Downshifting and Drive Systems, How to Make Winter Driving Easier

By Max Resnik

December 7, 2010 Updated Dec 7, 2010 at 7:30 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) Second, Third and “L.” They’re gears you have in your automatic transmission car, but how often do you use them?

Do you know why they’re there or when to use them?

Today, Indiana’s NewsCenter took a driving lesson at Safeway Driving School in Fort Wayne. Many of us, who drive automatic cars, never use these lower gears, but they could make a big difference in how you navigate the slushy, snowy, icy roads that come with Old Man Winter.

These gears are created to slow your car down without putting more stress on the breaks. They’re kind of like a self-breaking system. Moreover, using these lower gears will prevent you from accelerating, in most cases, past 30 MPH. Their use is nearly identical to a manual transmission car.

This week we’ve stressed many of the do’s and don’t’s of winter driving, but have you looked into what kind of drive system your car has?

Is it front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel or four-wheel drive?

If your car is front-wheel drive, your front wheels actually pull the car in order to get it in motion. In any slick conditions, whether rain or snow, this is much safer than rear-wheel drive cars. In a rear-wheel drive system the rear wheels have to push the car to get it in motion. This can lead to fish tailing in wet conditions.

Four-wheel drive cars mean all four wheels are working together to get your vehicle in motion. The front and rear axels are connected causing your front wheels to pull as your rear wheels push. Many people think this is the best way to navigate through mud, rain and snow when in actuality, it could prove to be slightly more dangerous than an all-wheel system. The four-wheel drive system can’t negotiate speed as well as an all-wheel drive system and causes drivers to break harder than they should have to. This could lead to sliding or hitting a slick patch.

All-wheel drive cars are the most advanced driving systems. They electronically monitor wheel speed and how your transmission is operating under various conditions. This advanced system knows which wheels need the most pressure when speeding up, slowing down and negotiating turns. Because this system can better monitor wheel pressure, speed and how hard your transmission is working, less is required of the driver—especially when navigating the wintry roads.

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