The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: December 2012


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Snow Driving Tips

With snow on the roads, grip is reduced and, as a result, a vehicle's ability to accelerate, brake and turn is also reduced. Here are a few winter driving tips that could help you drive safer while there's snow on the ground.

Starting up

- Roll into the gas pedal: When taking off, always apply very little pressure on the gas pedal and start to roll into it very slowly to avoid losing traction and spinning the wheels.

- Start in 2nd gear: In manual/standard vehicles, especially those with high torque outputs, it may be helpful to start in 2nd gear as it will have less torque at the wheels and will be less likely to spin.

- Don't keep spinning: If, while you're trying to get going, the wheels keep spinning but you are not moving, lift off the gas right away. For one, the tires most likely will keep spinning without going anywhere and you could dig the tires deeper in the snow. For another, if you actually start moving, you could damage the gears and be faced with a very expensive repair bill. When your wheels are spinning with no traction, they could reach very high speeds. If you start moving while the wheels are spinning and you move onto a surface with much higher traction (concrete or asphalt, even if they are wet), it will have the effect of grabbing the wheels and immediately trying to stop them which puts huge stresses on the gears.

- Pump the gas: If rolling into the gas gets the wheels spinning, start to gently "rock" the vehicle back and forth by going on and off the gas pedal (i.e. slowly and steadily pump the gas). Doing that prevents the wheels from spinning with no traction and, after a few times, it could give you some momentum to start moving.

- Digging out the tires: If you can't get the vehicle moving by slowly rolling into the gas pedal, starting in 2nd gear, or pumping the gas, you are stuck too deep and you may have to dig around the tires or get a tow. When digging around the tires, try to dig a slight ramp in front of the tires which will make it easier to climb out, especially if the tires are a few inches deep.

Safety tip: when digging, make sure to use a shovel or any tool that you may have laying around in the vehicle (i.e. an ice scrapper) to dig and put the parking brake on and the transmission in park or in gear if you drive a standard/manual. There could be a slight incline but your vehicle isn't rolling because it is stuck. If you dig around the tires, it could start rolling and injure you so make sure you are clear of the vehicle's path.

On the go

- Break earlier: Stopping distances are greatly reduced in the snow. Remember to start braking earlier than you do in dry conditions and learn how much longer it takes to stop in the snow.

- Slow down for turns: When there's snow on the ground, you need to take turns a lot slower than you do in dry conditions so slow down and take the turns smoothly.

- Be aware of other drivers: A lot of people cannot judge where lanes are supposed to be when markings on the road are covered with snow. Be aware of where other drivers are and the possibility of them cutting you off.

- Leave lots of room: Since stopping distances are reduced, you need to leave more room to react. Rear ending someone is a lot more likely in snowy conditions because people leave the same room in front of them as they do in dry conditions which is not enough to come to a complete stop in case the driver in front stops abruptly.

- Don't change lanes often: Snow plows do not plow the whole road; they only plow lanes. Often times, you'll find very small banks of snow between lanes, which is snow building up from plows pushing it to the sides of the lanes. If you change lanes, you will have to drive through these banks which can cause your vehicle to turn unexpectedly (and you may crash or overcorrect and lose control) or lose traction and spin out. Only change lanes if you have to.

- Do NOT pass snow plows: This is probably common sense. Snow plows clear (most of the) snow off the road. The roads ahead of them are in much worse shape than the roads behind so never pass a snow plow.

- Correcting a rear skid: Steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. Be prepared to quickly correct because once you gain traction, you will go in the direction your wheels are turning and most likely will have to correct the steering angle back and forth a few times to bring the vehicle back to the centre. Lifting off the gas shifts weight to the front of the vehicle (i.e. less weight on the back wheels, which already don't have enough traction) so it could make things worse in some situations. Ease off of the gas but if it worsens the situation (i.e. the car's back end slides further out), try to modulate pressure on the gas pedal until you gain control. Be ready to lift off once you gain traction to avoid acceleration.

