Monday, December 09, 2013

Holidays On Ice

I accompanied Bobbi when she went to check on the stardrives yesterday, and when we walked back out to the car, the blacktop parking lot was deceptively slick. "This could get ugly tonight," I ventured as we negotiated the Roundabouts of Hamilton County on the way home.

And get ugly it did.

"I know how to drive in snow!" is something you hear every winter, but unless you're wearing studded tires or chains, ain't nobody knows how to drive on glare ice. Or, more correctly, you can know how all you want, but the ice doesn't care what you know. Oh, sure, you can creep along, but any control input could be the one that ends up with the car sliding into the ditch. Or the firetruck.

When the surface goes as frictionless as a physics 101 thought experiment, anti-lock brakes just ensure you'll slide sideways into the middle of the intersection with all four wheels turning instead of locked up tight.


Blackwing1 said...

One of the few advantages of living in the frozen tundra (Minnesnowta) is that we get a whole bunch of free skid pans to play on every winter. Every vehicle I've ever owned has been taken out onto a frozen lake, and "played with".

I used to do it just for fun, but I now realize that kids playing on ice with cars is actually incredibly good training for driving on slippery roads. We used to set up courses with piles of snow a pylons, and see who could get through them fastest without knocking down the markers. Having stopping contests, to see who could stop in the shortest distance (and still be pointed the right direction). All of this was done 'way before things like anti-lock brakes, or traction control. There were few four-wheel drives out there, mostly on jeeps and pick-ups, but those were for the tree-climbers who needed the ground clearance. This was all done in our cars.

It's a shame that this isn't more formalized, because it really does teach you the limits of adhesion, and how to recover from a skid. The only vehicle I haven't done it with is my current P/U, because the lakes haven't frozen hard enough for the past couple of years for me to trust the ice. This year looks to be good, though, and I'll be taking it out and "playing" in both 2-wheel and 4-wheel modes, just to see what it can do.

It's nice to do it out in the middle of a lake, since there's nothing to hit, nothing to hurt, and it's free.

ProudHillbilly said...

And 4WD or AWD doesn't do dooky if all 4 tires loose their grip at once. Which I've had happen. Causing me to shoot down the hill backward into an intersection. Sweaty palms time...

Bobby said...

Some cars are 4-wheel-go. All cars are 4-wheel-stop.

Needless to say, stop is the important one...

Anonymous said...

I've played in a vehicle air hockey game on I-80 once. The best wreck was a PSP patrol car sandwiched between two trucks. As a recall it was 70 plus wrecks spread over about 50 miles of road. I made it through by driving on the gravel on the side of the road and never got over 15 MPH.


The Raving Prophet said...

Quality winter tires.

They won't do miracles, but they'll feel like it. With modern tire technology studs aren't all that necessary anymore... a Bridgestone Blizzak or Continental WinterExtremeContact will get you home in one piece. Sure, caution must still be exercised, but if one has to be out in the nasty stuff they will make sure you get to where you need to be.

The night we pulled right into our garage with no problems only to see the salt truck slide backwards down our street a few minutes later made a big believer out of me.

Stay home if you can. If you must go out, a set of winter tires will be a very wise investment.

JavaMan said...

Black ice ... oh, the flashbacks...

More years ago than I can recall (or is it more than I care to admit to?) I was living in northern WisCAHNsin and had my own moment with it.

It had snowed, but only a small amount - the kind that blows around behind the car as you drive down the highway. The highway itself was dry. Coming up to the stop sign intersecting a 4 lane, I touched the brakes, only to find the back end of the car attempting to pull out to pass the front end of the car.

Because of vehicles stopping at the corner, the snow had melted and then refroze - into ice so black that it was effectively invisible.

Realizing I wasn't going to stop until I was at least halfway into the highway, I looked for traffic on that road and, yup, there was an 18 wheeled truck running at 55-60 MPH.

As I'm furiously pumping the brakes, I slide into the intersection, hit the rear wheels on the tractor, and bounced (it's what happened, I swear), and hit the rear wheels on the trailer.

Strangely, the insurance fixed the car, rather than total it.

Me? I walked away, thankfully. Didn't need even so much as a trip to the Chiropractor. The trucker accused me of not even attempting to stop.

I kinda miss driving in the snow, cold, and ice.

Robert Fowler said...

After spending time in North Texas where they get more ice than snow, I learned a important lesson. If it's icy, stay off the road. I was raised driving in snow (Michigan) but ice is a whole different game.

Anonymous said...

At some point you should take my Dad's advice (Dad lives in Quebec he lives that stuff from mid Oct to Late March):

Is this trip worth you life? No?

Pull off the road. stay home. Get a room. (whichever) Wait until the nuttiness stops.

We all push it, but seriously: Remind yourself why it's so important it can't wait.

OldTexan said...

