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Drving in snowy conditions: advice for an aussie!

Drving in snowy conditions: advice for an aussie!

Old Feb 6th, 2006, 09:37 PM
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Drving in snowy conditions: advice for an aussie!

We want to rent a car and drive around the Bavarian Alps nex December. I am a bit intimidated by the prospect of driving in snow, however. Some of the car rental sites mention scary stuff like 'chains' and 'snow tires'. Do we need to hire these, or are most roads kept adequately clear of snow? If we need chains, how hard are they to manage? Any advice would be great!
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Old Feb 6th, 2006, 10:25 PM
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Hi co-aussie. We drove in snow several years ago. It was interesting, we had a little Volvo which was very good in the snow. The "locals" were all flying along very quickly and ending up in ditches/snow drifts by the side of the road. One lady passenger was actually running alongside their car pushing the side of the car and trying to keep it out of the snow drifts. We just engaged very low gear (was manual) and very slowly and steadily edged our way forward and kept going. We felt very smug seeing all the locals getting stuck. I would think you will need snow chains, the roads are cleared regularly but in heavy snow they cannot keep up. I would practice putting on the chains soon after you get your car and get used to the procedure before you really need them and maybe panic. They are not really very difficult to put on. Depending on the car you hire snow tires might already be fitted. Maybe an email to the hire company to get the full picture. I would be safe than sorry. I am sure they wouldn't cost much to hire.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 12:47 AM
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In some areas it is mandatory to have snow chains with you in your car; the rental car company will know. Snow tires will help you drive in snow, but going up a slope in snow is safer with chains. If it looks like you are going to need chains; let the rental people show you how to put them on. it's not that difficult with modern snow chains.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 01:47 AM
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I have not driven in Bavarian Alps but I drive in snow/ice 5-6 months out of every year. Where I live chains are illegal, but I know they are used in the Alps. Rental agency will surely show you how to put them on place. Here up north we use winter tyres (studded or not), and they are required by law from November till April. If the agency uses winter tyres they are most likely already under the car, so you donīt have to change anything.

Of course roads are kept clean, but donīt expect the surface of the road to be the same it is in warmer temperatures. More dangerous than snow is "black ice", black, because you donīt see it, it is the colour of the road.

You have to drive differently (Schnautzer got the idea): slower speed, no swift movements, no sudden hitting of the brakes (that would make you lose control), no swift turning of the wheel, everything sort of in a slow motion. Take a manual, it is easier to control than an automatic. And remember that the stopping time and distance is double compared to summer conditions, so start slowing down early enough. And when you come downhill, donīt push the brakes, instead swift into a lower gear. And when you for example start going from a red light, if the back wheels just roll and nothing happens, try starting with gear 2 instead of 1.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 03:01 AM
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Hi Nicol,

I strongly recommend against learning to drive in snow and ice in a foreign country on unfamiliar roads in a strange vehicle.

For example, do you know which way to turn the wheel if the car starts to skid? Does it matter if it is FWD or RWD?

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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 03:43 AM
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Ira, normally I'd agree with you, but an Australian might not have much of a choice but to learn winter driving in a foriegn country (or at least a well timed domestic trip to certain mountain ranges or Tassie.

My wife had never seen snow except off on mountain peaks before she moved to the US 6 years ago. And she grew up in Victoria, one of the more temperate areas of Aus.

Yes, Nicol - don't take your mind off of your driving and don't worry that the locals are going faster than you are. Snow is a little tricky to drive on, but does seem to grant some traction, so you will probably feel somewhat comfortable after awhile. One suggestion, if you get the chance to take it, is to practice first in an area where you can't hit anything or run off the road. Empty parking lots, for instance. And as Elina said, be extra careful when you don't see the snow. Ice is a lot tougher to deal with.

Practice downshifting to slow the car - braking is the surest way to go into a skid, due to inertia (and you'd rather not tend to stay in motion!). Try to find out if the car has an Anti-Lock Braking system. Many due here in the US, but I'm not so sure about Germany. If it does, gently but steadily press the brakes to stop when necessary. In the absence of ABS, pump the brakes - press and release several times - which is what ABS does for you automatically. This minimizes the chance that the car will go into sort of a power slide where it's acting more like a toboggan, sliding and not rolling, and not allowing you to steer.

