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Winter Driving Techniques: What’s Changed With Modern Vehicles

The front wheel and grille of a pickup truck driving during a snow storm.

While most traditional winter driving techniques are still helpful today, modern vehicle design has introduced a number of wrinkles into how to safely get from point A to point B with snow and ice on the ground. New safety systems and driver’s aids have transformed how cars and trucks handle the winter, however, giving you fresh options for dealing with bad-weather driving. Here’s a look at how winter driving techniques have been affected by the latest automotive technology.

Stability Control Keeps Things Pointed in the Right Direction

When anti-lock brake systems (ABS) started to become commonplace in the early ’90s, few could have predicted that the technology would one day be used to dramatically improve safety even with your foot off the brake pedal. By connecting the ABS to a network of sensors that keep constant watch over vehicle speed, wheel position, heading and the g forces acting on an automobile, stability control programming can individually activate each brake while dialing back the throttle in a bid to keep a car or truck pointed straight and true. This happens in a largely transparent fashion, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering without having to worry about how traction conditions are affecting forward progress or safety — a far cry from the urgent countersteering that was once the default reaction to a skid.

Drive Modes Add Extra SafetyWinter highway

Winter driving techniques have also benefited from the development of driving modes that adjust vehicle performance to match road conditions. Many modern automobiles feature a snow mode setting that, when selected, dials back throttle response, increases the intervention of the stability and traction control systems and starts automatic transmissions in second gear, rather than first, to reduce wheel spin. This type of driving mode is especially beneficial in high-performance cars that can easily overwhelm available traction if not driven gingerly through the snow or on cold pavement.

Advanced All-Wheel Drive Is Always on Call

Gone are the days when a 4×4 had to be manually shifted into low gear before tackling a treacherous winter road. Today, winter driving techniques are informed by advanced all-wheel-drive systems that can automatically shuttle engine torque from one wheel to another in a bid to not only improve traction, but also assist with cornering on dry, cold asphalt. Again, this type of system works so quickly and so effectively that drivers will have difficulty catching it in action, allowing them to focus on the traffic around them, upcoming corners and nighttime visibility without worrying about grip.

Millions of people deal with winter weather all season without any major issues, and you can too, thanks in large part to the tech advances that help keep modern motorists safe.

Check out all the drivetrain parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on winter driving techniques, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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