Before you say it, I know.
I could fabricate some kind of glamourous and exciting explanation as to why I have not blogged since forever but I have simply had too much shit going down and I had to deal with each situation in order they came at me and something had to give. That something was my blog. Some of the things I have had to deal with are learning to become a teacher (yes, me), moving house, some heavy personal stuff that I am not willing to share on the public internet stocks and some broken bones. The second half of 2012 was like the audience of Glastonbury. Intense.
But enough of my whining. From what I can glean from the UK media the motherland has had a couple of inches of snow so the whole country has come to a complete standstill and people have started eating their pets and are eyeing up their plumb offspring with hungry, culinary appraisal. We are talking a national crisis here. We are talking provisions, burning your furniture and panic buying of cheap, brittle plastic toboggans.
The other aspect of living in a post-apocalyptic Britain covering in a couple of inches of snow is that you are at sometime going to have to drive somewhere just so you can buy a can of baked beans because you saw your Ocado delivery truck skewered off the side of the road on regional news and feral locals looting your Organic Houmous and Line Caught Tuna Steaks. So, you’re going to have to get into your Ford Focus and, like Scott of the Antarctic, brave the bitter outside world and get to a Tesco Metro (the shame).
After living in Switzerland for three years (oh, how time has flown) I can now – with some confidence – impart some small amount of advice on what I have learnt about driving in the snow. We obviously have a number of advantages over UK citizens in that the Swiss councils plough and grit both the roads and the pavements almost immediately and everyone in Switzerland fits their cars with winter tyres. Most people also travel with some snow chains, a spade and a big bag of salt just in case it all goes Pete Tong. But even without these advantages I can still give some advice. Most of it is common sense, but you might still find some things useful.
Before you set off – Planning is everything
- Necessity. Do you actually need to use your car? Can you make your journey on foot? It might be easier, and quicker, to just walk to your destination.
- Plan your route. Look on a map (Google maps is great for this) and see where the hills are. Try and stay away from steep hills as the climbing of them is going to be tough and the descent tougher so plan your route via flat terrain. It sounds like an arseache but you won’t be saying that when you retrieve your car from a ditch.
- Practice. Try and find a carpark or some area where there is nothing to hit and drive your car around in the snow. See how it reacts to braking and turning. It’s loads of fun and will teach you a lot about how your car handles.
- Drivetrain. Find out if your car is a four wheel drive, front wheel drive or rear wheel drive. You’ll probably know if it’s four wheel drive as the car would have cost you loads more and will have some pseudo tough badge on the back saying Allroad, terrainio, ruggedrover or some bollocks. In most instances your car will be front wheel drive and your need to understand how that works – your car will be pulled through the snow and that makes it somewhat predictable. If you have a rear wheel drive (most Mercs, BMWs and sports cars are RWD) then it is really hard to drive in the snow, even with snow tires, because the drivetrain is pushing your car through the snow and this makes it unpredictable. If you have a 4WD then you are at an obvious advantage and if you have a FWD you can cope pretty well…but if you have a RWD I’d recommend staying at home and think about your purchasing decisions, mister.
- Check the snow. Is it powdery? That is the result of very cold weather and will probably mean there is a layer of ice underneath and will be very tough to drive on. Is it firm, good snowball making snow? Then it will pack up underneath your car and will be a slippery road surface but is driveable…just. Is it wet? Then it will be mushy and easy to drive in and the weight of your car will push aside most of the snow and is easy to drive in. Also, consider what time of day it is. Midday will be easier than midnight because of the temperature and how this effects the driving conditions.
Driving – Some hints and tips
- ESP. Lots of cars come with a system that stops your wheels spinning if you haven’t got grip and so stops the wheel until it has found grip. This is great in the wet but can be a massive hindrance in the snow – so turn it off.
- Traction. Snow driving is all about traction and grip. You won’t have much of either so you need to use momentum. You need to build your speed slowly (but don’t go too fast) and try and keep your wheels going around slowly rather than quick or you’ll wheel spin and just dig yourself a hole in the snow that you won’t be able to get out of. Remember: stopping is a bad idea in the snow…and is going fast.
- Braking. One of the most common cause of accidents in the snow (even over here) is because of braking. First off, give yourself massive stopping distances from the car in front. Secondly you need to always keep your wheels going around and be in control so try and use your gears to slow down. Pop your car into 2nd gear and coast down a hill (in gear, not with the clutch down!) whilst feathering your brakes lightly to keep your speed down.
- Climbing a hill. Inevitably you will encounter some kind of ascent. You need to be aware of when that climb is going to happen because you are not going to be able to climb it with grip so you need to build up some momentum. Try and anticipate how much speed you need to climb the hill with momentum alone and give it tons of welly. You might not make it the first time but you will eventually. If you don’t and you start slipping back down the hill use your accelerator to provide your braking and you can control your backwards descent relatively safely.
- Turning. If there is a lot of snow and you need to travel down a twisty road you will, unfortunately, be drifting (to pardon the pun) around the corners. Drifting is when you go side ways and use the throttle to control your speed and angle. The same is when snow driving. When you approach a corner feather the brakes (lots of light dabs on the brake pedal) and start turning into the corner, a bit like you are steering a speedboat). You will feel the back end sliding out from behind you and you should start to just lightly dab the accellerator. This will (in a FWD) pull you around the corner and you’ll straighten out. This is way harder to do in a RWD.
Emergency Measures – If you are stuck somewhere is very deep snow and absolutely have to drive somewhere.
- Before you set off. Check you have fuel and a compressor in the back. Most cars don’t have spare wheels anymore and come with a puncture repair kit and an air compressor. If you do then you can let down all four tyres about 50% and this will give your tyres a much wider footprint and thus more grip. You can use the compressor to pump them back up again when you reach somewhere ploughed and gritted (otherwise you’ll damage your tyres).
- If you get stuck. You sometimes get stuck and your wheels just keep spinning. Stop or you will just polish the ice. Turn the wheel full lock, both ways, to clear a good area.Find something to dig out as much of the snow as possible (not your hands or fingers because you might clear enough for the car to rock onto them!) and stamp in front of your car to make a nice flat area for your car when you get going. Use the floor mats in your car to position under the driving wheels and turn the handbrake off and push your car onto the mats. You will not be able to drive it. If you can find any material like stones or twigs and leaves and branches you could stamp them into your runway to give yourself a certain amount of initial traction. Get yourself going and if there are two of you you can get the other person to jump out and retrieve the mats because you do not want to stop or the same thing will happen.
- Just leave the car. At the end of the day, it’s just a car and you can come and collect it when the roads are better. In the UK that will be sooner rather than later.