- Correcting a front skid: Immediately lift off the gas and apply the brakes. This will shift weight to the front of the vehicle and give you more traction at the front wheels. Avoid steering until you gain front traction and pump the brakes if you don't have ABS.

AWD/4WD is not invincible: Just because a vehicle has all-wheel-drive or a 4x4 drivetrain, it does not mean it cannot be defeated by snow. Take it easy and drive carefully.

- Avoid cruise control: Do no use cruise control while driving on snow. It could cause unpredictable acceleration if the tires lose grip.

- Drive below the limit: When there's snow on the ground, do not drive at the posted speed limit on the highway. Highway speed limits are meant for ideal conditions. Slow down according to how bad the roads are.

- Watch for black ice: Watch for glossy/shiny patches on the road or vehicles that are "squirming" or losing control and quickly regaining it, which could mean there's black ice ahead. If there isn't enough room in front to slow down and stir away or even just slow down, do not try to steer away or brake while on the ice, that could make things worse. If you cannot avoid it, try to pass over it as smoothly as possible and not panic. Slow down and be careful while driving across bridges and overpasses as they freeze before the road.

Finally, remember not to take your vehicle out if there's a bad storm and you're having trouble getting out of your driveway because it most likely won't be much better on the road. If you're already out and you're caught in a very bad storm, find a parking lot, pull over and wait the worst part out. Drive safe and please use these tips with your best judgement and at your responsibility.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Winter Car Maintenance Tips

It's this time of the year again and I thought I would share a few winter maintenance tips that can be overlooked but they can keep a vehicle running better and more safely.

1- Tires

They're the only components that connect your vehicle to the road. Regardless of the capability of a vehicle's drivetrain and suspension or how strong the brakes are, they will handle only as well as the tires allow them to. Always get snow tires and not summer or all season tires if snow stays on the ground. If you only get rain but no snow where you live, all season tires are a great choice.

Check tread regularly to make sure the grooves are deep enough. Tires have wear bars which indicate  when the amount of tread left is unsafe for driving. Snow tires have two wear bars; one for dry/wet driving and one for snow driving. If the tread is at the taller wear bar (the snow wear bar), the tires are not safe for snow driving but may still be used in the rain or dry. If the tread reaches the lower wear bar, the tires should be replaced.

Rotate tires if needed and keep tires with more tread should be on the back. It is more difficult to correct for a skidding rear end than a skidding front end. Also make sure tires are inflated to the manufacturer's specifications. Not only does properly inflating tires improve handling, but it also increases the life of the tires and reduces gas consumption so make sure you check tire pressure regularly.

Bigger is not better when it comes to snow. Don't get tires that are too thin for your vehicle but don't go wider than stock size when buying winter tires. A thinner tire will be able to cut through snow easier than a wider tire, which tends to drive over the snow rather than through it.

2- Brakes

Make sure your brake pads and rotors have sufficient life left. Braking performance degrades dramatically from dry to wet to snow conditions. There's no need to reduce it even further.

If you have ABS, make sure to service the system when it needs to be serviced and keep it working properly. If you don't have ABS, learn how to modulate braking pressure because locking up is almost guaranteed under medium to hard braking with snow on the ground.

3- Engine/Drivetrain

Make sure all engine fluids are topped off and that engine and transmission oils are changed at the intervals recommended in the owner's manual and make sure the oils have the recommended specifications. Make sure to also check the oil filter and replace when necessary. If you get your oil changed at a shop, they probably change the filter at every oil change but it's still a good idea to double check with them.

If temperatures are below freezing, give the engine some time to warm up. Do not wait for too long though - less than a minute should be enough except for extreme temperatures. Modern engines do not need the same amount of warm-up time as older engines did, so there is no need to wait and idle in your driveway for several minutes. All that would do is waste gas and delay warm up because engines warm up much quicker while under load compared to idle.