Years and years ago my life adventures took me to Minnesota for a few years and I had a fill-in job selling Chevrolet trucks and cars for awhile.

We loved to make predictions when we sold a new 4 wheel drive to a young hero about how soon it would be towed back into our repair shop when he discovered that 4WD does not mean better brakes. I just allows a person to get up more speed on ice for a better crash when the wheels don't turn and the brakes lock up.

I don't know how my anti-lock brakes on my pickup work on glare ice because I am old enough to not have to try that out but I suspect they really don't help a person stop a whole lot faster on that ice.

My daddy taught me to drive where we had ice conditions from time to time over 50 years ago and his advice was to drive like you don't have brakes at all which means go very slow.

Joel said...

"Pump the brakes!" she said.

"I AM pumping the brakes," I replied as patiently as possible under the circumstances, as the car continued to ignore my instructions.

"Turn into the skid!"

"I AM..." I took my hands right off the wheel, turned to her, and said, "It's possible you don't understand the situation."

And right about then the car finished its slide into the ditch.

Goober said...

I'm sad that the young woman died. Tragic.

Frank W. James said...

This is the MAIN reason my 2010 Mustang is parked with a cover over it until the weather turns warm once more.

It's not the highest horsepower Mustang out there, but it's still got way too much rear wheel torque for this crap, even when you're trying to drive carefully...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

TimD said...

It was formalized when I was stationed at Ft. Richardson, AK. They would freeze a large skid-pad and you would take a driving course on it. It was ok in CUCVs but much more interesting in a deuce or 5 ton. They put a special stamp on your military license that was required when the roads reached certain conditions.

jon spencer said...

As a Yooper I have been winter driving almost all of my life and here are a few observations.
1. You will eventually lose control of your vehicle.
2. When this happens all that you can do is hope that when you stop it is not a sudden stop into something hard.
3. Brakes do not work on ice.
4. There are people out there that do not believe that.
5. Driving on icy slick roads can be very scary.
6. Driving on icy slick roads can be a lot of fun, if there is room to slide and you have help to get out of the snowbanks.
7. The saying "drive like you have a egg between your foot and the pedals" works.

Tam said...

I notice that that a lot of people seem to be talking about ice with at least some snowpack on it, like the winter roads in much of rural America or even a frozen lake, rather than bare asphalt with an eighth-inch layer of hard, clear glaze, right about at freezing or just below, so there's a good film of melt right under your contact patches.

This is a surface that is slightly slipperier than a freshly-zamboni'd skating rink. The best hope when encountering that is hoping that it's a small enough patch that all four tires won't be on it at the same time, or at least not for long. Otherwise, not even the best non-studded tires will hack it, because the rubber can't get any mechanical lock with the surface, like it can on even the hardest snowpack.

Cincinnatus said...

A couple of weeks ago, I was coming home from a hunting trip in the mountains in a snowstorm. I drove slowly and never lost control for a sec.

Going up a pass, a twit in a Infiniti Qsomething SUV passed me with a dirty look and instantly did a 360 spin in front of me, ending up nose first into a snow bank on the shoulder. I slowed and made sure they were not injured but did not bother to remove the grin from my face.

Paul said...

I suppose finding a car at the bottom of the lot during a freezing rain storm would have been some kind of ice on a asphalt lot.

What kills me are the smoking, not not, platinum blondes in the expeditions running 20 - 30 mph faster than anything else.

At some point their shorts are going to be soiled.

Ed said...

I saw mention earlier of "four wheel go". When you apply the brakes on a slick enough surface, you may get "four wheel stop", but you may still have "one vehicle still going, direction indeterminable until at rest". Tapping the brakes for a car that bolted out of a driveway while driving at reduced speed on packed snow on ice, I once did a 540 (1.5 revolutions) in a Jeep, stopping in a snow bank facing the wrong direction, with a car parked in front of me and a car parked in back of me. Aside from the reverse direction, I could not have parked it better if I planned to park it.

Stuart the Viking said...

People have always said that front wheel drive cars are better on ice and snow. I have not found this to be the case. I admit that this may be because I was taught how to drive a rear wheel drive on ice, but had to pick up that skill all by myself in a front wheel drive.

I remember one early attempt where I was turning left, only to have the front tires spin because they had NO traction and the front of the car dove neatly into the ditch on the right side of the road. Luckily, a friend with a truck happened along and pulled me out so I didn't have to explain to my parents why I put Mom's car in the ditch (it was when I was in high school... mumble mumble years ago)


Blackwing1 said...


Right now most of the lakes have frozen clear...the snow came enough after the lakes froze that there's nothing on them. Lots of bubbly areas, and maybe some pressure ridges, but the one lake I'm waiting for the ice to thicken up on is clean from one end to the other. It's the biggest skating rink ever. The wind blows the snow right off the surface when it's like this.

