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The Winter Driving Quiz

David Muhlbaum, Senior Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Does the prospect of driving on winter's slippery roads fill you with trepidation, or do you relish the opportunity to release your inner ice racer when the white stuff falls?

Take our quiz to learn more about how to handle the challenges of winter driving.

1: What kind of vehicles brake best on snow and ice?

  1. Front-wheel drive
  2. Rear-wheel drive
  3. All-wheel drive
  4. They're all the same

The correct answer is D. They're all the same

All-wheel drive will help you accelerate on slippery surfaces, no doubt. Front-wheel drive vehicles generally hold an acceleration advantage over rear-wheel drive by having a greater percentage of their weight over the driven wheels.

But neither arrangement is better at slowing you down, which depends more on your car's tires. That's the peril of AWD: the ease at which you can accelerate breeds overconfidence.

2: My tires say "all-season," so they'll be fine in snow, too.

  1. True
  2. False

The correct answer is B. False

Winter is an "all-season" tire's weakest season, according to tire experts. To get better winter traction, consider a separate set of winter tires, preferably mounted on their own wheels. Winter tires have more edges to bite into snow and softer rubber that stays flexible when the temperature goes down.

3: You should flush and fill your antifreeze every year, or at least every other, to make sure it's ready for winter.

  1. True
  2. False

The correct answer is B. False

"Flush and fill" is a dated expression in car maintenance (like changing your oil "every 3,000 miles"). Stick to the factory maintenance schedule -- which might recommend replacing the antifreeze every five years, or possibly never. This is one item not to stress about.

4: Cracking your window while driving in wintry conditions is a good idea because:

  1. It will help keep you awake
  2. It will help you hear what kind of surface you're driving on
  3. It will help you avoid carbon-monoxide buildup

The correct answer is B. It will help you hear what kind of surface you're driving on

When the road is dodgy, you need to pay close attention and use all your senses. Your ears can help you tell if you're driving on wet pavement, slush, or ice, as well as if a wheel is spinning.

5: Why should you clear snow off the roof of your car?

  1. It could fly off and damage a vehicle behind you
  2. If you brake hard, it could slide forward over your windshield, blinding you
  3. It could be the law in your state
  4. All of the above

The correct answer is D. All of the above

That was a gimme (we hope). Please, don't be lazy (and unsafe) driving around in some mobile snow cave.

6: Never, ever disengage traction control if you want to stay safe in snow:

  1. True
  2. False

The correct answer is B. False

Traction control uses a car's antilock brake sensors to see if one of the drive wheels is spinning because you're trying to accelerate hard. It can then reduce engine power and/or engage the spinning wheel's brake to smooth out the ride. This is good for most slippery conditions.

However, there are exceptions when some wheelspin is helpful (and that's why there's a switch to turn the system off). Two are: climbing an icy hill when you need to just chew your way up, or rocking the car back and forth when you're already stuck. Just be sure to re-engage traction control once you've made it through.

7: How long do you need to warm up your car before driving off?

  1. As long as it takes until the heater blows hot air
  2. At least 1 minute for every degree below 32°F
  3. Not at all

The correct answer is C. Not at all

A modern computer-controlled, fuel-injected car doesn't need any warm up. Once it's on, you're good to go, and in fact, your heat will come on more quickly when the car is driven. That said, you should limit hard acceleration until the engine is warm (a few miles miles should do).

Of course, if you need to clear snow and ice from your car, turning it on, with the defroster blasting, will help you loosen mother nature's coating. And, if you want to remote-start your car to have a warm cabin and seats, a few minutes won't do the car any harm, either (the environment's another question!).

8: When there's snow forecast or on the road, you should let some air out of your tires:

  1. True
  2. False

The correct answer is B. False

Here's the thinking behind this old saw: A tire with less air pressure will have a bigger contact area with snow and you won't sink in. That might be true if you were, say, driving on several feet of snow.

But that never happens. Real winter driving conditions are a mix of snow, packed snow, and ice, along with wet and dry pavement. You need a fully inflated tire to push through the snow down to the road surface. Plus, the hazards of underinflated tires (bad handling, rim damage, etc.) don't go away in the cold.

9: If you travel in rural areas in the winter, you should keep a survival kit in the trunk:

  1. True
  2. False

The correct answer is B. False

Okay, that was a bit of a trick, but we did it to make a point: You absolutely should carry a survival kit if your travels take you to places where you could go off the road ... and not be found for a while. But what if you're injured, or trapped in an upside down vehicle, or something similar? Your supplies (space blanket, candle, lighter) would be out of reach. So: keep these basics close by, in the passenger compartment. The trunk is fine for larger, more elaborate items like a shovel, tow rope or kitty litter.

10: You need to worry about ice on the road when the temperature hits:

  1. 32°F
  2. 36°F
  3. 42°F

The correct answer is B. 36°F

Water (generally) changes from liquid to ice at 32°F; that's a fact. But you need to leave a safety margin, because the temperature displayed on the dash may be different than that of the shaded section of road, overpass or bridge coming up.


Copyright 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors