Winter driving myths or truths; what every driver needs to know

Article By: Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall is Director of Training for Young Drivers of Canada.  He was a judge on the first 3 seasons of Canada’s Worst Driver on Discovery Network. Scott started writing columns on driving for his community paper since 2005.  Since then his columns have been printed in several publications including newspaper, magazines and various web-sites. You can visit his own blog at http://safedriving.wordpress.com.


If you cross your eyes they’ll stay that way. Swimming right after eating will cause you to drown. If you touch a toad you’ll get warts. We’re all familiar with myths being mistaken for fact and may have even unwittingly spread some myths ourselves. Some of the most common driving myths we hear happen in winter. Do you know which tips are myths and which are fact? Test yourself and see.

Myth or truth: 4-wheel drive vehicles give you better traction in snow. Myth. The fact is 4-wheel drive vehicles give you power. Some drivers feel they can take slippery corners faster if they are driving a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The truth is when the road is slippery you don’t really want more power. Going a little slower allows your tires to grip the road better, thus giving you more traction. If you’re stuck in snow, then 4-wheel drive may help you get freed since you’ll have every wheel trying to move you.

Myth or truth: Putting extra weight in the back of your vehicle gives you more traction in winter. Myth. Extra weight at the back of the vehicle rises up the front slightly, which reduces how much of your front wheels touch the road. Considering the front wheels steer and, in most vehicles, give you power, why would you want to reduce that on purpose? Keeping a balanced weight distribution with the front and rear of the vehicle keeps the tire patches balanced, which helps keep your traction.

Myth or truth: Selecting a lower gear while going down a steep hill slows you down better than using your brakes. Truth. When going down a hill, the engine braking generated while in a lower gear can be quite helpful. Using the brakes could allow the wheels to lock. Gearing down helps reduce speed while keeping the wheels moving, which allows for better control.

Myth or truth: Anti-lock brakes (ABS) aren’t any good in snowy conditions. Myth. Although they may not stop as fast compared to dry pavement, they do allow you to steer to help keep the vehicle under control. You should still brake early on slippery road conditions. If you can’t stop in time, look and steer into open space.

Myth or truth: You should check the weather before leaving for any trip. Truth. Knowing that a heavy snowfall is about to happen hours later can help you plan your trip better or perhaps help you decide to change your plans. Taking a more traveled road will give you more opportunities to pull off if the weather gets worse.

Myth or truth: All-season tires are good in winter provided there’s no snow. Myth. Winter is a season, not a condition. Winter season brings cold temperatures and that cold temperature makes your all-season tires very stiff, which stops it from gripping the road. Winter tires are a more flexible rubber which grips the road better, which helps you brake, steer and accelerate better; snow or no snow.

Myth or truth: Now you know more about winter driving. Truth.