I've had cars out on this surface many times before, and you do get SOME traction, just not much. And really soft tires (Nokian's "Haakapellita", aka, "Ice Choppers", and come both studded and un-studded) are used in frozen lake rallies, and actually can get some pretty good traction until it gets below zero. The problem with them is that if it's above 32F you don't really want to run them on dry roads because you'll burn off the tread in a couple of thousand miles. Truly a winter-only tire (excuse me, "tyre").

What I've found to be the absolute slipperiest surface is ice covered with a minute film of fresh, light powder. It actually acts like a lubricant on top of the ice somehow. The blowing/drifting snow across a lake is perfect for that, and the best way to teach the gedanken experiments in classical physics you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I've used the Nokian Hakkapelita and Toyo Observe tires in the past. Both tires use a silicone based rubber that is very flexible and grippy in the cold. The Toyos have microscopic walnut and wool particles in the rubber to grip the ice. If you drive very smoothly on level surfaces you have some control but the traction coefficient on glare ice is still low. Forget about negotiating steep hills or sharp turns.

I agree with the fellow above, the best question is 'Is this trip really that important? If the answer is no, stay where you are. Work will wait until tomorrow and a night in the hotel is cheaper than a tow truck. You can do everything right and some bozo who thinks his 4WD makes him immune to Newtonian physics will lose control and take you off the road with him.


Goober said...

What Tam said. There's a huge difference between driving in slick conditions and driving in a frictionless environment.

My buddy put his car in the ditch in one of those situations years back. i carefully took my Dad's pickup out to where he'd ditched it, with the intent of pulling him out. I started stopping the truck about 450 yards from his car, and overshot his car by 50 plus. When I started to stop, I was only doing maybe 15 miles per hour.

When i got out of the truck, both of my feet instantly went out from under me and I slid, totally helpless to stop myself, under the goddamned truck. When i put my foot up to stop myself, the momentum from me doing so started the truck to sliding, too, with me under it. This is a 4-wheel drive truck, in park, fully stopped and idling on the roadway, being moved by a (at the time) 250 pound kid trying to stop himself from sliding on the ice.

By the way, if you ever want to feel the foreboding sense that things are fixing to really start going wrong, lay down on your back in ice so slick that you can't do anything but lay there, under a truck that is also sliding on the ice. The pucker factor in that little incident was high.

Buddy's car stayed there until the ice melted.

Cincinnatus said...

Goober, during our hunting trip we had that situation - on a mountain road at a 10% slope, where we slid a truck into a jackknifed truck and utility trailer on the road.

Took us an hour in blowing snow to lay out restraining cables, winch the trucks/trailer apart and straight and put chains all around. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Tam said...


"I agree with the fellow above, the best question is 'Is this trip really that important? If the answer is no, stay where you are. Work will wait until tomorrow and a night in the hotel is cheaper than a tow truck. You can do everything right and some bozo who thinks his 4WD makes him immune to Newtonian physics will lose control and take you off the road with him. "


Chas S. Clifton said...

Here in Colorado we have a lot more snowstorms than ice storms, for which I am eternally grateful, but last Thursday I still spent 90 minutes in 10° F weather directing traffic (fire dept. job) around the place where someone put his SUV in the creek after going around a corner too fast.

What was that about 4WD helps you to go but not to stop?

RogerC said...

When I was about half my current age, I once pulled off a wet, salted main road onto a wet, unsalted back road. Pity about the layer of ice underneath the layer of liquid water. The surface of the two roads looked absolutely identical, but nothing could have been further from the case, and being inexperienced I hadn't even thought about it.

After the car came to a halt in the hedge and destroyed its steering, two of use managed to push the car *sideways* to get it off the carriageway. The road was so slippery it was difficult to stand up on, but we still managed it.

I then spent two hours while waiting for the tow truck, watching every other vehicle that passed the spot pirouette gracefully down the road. Even the tow truck driver, who was used to that sort of thing, skidded for twenty yards or so when it tried to stop. Luckily no-one else managed a car/hedge intersection though.

Richard said...

I once managed to come to a complete stop on ice and then slid into the ditch anyway. The crown on the road was enough slope to let gravity have its way.

Windy Wilson said...

"I can drive in snow", surpassed only by "I can drive in rain" spoken by the same people during Los Angeles's first day of the 20 days of rain, when 11 months of oil is washed out of the crevices in the freeways.

Montieth said...

6 wheel drive and tire chains. When you absolutely positively have to get there. (That or grousers on your M5 Stuart. The m5 light has the added advantage of being immune to impacts by idiots in large trucks that have no traction. And twin Cadillac engines are more stylish.)

jeff said...

I'm always amused by folks that go the other direction. We rarely get below freezing for any length of time, and when 4 inches of snow that stuck for a couple weeks was considered a "snowpocolypse", but you will see a huge percentage of cars rolling around on studded tires for 6 months.