QOTD: Are You Getting Away With Not Having Grip?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd are you getting away with not having grip

As I type this, the first flakes of this winter’s first real dumping of snow are falling lazily outside my window. By morning, the landscape should resemble the countertop in a Studio 54 bathroom. Then the real fun begins.

Carefully gauging your braking distance and leaving more room between your car and the car ahead, wondering all the while if that Rogue you can’t see around is hugging the back bumper of the car in front. Wondering what’s going to break loose first on a highway off-ramp — the front end or the rear. Trying to coax frozen wiper blades off the windshield without leaving the rubber strip behind. Downshifting at the top of hills. Trying to clear freezing rain off your windows without turning into William H. Macy in Fargo.

Never mind what happens in the ritzy ski lodges of Sweden and the Alps. Winter sucks. The only perk is it’s a lot easier to make a U-turn, assuming there’s no cops around and your vehicle’s e-brake isn’t of the electronic kind.

Depending on where you call home, you’ve probably switched your seasonal rubber by now. Or have you?

Maybe you should have made the switch, but didn’t. It might be a mild winter, you thought. After all, last year’s wasn’t so bad. You figure you can get away with it. Perhaps you’re living right on the meteorological border of “Why would anyone bother?” and “They’ll find me when spring rolls around.”

A few winters back, I ended up spending the “cold” season driving around with snow tires filling my trunk and backseat after the blizzards one would expect of the Great White North failed to materialize. With nature not fulfilling its end of the deal, they eventually headed back to the corner of the garage.

Maybe there’s no laws on the books in your frigid jurisdiction — and no money-saving clauses in your insurance policy — to make the switch worthwhile. This assumes, of course, complete confidence in your driving abilities and a fingers-crossed outlook on any incidents requiring rapid reaction that might crop up on the highway. This was my go-to plan for years: an old front-drive car, and a set of the cheapest all-seasons rotated front to back every year.

School’s not cheap, and adding two new tires each November worked year after year.

The clouds parted and the sun shone through when I finally bought my first set of Blizzaks. A revelation. I finally realized what I had been missing all those years. It was all the more timely, as that particular car, an ’03 Grand Am, “benefitted” from General Motors’ supremely horrible anti-lock brakes, seemingly carried over unchanged from a ’93 Corsica I owned years earlier. When the car detected a slippery surface, it “saved” its occupants by simply not trying to stop. Snow tires, and sometimes the added drag of a parking brake-induced sideways drift, came in real handy.

Why, GM, why?

But back to the question at hand. Do any of these scenarios ring a bell? Are you playing with fire this winter (and perhaps every winter) by not swapping your summer rubber? Why? And how much of the white stuff should a driver expect to tolerate before adding a set of snows to his or her life?

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5 of 151 comments
  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Dec 13, 2017

    I remember dad's second Passat had an awful ABS like that, the winter prep was basically after the first bent bumper: winter tires + pull the ABS fuse.

    • Gtem Gtem on Dec 13, 2017

      My family's first car with ABS was our '98 MPV Allsport 4wd. Here we were gloating about our fabulous and unstoppable new family truckster with a slick 4wd system with locking center differential. Well "unstoppable" played out in more than one way. As easy as climbing the hill by our house became, coming down and braking in time for the intersection was something else (stock all seasons). The ABS would just chatter away and the two-ton Mazda would just keep going and going... when we finallly convinced my dad to get a set of dedicated snow tires the transformation was incredible. Heck I didn't bother putting it in 4wd most of the time unless things were really nasty. I'd like to think that modern ABS systems are (generally) better tuned for threshold braking.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Dec 13, 2017

    I would like to point out that I've never seen such a basic Tundra in real life.

  • Wjtinfwb I'll certainly admit to a bit of nostalgia that drives my appreciation for these 70's yachts, but there's more to it than that. It was an era that the Big 3 ruled the luxury market with the German's and British nothing but a beer fart in the marketplace. That changed drastically as the early '80s crept in but in 1977, a Mark V or Seville was where it was at. No rose colored glasses, they were not great cars, what they were was a great living room that you could ride to the office in. I grew up on a diet of Cadillac's, Lincoln and one big Chrysler before dad made the move to a 280SE in about '77. Impeccably built and very road worthy, dad initially didn't like the firm seats, clunky automatic transmission and very weak A/C. The exorbitant maintenance costs didn't help. But he enjoyed the driving characteristics enough to get another Benz, then a 733i, an Audi 5000S and a Jag XJ6. Compare these to today's Cadillac's (non- V) and Lincoln's that with the exception of the Escalade and Navigator, are boring and probably even more pedestrian than the Eldorado, Seville and Mark's were.
  • FreedMike I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with the two best German luxury sedans of the time - a manual '81 733i, and a '75 Mercedes 450SE. The BMW was a joy on back roads, and the Benz was a superb highway car. Good times. And both were dramatically better than the junkheap American luxury cars Dad had before.
  • Wjtinfwb A Celebrity Diesel... that is a unicorn. Those early A-bodies were much maligned and I'm sure the diesel didn't help that, but they developed into very decent and reliable transportation. Hopefully this oil-burner Chevy can do the same, it's worth keeping.
  • Wjtinfwb After S-classes crested the 40k mark in the early '80s, my dad moved from M-B to a BMW 733i Automatic. Anthracite gray over red leather, it was a spectacular driving car and insanely comfortable and reassuring on long interstate hauls. My mom, not really a car person, used the BMW to shuttle her elderly Mom back home to Pennsylvania from Miami. Mom and grandma both gushed with praise for the big BMW, stating she could have driven straight through the car was so comfortable and confidence inspiring. A truly great car that improved through the E38 generation, at which point the drugs apparently took hold of BMW styling and engineering and they went completely off the rails. The newest 7 series is a 100k abomination.
  • Vatchy If you want to talk about global warming, you might start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darvaza_gas_crater