One thing to note though is that engines are designed to work best at their normal operating temperatures. Engine oils do not lubricate as efficiently while they are cold and clearances between moving components and seals are very slightly altered. Take it easy with your right foot until the engine reaches normal operating temperatures.

4- Wipers 

Make sure your wipers' motors and wiper blades are in good condition and work well. If the rubber on the wiper blades is cracked, the wipers need to be replaced. If the wipers squeak or leave strokes on the windshield, check to see if there is ice on the rubber or the frame that's preventing the wiper to bend and/or stick properly to the glass. If there is, make sure to clean it. If there is no ice and the wipers seem clean but the wipers streak or leave strokes, the wipers probably need to be replaced. It is usually recommended that wiper blades are changed every 6 months.

5- Batteries 

Do not ignore an issue with the alternator, alternator belt or a battery light. Car batteries take a beating during cold weather. Turning an engine while cold is harder and demands more energy from the battery. This is because of the issue I mentioned earlier, which is that engine oil does not flow as well while it is cold so it makes the engine harder to turn. Batteries also lose performance the colder the temperature gets. Make sure you know how to boost a battery in case your battery dies and you need to jump start your vehicle but never jump start a frozen battery.

6- Headlights

Visibility.. it is very often reduced during winter months because of rain or snow. You need to see well and be well seen. The sooner you see an object that is in the way, the sooner you can take evasive action - decide to stop or slow down and steer away - and the more likely it is that you will avoid a collision. Add that to the fact that stopping distance is increased and grip is reduced, and early evasive action becomes very crucial. Make sure you keep your headlights and taillights clean and that all your bulbs are working well.

7- Body Maintenance

You may want to invest in garages, carports, or covers, especially if you have more than one vehicle and leave one parked for long periods of time. Sticky fallen leaves, water, dust, sunlight and other elements can cause discolouration and paint damage or body damage in case of a storm. If salt is used on the roads during the winter months to help with traction and/or snow melting, make sure you wash your car regularly, including the underside, to wash the salt off. If you plan on parking a vehicle for an extended period of time, wash it or get it washed all around and under before covering it or putting it in storage.

8- Handy items

Finally, here are a few items that you should keep in your vehicle and could come in handy:

 - First-aid kit
 - Battery booster cables
 - Tire pressure gauge
 - Compact air compressor
 - Tow rope/cables
 - Lock de-icer
 - Windshield/Wiper washer fluid

If you're travelling, blankets and a few energy bars are good to have with you in case you're stuck and have to wait for a while for assistance.

Drive safe and remember that most of the above apply year round but they become more critical during the colder months! Please use these tips with your best judgement and at your responsibility.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Super wagons, anyone?

What do you get when take a powerful V8, add a capable chassis, RWD or AWD and wrap it up in a 4 door shell with a large hatch behind the rear seat? Super wagons.. a super fast, tire shredding, grocery getters with performance that challenges supercars.

Audi has just revealed its new Audi RS6 wagon with a 4.0 litre twin turbo V8 putting out 552 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Audi estimates a 0-62 mph time (0-100 km/h) of 3.9 s but judging by Motor Trend's test and dyno of the Audi S8 which uses basically the same engine, I expect the acceleration and output numbers to be on the conservative side. I wouldn't be surprised if the engine puts out about the same power as the one in the S8 but Audi just gave them different ratings to market this as being more sporty.

The idea of a powerful people mover is nothing new. Large station wagons with powerful V8's were not unusual but, unfortunately, after the oil crisis of 1973, the power wars started to die. The power wars are back though and they're even better. Cars are more powerful and more fuel efficient than ever.  You can now walk into a Ford dealership and buy a car with 662 hp that gets 24 mpg on the hwy - the 2013 Mustang Shelby GT500 - all for about the same cost as a midsize luxury sedan.. you know it's a great time to be an enthusiast when the "underdog" - the Camaro ZL1 - is a car that has "only" 580 hp but is packed with suspension tech that allows it to be a comfortable cruiser and, with the push of a button, you can turn it into a track missile that can keep up with almost everything you can find on the track.

