Now that we’ve had the first appreciable snows of the winter season, perhaps people are beginning to see a problem that doesn’t unusually exist at least half-the-year, that make cars into ugly-handlers.
Not what you would think
Most drivers associate good things with anti-lock braking. Why, for some drivers it’s right up there with puppies and kittens and other nice fluffy things. It’s something that was invented to help you.
But, it really doesn’t work out that way! Having used ABS, since its major introduction in Snow Belt cars in the early 90s, we can say that if we had our choice, we’d hit the “deactivate” switch for the late fall and winter seasons because ABS just doesn’t work.
Here’s a car in point! The other night, while watching a major pileup occur during one early winter storm on the “Weather Channel” in Boston, we saw one car – we won't say which – go skating straight ahead and into the waiting front end of a pickup truck – even though the driver had the wheels locked up so the ABS would have been pumping away like mad and the steering wheel was cocked in the right direction. (It’s interesting that when they tell you to counter-steer in a skid that it’s the normal way people drive, anyway. Safety experts, being the experts they are and valuing – we guess their jobs – would have a vested interest in making sure they get up in front of cameras to sagely tell you to steer in the direction of the skid, but you’re doing it anyway.
Problems with ABS
The problem with anti-lock braking, especially in front-drive vehicles is two fold. The problem consists of:
- Having your wheels cocked in the right direction when you actuate the ABS
- Realizing that front-drive cars are front-end heavy and, no matter what you do, will follow the line they were traveling when you locked up the tires. Insurance Information for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing has shown this
So, here’s what happens when you are involved in a skid:
- The wheels lose grip on the roadways and slid on the ice or snow
- Texts and experts tell you to countersteer or make sure the front of the car is headed in the direction of the skid, well, that happens naturally
- The ABS system activates and fearlessly pumps the now-sliding wheels at up to 50 times per minutes; in this situation that value is nothing to particular
- Your vehicle will tend to travel in a straight line (understeer)
- If your vehicle has enough space and if the wheels can regain their traction then the ABS might – just might – earn its keep
Old-fashioned way sometimes best
Okay, so the wheels have regained their grip, so what should you do? It’s really quite easy; pump the brakes gently, but firmly as you steer toward the side of the road. Don’t let the ABS cut in as all it will do is, if you control is on the hair edge of control and skid, send your car back into the skid. This is something they don’t tell you about ABS. It’s great when the temperature’s about 70 and the road is dry, but when there’s snow or ice underneath, you might as well have a set of skates under the car.
That’s why when you first gain control over your vehicle – providing your car isn’t heading into the back of a gas-hauler – use the older trick of pumping your brakes. Your car will stop.
If you are still having problems and there’s a curbing available, head for the curb and let the wheel/tire-curb interaction stop your car.