Car Crashes and Winter Driving Questions: Ask a Patch Pro

How dangerous are winter roads?

Sunday's snowstorm served as a reminder that winter in Minnesota frequently means car crashes.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the foul weather . In some ways, those numbers are yet more proof that winter-weather driving can prove difficult.

For this week's Patch Pro, we've lined up someone who can answer all your questions about winter driving safety, and winter car repairs.

Jeff Matt is the owner and founder of Fridley's Victory Auto Service & Glass, a local, award-winning auto repair business with five locations in the Twin Cities. Jeff is also an ASE Certified Master Technician with more than 20 years of automotive experience.

In 2011, Jeff received an Eleven Who Care award from KARE 11 for his charitable work with Free to Be, a local nonprofit providing donated vehicles and free and discounted auto services to individuals in need in Anoka County. Victory Auto was also honored with a 2010 Integrity Award from the Better Business Bureau, its Fridley location was named a AAA 2011 Top Shop, and it received a Super Service Award in 2012 from Angie’s List.

Send forth all your burning questions in the comments section, and Matt will do his best to reply.

Chris B. January 29, 2013 at 09:16 PM
I know that with anti-lock braking, one should press and hold down the pedal hard so the ABS system does its thing. But on on a few occasions, I've found that my (1999 Camry) car stops sooner if I let up on the (anti-lock) brakes just enough so that the ABS turns off. (These weren't cases where I was in immediate danger.) I understand that in a crisis situation, one probably won't have the presence of mind or the time to find that "sweet spot" on the brake pedal. But Is what I've observed just my imagination? Thanks!
jennifer spurr January 29, 2013 at 09:33 PM
I live in Duluth I'm originally from Mendota Heights, but there are many many big and steep hills here. what do i do if i am sliding down a hill backwards?
Jeff Matt January 29, 2013 at 11:04 PM
Hi, I'm Jeff Matt, and I look forward to answering your questions about winter driving and winter car repairs! I know winter driving in Minnesota can be dangerous and downright scary at times, so I'd be glad to help with advice and tips about safe, smart driving and car care.
Jeff Matt January 29, 2013 at 11:18 PM
Hi Chris, ABS systems are designed and programmed to give you 'ultimate' wheel rotation control thus braking/vehicle control. I think what you have found is more coincidental than anything. My guess is that as you were releasing the brake pedal the vehicle's ABS system had already done its work or at least enough work to effect the skid. Thanks for your question!
Jeff Matt January 29, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Jennifer, Wow, this would be a pretty scary situation! You may not have many options especially if there are cars on both sides of you, cars behind you or you are on glare ice. Here is what you should do: If you have anti-lock brakes hold steady pressure on your brake pedal throughout the slide. If your vehicle does not have anti-lock brakes you should press and release your brake pedal steadily until you regain control of the vehicle. As you are sliding, the rear of your vehicle will likely want to go to one side or the other, if space allows turn your steering wheel the same direction that the rear of the vehicle goes. If the rear ends starts sliding to the right then turn right. Good luck and stay safe!
Scott Carlson January 30, 2013 at 05:29 AM
Jeff, is there any rule of thumb on how close you can travel behind the car in front of you during the winter? Does this change with the seasons?
Ryan P. Dugan January 30, 2013 at 05:43 AM
Hi Jeff, say I was wondering if you might be willing to explain the real meaning of 4x4 and why people whom seem to have it "4x4" don't understand it purpose. I do understand Jeff however driving to work Sunday afternoon "Lakeville to Minneapolis" 35W North and well it would appear my fellow 4x4 drivers lack the knowledge I say this because the 4 vehicles I saw in the ditches and I mean "WAY" in the ditch where all 4x4 trucks and SUV's. Driving way too fast and losing control I'm starting to think that people think just because your 4x4 can alcertlate in snow donsnt mean it can stop any faster than the rest of the cars out on the road??? Also once you've lost control in a 4x4 its really hard to correct your steering / wheels. I was hoping for your expert opinion on the matter Jeff and Thanks for helping here sir, Ryan Lakeville,MN
CIEP January 30, 2013 at 01:08 PM
What type of tires are best in the winter? I have heard people say that you absolutely need snow tires. Are good all weather tires suitable? Please give us your recommendations. Thank you.
Pork Chop Guy January 30, 2013 at 02:33 PM
I have a little bit of an odd opinion on why there are so many spin-outs. In general, the main highways are usually pretty well plowed. It's not unusual to be able to drive the normal speed limit within an hour of a storm ending. With that level of service, people become over-confident that the road they are traveling on is 100% fine. With that in mind, it of course only takes 1 slick spot to cause a spin-out. Also, people are in bigger cars and feel safer if they do happen to end up losing control and in the ditch. One thought would be to use those electric signs to reduce the speed limit 10-15 mph when there are winter weather driving conditions. Interesting the article doesn't mention any deaths occurring even with all those accidents.
