Winter Weather Driving

Old Dec 8th, 2009, 06:41 AM
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Winter Weather Driving

As previously mentioned, my family and I are driving Las Vegas-Durango-ABQ, and sights in between, during the Christmas holiday. This recent winter storm in the southwest really has me worried. We're from Florida and have never experienced conditions such as those. Read a news article that troopers were advising everyone to "chain up." Although our rental is a 4WD/AWD SUV I seriously doubt it will be equipped with snow tires or chains. Any suggestions or advice to calm my fears?
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 07:07 AM
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On the interstates you will be fine. Check out your secondary routes and make sure none are treacherous or REQUIRE snow tires or chains. Assuming you know people in Durango or ABQ, ask them. If so, plan another route or pickout some potential motels along the interstate that you may need to crash at if roads need to be cleared.

I've never driven that route so I can't help with specifics but from experience in Utah, you have to know which secondary roads require chains in a storm and be prepared.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 07:27 AM
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Buy some chains. Practice putting them on. Carry a shovel in your vehicle. When you get to a point in the road where it says that chains are required, stop and put them on. Don't just breeze through. Interstates are NOT always fine. Even here in Southern California, I-5 was closed yesterday because of snow and ice. Of course, special efforts are made to get those highways passable ASAP. (Mostly for the trucks).
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 08:06 AM
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First, Ignore the advice to buy chains. A waste of money. IF it is bad enough to need chains, then you have no business being on the road especially someone from Florida with no experience of driving in snowy conditions. I have lived in Colorado for nearly 30 years and have never owned a set of chains. Second your rental is either 4WD or AWD -- cannot be both. Third, check the tires. Most likely you will have some type of an all weather tire, if it says, "M & S" (mud and snow) so much the better. Remember rental cars get moved around. If you have a choice of vehicles, choose by tires. Fourth, an AWD/4WD is not inherently safer. In the hands of an inexperience driver, 4WDs are more dangerously. The main reason is that a 4WD vehicle will mask the slipperiness of the road. By the time you realize just how slippery the road is you are probably in the ditch. And 4WD is absolutely no help when it comes to stopping. Fifth, see if anti-skid option is on the vehicle (very different from anti-lock). The anti-skid is the greatest option available on any vehicle driven in snow. I would take a 2WD with anti-skid over a 4WD without. Trust me it is that good.

The recommendation for carrying a small shovel, a couple of accessible blankets, a little food, and water is good. We actually carry a coffee can with about two inches of sand and several candles. A lit candle will keep the interior of a car from freezing. In bad weather always stay with the primary road and do not venture on secondary roads unless you know with absolute certainty where your are going AND the conditions. And use your cell phone to keep people adviced of your location. Finally, if you vehicle becomes stuck, NEVER LEAVE IT.

But you will be fine because you will be far enough south that it will take a really freaky storm to cause you much problems. And if it does occur, check in early at a nice hotel/motel.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 08:26 AM
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Be sure you have (buy if the car doesn;t come with) shovel for digging out, ice scraper/brush for windshield and getting snow off car, cat litter or similar if you get stuck on ice. If road conditions look very bad DO NOT keep driving - find a place to wait it out - even if only a MickeyD's. If you can;t see dry road be VERY careful - there may be ice under new light snow.

When driving - do not speed, keep to a resonable speed for the road conditions (which may be 20 or 30). Watch out for black ice - very treacherous. If the road is slippery start out in first gear for better traction - only move to higher gears if the road gets better. Do not push down hard on the brakes - it will make the car fishtail, brake slowly and steadily. (If you need to brake hard you are going too fast.) If the car starts to skid do not fight the wheel (fishtail again) but go with the wheel while slowing as much as possible.

If you have never driven in snow and ice and the conditions are really bd - just stay where you are.

And remember - while SUVs may hve 4WD - they are really trucks, are very top heavy - and esp in turns have a tendancy to topple over. (I always felt much safer in a small coupe, low to the ground, with front wheel drive, in first gear.)
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 09:04 AM
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If you are unfamiliar with driving on snow, stay off the road until it is clear.

Four wheel drive doesn't help you stop faster.

Snow tires help a lot in handling, but you may just be the unlucky recipient of a loss of control by someone else.

Even if you are familiar with driving on snow and ice, the rule of thumb is not to drive unless it is absolutely necessary.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 09:43 AM
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Good advice given by all. Here's my 2 cents:

Have a little flexibility in your schedule in case you do run up against a storm like this. The safest thing to do in this kind of weather is stay put and wait it out, preferably by a fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate

Bookmark the official websites of the Department of Transportation in all the states you'll be traveling to. Arizona's is www.az511.com. All should have current weather conditions for some of the areas you'll be traveling, including closures (if applicable).

Don't let the possibility of bad weather discourage you from traveling in this area. You'll be experiencing it during one of the quietest times of the year, which can make it even more special than a summertime visit. And if you think these places are beautiful in and of themselves, they look amazing in the snow.

Hope this all helps and don't forget to post a trip report when you get back.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 09:44 AM
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I echo the advice to be well equipped and don't drive in chains required" conditions unless there is no alternative. (This does not apply to experienced winter drivers that are equipped well).

