’re going to get studded tires, as they are not allowed in every region.
Tires are always extremely important, and if you can, you should always use proper tires for every situation. The best possible way to handle the snow is if you have an AWD car with snow tires and chains. Some drivers will swear by tires alone, and that’s fair to say especially since that’s what they were built for, but snow isn’t something to take a chance on. If you have proper tires and chains, the snow will not be as much of a problem as it would be without that.
Driving on snow isn’t all that bad, but on the off chance you get caught in a blizzard the whole experience is made so much simpler and actually enjoyable with the right tires and probably some chains. An RWD car is the worst configuration to take to the snow, because power goes to the rear wheels which are not steering the car, so without traction the car could get its rear wheels stuck, and they’ll just spin without being able to work their way free. Snow tires and chains should fix this problem, but be sure to watch the front tires as well, as you’ll want traction for steering. FWD and AWD setups simply provide more control, and that’s not something you want to compromise in the snow.
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