If you do begin to slide and the car is not responding to your aim, turn the wheel in the direction of the skid. This points the tires in the direction the car is heading and increases the possibility that the car can respond the rotation and tread pattern of the front tires.

Anyway, good luck and do try to practice in the car a bit before heading into the mountainous roads.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 03:45 AM
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I'd totally agree with Ira. And it gets worse when you're driving on the wrong side of the road, in a car where everything is on the wrong side as well.

There must be somewhere, even in Oz, you can learn about driving in snow (what happens at those NSW ski resorts?). And cars sliding around aren't as funny in real life as they sound (I spent this past New Year's Eve in the Accident dept of a Tuscany hospital watching the results of inexperienced people who'd driven on snow. Why? Because I'd done myself an injury just walking in the damn stuff. The people who'd been in cars did themselves real damage)

The honest advice to anyone in your position wanting to drive through continental snow is don't. Stick to the motorways until you've really learned how to handle it.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:09 AM
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You may not even have snow in December. Depends how high up you go. We go to the French Alps every winter, and have not used snow chains for many years. The roads are always kept in good order, and we do not take the car onto small and high mountain roads; we rely on the local transport for that.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:25 AM
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A couple of suggestions:
If black ice (glatteis) is even a possibility, check this web site before you head out:
http://www.dwd.de/de/WundK/Warnungen...and=DL00&Art=G
It will give you detailed info about the risk of black ice for the areas you plan to drive in. Try not to drive in a snowy or icy area unless you absolutely can't avoid it.
From our years of driving in snow and ice, we've learned that the best thing to do (aside from having a prepped car and checking road conditions) is to drive slowly and steadily. Try to minimize the need to change gears and don't stop if you can avoid it.
We drove safely for hours through a heavy ice and snow storm in the Pacific NW in a Ford Thunderbird (not a good snow car by any definition) simply by keeping to a slow, steady speed. Many SUVs and other supposedly better snow cars whizzed by us, but then a few miles later we would pass these same cars stuck in a ditch.

As for putting chains (or cables) on a car, if you (as an inexperience snow driver) have to do that, better to stay put. Even if the rental agency shows you how to put the cables/chains on, doing so in dry, safe conditions is a world apart from trying to put cables/chains on your car on the side of a busy road in the cold, wind and snow.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:27 AM
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Also, don't forget to keep an eye on the car's outside temperature gauge (hopefully your car will have one). And remember that overpasses may be icy even if the temp is slightly above freezing.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:28 AM
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I remember a number of years ago, when an friend of mine and I drove into the French Alps to join a bunch of friends who were skiing (I lived in Germany at that time). She drove her second-hand Opel for the trip. We passed by a sign that said "snow chains mandatory". She noted the sign, and didn't slow down at all. I asked her about the chains, and she told me not to make such a fuss, as EVERYONE knew that the signs weren't necessary. We made it up to the resort through the ice and snow without too much difficulty, albeit very, very slowly. The next day, she refused to drive back down. I asked her why, and she replied that she thought it was too dangerous, because not only did she NOT have chains (that much was obvious), she did NOT have snow tires. They weren't even all-season tires. They were BALD SUMMER TIRES. Well, we couldn't stay there forever (or until spring!), so I said that I would drive down, as I had significantly more winter driving experience than she did. I remember slalom-ing down the switchbacks, skidding the whole way on ice, with one foot on the brake and one hand hovering over the emergency brake, with her screaming and clutching my arm all the way (MOST unhelpful). I recall her shrieking that "if you have to hit something, hit a BUILDING as it will cost me less that if you hit another CAR!!!!"
If you drive, and need chains/snow tires, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THEM. Winter driving experience would be most helpful. BUT, if you are properly equipped and go slowly, you should be OK. The car rental place will help you out. You can always stop if it gets too snowy...
Have fun!
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:32 AM
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Ummm. Why not take the train? If you're unfamiliar with the conditions detailed above, you'll feel much better on the trains, which take you pretty much everywhere you'd need to go. Get a picnic, buy a ticket, and enjoy the scenery!

s
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:35 AM
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I live in Southern Germany and have travelled numerous times to go skiing in the Alps and I wouldn't worry too much.