Be aware that even in the day time, the road can be in very good travelling condition and then very suddenly it can change to icy, snowy or both. That leads to the condition in which people are driving at a safe speed for their conditions and suddenly enter a stretch of roadway where they are going 4 or 5 times too fast for conditions and thier vehicles are essentially uncontollable.

Roads that are exposed to the sun for longer periods will be in better condition sooner and stay in that condition longer. Roads that are shaded by terrain, structures, sometimes even just side barriers will freeze sooner and thaw slower. Bridges can be especially treacherous because the cold wind flowing underneath promotes icing.

When daytime temps are above freezing and especially when it is sunny, roads often become only wet but easily passable. Suddenly, as the sun goes down, freezing temps reassert themselves and the previously wet road becomes extremly icy extremly quickly.

All this sounds prohibitive but it is not meant to. Many, many inexperienced winter drivers do just fine at most times. You simply have to be better prepared and more cautious than you would on the flatlands of Florida. That caution should concern not only how you drive but when you drive as well.

At the same time, winter conditions are unpredictable. If you don't believe that, one only has to look at the long, thin parking lot that I-70 becomes west of Denver with the people headed to the ski areas during and after a healthy snow or ice storm.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 09:51 AM
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Just re-read my post and maybe should make a couple of additional points for clarity. Most likely the rental will be an AWD vehicle. AWD means that vehicle is either front or rear wheel drive most of the time and only becomes four wheel when slippage is detected in one of the drive wheels. It is automatic in and out. You may or may not notice when four wheels kicks in. Therefore, if using chains you would need chains on all four wheels. Which is ridiculous. Chain laws will vary from state to state. In Colorado, chain laws only apply to commercial vehicles which pay huge fines if they do not chain up when the chain law is in effect. For passenger vehicles it is the honor system. No one is going to check. BUT if you cause an accident or have a problem and it is noticed that you are running on four bald tires, you will get a ticket.

And to answer your original questions, "Any suggestions or advice to calm my fears? ' I might suggest a good bottle of red wine, or perhaps a little JD. Of course, that assumes you are not driving. Relax, you will be fine. It doesn't snow that often anyway.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 09:59 AM
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You have gotten good advice.

The mess from this storm will be
a memory by the time you are in
the area. The chances that a storm
like this will impact the area during
your trip are slim. You will probably
be 100% fine but keep a close watch on
the forecast for the area as your trip
gets closer so you can make plans and
take whatever precautions are necessary.
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 11:16 AM
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Thanks everyone for your expert advice! You have really opened my eyes to what winter/snow driving entails. Things that, being from Florida, I would never have thought of. I am going to make a checklist from this whole thread before beginning our trip.

If anyone has additional comments, these are the Interstates and highways we will be traveling. With short sightseeing excursions, near major roads, along the way.

I-40-Hwy 64 Grand Canyon south rim

Hwy 64-Hwy 89-Hwy 160 Monument Valley

Hwy 160 Durango, CO (or for safety... AZ 160-NM 64-550 Durango)

Hwy 550 Durango-ABQ

Possible AZ Side Trips....

Route 66 Kingman-Oatman

Hwy 89 Page

Hwy 98 Page
to
Hwy 160
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 11:34 AM
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One more thing......

nytraveler,

would you recommend, if possible, that we switch our rental vehicle from a 4WD SUV to an AWD or front wheel drive car?
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 12:06 PM
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No - it depends on what yuo're used to driving and what you feel comfortble with. I would never drive ANY SUV under any circumstances - since I don't like driving trucks - they're just too unperdictable. That said I'm used to driving a small sports coupe which holds the road like glue - and which is great on snow due to the very low profile and front-wheel drive. But - it can't really fit more than 2 people (back seat is packages or small children only.)
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Old Dec 8th, 2009, 01:37 PM
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Personally I think you would be fine was a front wheel drive sedan or an AWD sedan. I am fairly sure your SUV will be AWD. You just need to understand that the handling of an AWD -- Sedan or SUV -- is different especially on slick roads. You don't get the feed back from the handling with an AWD vehicle that you get from a traditional two wheel drive vehicle.
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Old Dec 9th, 2009, 04:25 AM
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An AWD car or 4WD SUV will be better than a front wheel drive car in snow. We own a 4WD pick up and a front wheel drive car. We are getting hit by the storm as I write and my wife will be taking the truck to work since she has the longer commute. I will be stuck with the car since I have only 6 miles to go. I have added about 200 lbs of bagged stone to the rear of the truck bed to put some weight over the rear axle for even better traction. In snow, weight and narrower profile tires are good.

If you end up with an SUV just be aware that they can be top heavy and sudden lane changes at speed can get interesting.

If the forecast shows clear weather during the trip then all this is moot...any car will do.
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Old Dec 19th, 2009, 07:25 PM
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Spent last weekend at the South Rim. 64 was snow covered at the South Rim, but you take your time and it is OK.
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Old Dec 20th, 2009, 10:10 AM
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The key to 4WD driving is to remember that 4-wheel drive is not also 4-wheel stop.

Going slow and easy in snowy/icy conditions is the way to get to your destination.
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