Snowdrift: Experts share snow driving tricks

Snowbound drifting during last year's BMW Alpine xDrive Experience near Queenstown gets owners and enthusiasts in control on slippery surfaces. Photo / Supplied
Snowbound drifting during last year's BMW Alpine xDrive Experience near Queenstown gets owners and enthusiasts in control on slippery surfaces. Photo / Supplied

Before you head off to the skifields, it's well worth taking a moment to consider there's more to snow survival than a stunning pair of waterproof pants and a solid supply of mulled wine.

The skill set needed when at the wheel in the snow is radically different from the rest of the year's needs, so we called on BMW's resident piste-heads to delve into the knowledge bank and come up with some sage advice for keeping the round black things on the powdery white stuff.

"BMW is renowned as having the world's fastest acting all-wheel drive system, but even with reassurance such as that, people should adjust their driving style to cope with ice and snow situations," said BMW Driving Experience lead instructor Mike Eady.

"All too often speed is the biggest factor which contributes to accidents and the old adage proves true time and time again - it's vitally important to drive to the conditions.

"A few important considerations to keep front of mind when driving on ice and snow are to turn on your lights, increase following distances, slow down, brake on the straight and take your time," said Eady.

"Doing these simple things will greatly enhance the likelihood of arriving at your destination without incident."

Eady, who with Dieter Schoner, an ice and snow driving expert from BMW Driving Experience in Germany, will head the team at the company's 2012 Alpine xDrive Experience, which teaches drivers how to handle their vehicles on the snow.

BMW's course runs from August 14-22 and takes place at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, a cold-weather test facility near Queenstown.

According to Eady, making the most of the available traction is the key to winter driving.

"Loss of traction can lead to wheelspin under acceleration, wheel lock under braking and sideways sliding while cornering. There are many automatic stability control systems which can control these actions to a limited extent, however there is no substitute for the correct technique.

"Investing in a vehicle with ABS is the single most effective method of increasing your safety in slippery conditions. Traction control systems can control wheelspin, but bear in mind that these systems are reactive, which means you'll have to be in a certain amount of trouble before they will start to operate - it's much better to avoid the problems to start with."

Eady's xDrive expert tips

Pull away and accelerate gently and progressively. In slippery conditions such as snow and ice, aggressive acceleration will almost certainly break traction at the driven wheels. The resulting wheelspin can lead to loss of steering control in a front wheel drive (FWD) car, or an oversteer slide in a rear wheel drive (RWD). Both of these situations will prevent you from going in the direction you want and can be difficult to recover from.

If you do notice wheelspin (or the traction control systems fighting for grip), don't floor the throttle, instead back off the gas and then reapply smoothly.

Best practice is to keep engine revs low in order to maximise your grip in winter conditions. Keep a constant gentle throttle for best results. Most diesel engines will cruise along nicely in low gears without using any throttle.

Change up sooner rather than later, pull away in second gear if possible, and use the highest practical gear at all times. This reduces the torque at the driven wheels and will therefore reduce the chances of wheelspin - also a useful trick when trying to climb a slippery muddy hill. Keep gear changes as smooth as possible - it will be easy to spin the wheels in most gears when conditions are really bad.

Avoid any sudden driver inputs (such as steering, braking, acceleration or gear changes). You only have a finite level of grip available and you don't want to overload your tyres unnecessarily. Driving smoothly will conserve grip, and make you a safer driver.

Brake soon, and gently. Be prepared to ease off the brakes (if you do not have ABS fitted) in order to steer more effectively. Locked wheels cannot steer!

If you do have ABS, you'll be able to tell it has triggered by feeling a pulsing sensation through the brake pedal. If this has occurred do not 'pump' the brakes - rather keep a firm pressure on the pedal for maximum effectiveness. ABS is designed to help you steer as you're slowing down so use this to your advantage and avoid obstacles.

- NZ Herald

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