The power wars have caught up with more than sporty coupes though and the newly revealed Audi RS6 is a proof of that. The question is, why? Why are super wagons so appealing? I have read several reviews of super wagons from Mercedes, Cadillac, and others that said super wagons are not money makers for their manufacturers. I know many gear heads and many of them think that wagons don't look good and there's no need for super wagons because the only reason you would want a wagon is the space. Only a select few of the biggest gear heads like super wagons and they don't just like them, they think they're awesome. It's a love or hate thing - you either think they're useless and would never consider one, or you think they're some of the coolest things on wheels.

I happen to be part of the latter group. I think wagons are cool.. super cool. If money were never an issue, I know I would have one. And although many fans would be disappointed that Audi isn't planning to sell the RS6 across the Atlantic, I don't care.. because the coolest super wagon is available right here. I will have mine in Black Diamond please..

Which group are you part of? Do you think super wagons are cool and manufacturers should continue to update them with the rest of their lineups or you think there's no use for them?

Handling a Nissan GTR on A Wet Track - A Closer Look

I have talked to many people who tried to argue that AWD gives the Nissan GTR a traction advantage over RWD competitors.. which is true. However, they argue that, because of the AWD drivetrain, the GTR has another advantage which is that it can be driven year round, in inclement weather. They also usually refer to the GTR's Nurburgring lap time as a wet lap time because the track was slightly damp at a few spots and that it would be several seconds faster if it had been completely dry. I disagree.

The GTR's power and suspension setup isn't meant for all weather capability.. add that to a performance oriented AWD drivetrain, and all weather capability starts to seem very unlikely.

The video shows an Audi A1 quattro with just over 250 hp that has no problem at all keeping up with a Nissan GTR, which has more than twice the power, on a wet course. In fact, at several points in the video, the Audi A1 seems like it had a good shot at passing the GTR. The advantages of the Audi, as explained in the video, are skinnier tires and lighter weight. I am sure the much higher hp and drivetrain setup (which allow the GTR to be as fast as it is in the dry) also hurt its performance in the wet because the car seems very easy to slide and lose composure. Motor Trend actually noted in a long term test that grip between the left and right side of the car seemed to be mismatched in the wet.

MoraI of the story? The GTR does not have an all weather AWD system. Just because a car has an AWD does not mean it can easily be driven in dry, wet and snow conditions. The GTR would be able to put its power down better than a RWD car with similar hp in the same conditions but on the road, with good road tires, if you're careful with the throttle, you'd be hard pressed to notice a difference in most situations.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

How to deal with drunk drivers

Luckily, I haven't been involved with any drunk drivers but I know many people who have. It is never pleasant, whether there is a collision or not. I saw this video yesterday and decided to make a post about  it. The driver in the Subaru does appear to be drunk but, IMO, this is definitely NOT the way to deal with a drunk driver.

The driving could have swerved violently across the lanes and hit this guy while he was passing. He could brake too quickly while you're close behind or accelerate and lose control while you're in front.

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada has been encouraging drivers to call 911 when they suspect there is a drunk driver and they list a few signs for drunk drivers:

 - Driving unreasonably fast, slow or at an inconsistent speed
 - Driving in and out of lanes
 - Tailgating and changing lanes frequently
 - Making exceptionally wide turns
 - Changing lanes or passing without sufficient clearance
 - Overshooting or stopping well before stop signs or stop lights
 - Disregarding signals and lights
 - Approaching signals or leaving intersections too quickly or too slowly
 - Driving without headlights, failing to lower high beams or leaving turn signals on
 - Driving with windows open in cold or inclement weather

If you see a drunk driver, CALL 911! You could save someone's life. I can't stress this point enough.. driving drunk kills. Remember to maintain a safe distance, and not to use your cell phone to call while driving. When you call make sure to give enough information about the suspected vehicle and direction of travel.

For more information about the campaign, visit: MADD Canada - Awareness Campaigns - Campaign 911