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Ownership The Best Place to Learn Winter Driving Is Obviously on an Ice Skating Rink

04:49  01 november  2016
04:49  01 november  2016 Source:   popularmechanics.com

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The Best Place to Learn Winter Driving Is Obviously on an Ice Skating Rink© Provided by Popular Mechanics The Best Place to Learn Winter Driving Is Obviously on an Ice Skating Rink

When a few flakes of snow stick to the ground, my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, shuts down. Schools operate on a delay, if they're not closed entirely, and everyone in town stocks up at the supermarket as if a hurricane were coming. All this is to say that winter driving skills, including what tires to put on my car, never quite made it into my high school driving course.

I wanted not only to learn how to drive in bad weather, but also to see whether winter tires really make as much difference as people say. But in my current home of San Francisco, opportunities to test out a car on snowy, slushy roads are few and far between. So when Bridgestone invited me to try out its winter Blizzak tires-on the ice at Chicago's Sears Centre, no less-I headed for the Windy City.

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  The Best Place to Learn Winter Driving Is Obviously on an Ice Skating Rink © Provided by Popular Mechanics

The setup on the ice was pretty simple. Two BMW's were placed behind a starting line, about where the zamboni comes out during a hockey game. The car on left side of the ice had Bridgestone's all-weather tires on it, while the car on the right had the company's winter tires. We drove each vehicle from a starting line with the gas pedal pushed all the way to the ground (because that seemed like a safe idea). At another marker toward the end of the rink, we braked.

When it was my turn behind the wheel, I admittedly contemplated how I would explain to my insurance agent that I managed to crash a luxury vehicle into the side of an indoor ice rink. Flooring it on a sheet of ice in a confined space is scary stuff, but you move on ice much slower than you would think, even trying to go as fast as you can.

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While both vehicles felt the same driving, when it came to stopping the difference between the two was unmistakable. The all-weather tires stuttered and kept sliding for roughly 12 feet after applying the brakes, reminiscent of pretty much every winter driving experience I'd had up to this point. The winter tires, on the other hand, were able to stop almost the second we braked.

Up until this point in my life, winter tires has been something of a mystery. If you live somewhere like Raleigh, you can probably get through the entire year on all-weather tires. They're the equivalent of wearing a good pair of tennis shoes. They're great for everyday, and they'd do in a pinch if you had to hit the beach or build a snowman. However, you'd probably have a lot better experience in a pair of sandals on those 100-degree days and a pair of boots when you plan on hoofing it through the snow. Same with tires.

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The difference lies in a tire's design. Summer tires have stiff sidewalls and shallower treads, making them perfect for gripping the road in warmer temperatures. When the temperature drops, however, those treads can get harder, making them like a hard plastic. That essentially turns your Volvo into a sled. Winter tires, meanwhile, have more flexible sidewalls, deeper treads, tread patterns specifically designed for winter, and tread compounds that stay soft even in extremely cold temperatures. That allows your tires to grip slick roads and keep you in control.

Winter tires, which have a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall, can actually provide 25 to 50 percent more traction in snowy, slushy, or sleety conditions, a difference that could be huge when you're trying to stop in traffic during a blizzard-or on the ice at a skating rink.

It's not just about stopping, either. Winter tires also help you a lot when it comes to tackling turns. After our vehicle driving experience at the ice rink, we took to the ice on tricycles with car tires on them. I rode the trike with winter tires on it first and was whizzing around the ice as if I were on a dry parking lot. Suddenly overconfident in my skills, I challenged another reporter to a race with me on the all-weather bike while they rode with the winter tires. I took off just fine, but when it came time to turn, I barreled into the side of the wall, and had a lot of trouble getting back on track. While certainly embarrassing, it was a much better experience than I would have had doing the same thing in a vehicle.

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  The Best Place to Learn Winter Driving Is Obviously on an Ice Skating Rink © Bridgestone

If you live somewhere when the average temp drops below freezing for several months a year, then winter tires are a good idea. When you decide to use winter tires, make sure you swap out all four, regardless of whether it's an all-wheel, rear-wheel, or front-wheel drive. Using several different types of tires on your car can negatively affect its handling and suspension, and can ultimately cause you problems. You should make the switch to winter wheels around the time you start seeing your breath while you're outside, and take them off once things start to warm up. Tires are priced comparably to standard replacement tires for your vehicle, and many retailers will store your all-weather or summer tires for you until you're ready to make the switch back.

As for me, I'm going to stick to my San Francisco winters: 65 and sunny.

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