Carbon Bigfuut January 30, 2013 at 03:47 PM
When cars go into the ditch, the snow underneath them drags on the chassis, slowing them down. Since trucks sit higher and have more ground clearance, they roll further into the ditch.
Jeff Matt January 30, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Hi Scott, Yes there are some specific guidelines you should follow. Here they are. According to AAA the normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds when driving in snowy or inclement conditions. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop. Thanks for your question Scott.
Jeff Matt January 30, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Yes Ryan, I see some of the same things that you do. There is no question that a 4 wheel drive vehicle can accelerate faster in snowy conditions but they go off the road just as easy as any other vehicle. I think people can definitely develop a false sense of security in these all wheel drive vehicles. These vehicles are not equipped with any special technology that helps them stop better than 2 wheel drive vehicles. The best winter weather driving tip? Slow down. Thanks Ryan!
Jeff Matt January 30, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Great question! I definitely do not think that a winter tire is mandatory for 99% of the vehicles on the road. The vast majority of tires sold today are labeled as All Season. This means that they are designed to operate well in all driving conditions including snow. With that being said there are specific vehicles where snow tires make a huge difference. These vehicles would be rear wheel drive vehicles that utilize a low profile tire (Ford Mustang, RWD Infiniti's, etc) often times these are sports cars that I am talking about. The most important factor in determining if your tires are good for the winter is the tire tread depth. To have adequate snow traction, a tire requires at least 6/32-inch deep tread, (new passenger car tires usually have 10/32-inch of tread). To find out where your tire tread depth is, a tire tread depth gauge can purchased at any auto parts store for a couple dollars or you can bring your vehicle by any reputable repair shop and have them check this for you. Thanks for your question.
Jeff Matt January 30, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Great suggestion PC Guy!
Nikki Z January 30, 2013 at 09:09 PM
Hi Jeff! I'm a server and find myself driving home late at night. During heavy snowfall, which lane is safest to drive in a 3 laned freeway? That is, which lanes get ploughed first? It's pretty scary driving with no lanes, poor visibility and no vehicle lights!
Carbon Bigfuut January 30, 2013 at 11:40 PM
There's no rule as to which lane gets plowed (not ploughed) first. You want to be in the least slippery lane, but be prepared to move to the right if a faster car comes up behind you.
Topher January 31, 2013 at 02:09 AM
I know when driving behind a snowplow, drivers need to leave a gap, but what should a person do if they find themselves in front of a plow? Don’t the plows need to move at a certain speed in order to propel the snow off the road?
Jeff Matt January 31, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Hi Nikki! I did a little research to see if there was specific protocol from MN Dept. of Transportation that addresses your question, I didn't find any. My advice would be to stay in the the furthest right lane, however in the major snow storms there is often times only one lane that vehicles travel in thus making it the easiest to navigate and drive in, I would definitely suggest staying in that lane. I did find a great page on MN DOT's website that has many useful winter driving tips as well as tips for navigating with snow plow trucks. Here is the link: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/workzone/ Thanks for the question!
Jeff Matt January 31, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Hi Topher, This is another great question. Typically the snow plows are driving much slower(intentionally) than typical traffic moves along so being ahead of the plow in and of itself isn't likely an issue like it would be if it were a police, fire or rescue vehicle however if you feel that you are having a difficult time staying AHEAD of a plow vehicle then I would recommend that you exit the highway allowing them to get ahead of you and re-enter the highway. Thanks for the question!
matt lehman February 01, 2013 at 01:01 AM
As a 25 year ASE tech specializing in abs systems, lets get a better understanding of the operation. Isolation valve, dump valve, accumulator, speed sensors. The speed sensors tell the computer the speed of the wheels, the isolation valve isolates individual wheels so no more brake pressure can go to that wheel, the dump valve releases pressure if the wheel is still slowing to fast or locking up. 4x4 is awesome in winter, you can go through a lot more then 2 wheel drive however, once you lose traction it really doesn't matter 2 or 4 wheel drive. As for traction in winter, nothing beats tire studs on snow pack and ice. Caution, tire studs are illegal in Minnesota because they tear up the roads. Safety? 15 years Nascar racing proves seatbelts do save injury. I set of 4 point belts and a helmet and remember, before impact, hands off steering wheel, feet off floor, let the belts do their job. :)


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