Firstly, ask the rental company for winter tyres as they are not standard issue in the winter, they'll charge extra but its worth it. (With winter tyres you're recommended not to travel at speeds over 180 Km/h!)

You can also rent chains from them but its very unlikely you'll require them. If you plan wto go sking you may find some ski fields require chains to be put on or you can leave your car at the bottom and they'll provide a bus to take you up.

I've never seen chains being used on 'normal roads', you'll be surprised how much grip you do have and secondly the roads are constantly being ploughed.

From my experience ABS is found on most cars, but if you are driving for the first time in wintry conditions I would not recommend getting a BMW as these are rear wheel drive and are more difficult to control. Mercedes, Audi or VW are Front wheel drive and you should be fine.

Geordie
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 04:50 AM
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Personally, I'd get a four wheel drive. I live in the mountains and wouldn't want a car without it!
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 05:11 AM
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Tips for snow driving:

1. You can drive on sheer ice as long as you go slow enough. Start out slowly. Maybe even go to a parking lot and practice for awhile. Slam on the brakes, swing the steering wheel, see what happens. You will get a feel for it quickly.

2. In the old days, we would have to pump the brakes so they wouldn't lock up. Today's anti-lock brakes mean just using slow, steady pressure to stop the car.

3. Definitly consider a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The traction is much better and you will feel more comfortable faster.

4. Just use slower motions. Go slower into a curve. Don't turn the wheel quickly. Don't slam on the brakes.

5. All that said, don't go too slowly. You will interfere with traffic and cause an accident.

6. You will pick it up quickly. The first snow fall every year around here and people are driving like snails. By spring, people are whipping through 10 inches of snow like it was nothing.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 05:20 AM
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Many inexperienced snow condition drivers get into trouble going UP an incline. Once you commit and begin moving up, you must keep a steady momentum and keep going. If you brake or stop at that point, you will be lost (and stuck!)and become an impediment (target) for everyone else. As you prepare to go UP that troublesome hill, wait until the traffic ahead is out of your way & then GO.....steady but firmly with enough speed/momentum to get you to the top.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 05:27 AM
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" Any advice would be great!"

Don't do it. You are just asking for trouble. It wolud be bad enough on normal urban roads, but don't even think of it in mountains.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 05:53 AM
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I agree with other posters that you should not rent a car. Relax and take the train or bus to your destinations.

If the mere thought of chains and snow tires is "scary", what about snow or ice covered mountain roads, unfamiliar territory,limited visibility, driving on the right, intimidating drivers, etc.?

Do yourself a favour and let someone else drive. You'll enjoy it more, and won't be a hazard to others.

It's entirely possible that the roads will be bare and dry, the sun will shine, the traffic will be minimal, and you will be wishing that you had rented a car. The converse could just as easily be true.

I live where severe winter driving conditions are an annual reality, and I've driven in the mountains in Europe and North America in winter on numerous occasions. There certainly have been times when I have wished that someone else was doing the driving.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 06:08 AM
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By the way, the statement that "You can drive on sheer ice as long as you go slow enough" is, in my experience, incorrect.

If the road is covered with glare ice and crowned steeply enough, your vehicle will slide off it regardless of snow tires, chains, ABS, or 4WD.

For the Switzerland trip, I'd take the train.
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Old Feb 7th, 2006, 11:25 AM
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Don't know the rules where you're going - so can;t comment on snow tires/chains.

But here are some basic rules:

Make sure car has front wheel drive (assume you're not renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle) - rear wheel drive makes it very difficult to keep from fishtailing

Go only as fast as the conditions allow - no speeding

For starting always use low gear - even if you have an automatic - once your tires start spinning you're lost

If there is considerable ice on the road DO NOT STOP - you will never get started again - keep going even if only at 4/5 mph

When you brake do it very slowly and carefully (see fishtailing above)

Always make sure you have something to put under the wheels in case you get stuck (some people use flattened carboard boxes - I always carry bags of cat litter - which works much better than sand)

If you stick to main highways the roads should be fine for driving - but the above may be useful on small local roads
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