Traction has to do with your vehicles ability to go forward, maintain control and stop and winter driving really puts your vehicle’s ability to maintain traction to the test.
Traction control is available on many newer vehicles and here is how it works. When you lose traction, almost all of the power from the engine is going to make that wheel spin instead of sending power to the other drive wheels that have better traction. The traction control system automatically applies brake pressure to the spinning wheel, which will cause it to slow down or stop, sending the power over to the other wheel that has more traction.
No matter which drive wheel is slipping, the traction control unit will apply and release brake pressure to the affected wheel within milliseconds to reduce the spin and increase traction.
Whether you have traction control or not, you need good tires to get traction. And for good traction on snow and ice, your tire needs to have a lot of what’s called “sipes."
Sipes are tiny slits in the tread of the tire and they kind of allow the tire to reach out and grab onto the slick surface. Winter tires have a whole bunch of them in the tread, along with a more aggressive tread design, so they do really well on snowy and icy roads.
All season radials have some sipes on them as well, just not as many. Of course as the tread wears down so do the sipes. If your tires are worn out and/or improperly inflated, you will not have good traction.
Having weight over the tires makes the tires grip better and that’s why front-wheel drive vehicles have much better traction than rear-wheel drive ones. All of the weight of the engine and transmission is right over the drive wheels and that adds up to better traction. If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, putting sandbags over the rear wheels can help you get better traction.
When you become stuck in the snow, there are many times you will not be able to get the vehicle moving forward unless you get out and do a little work. Keep a shovel in the trunk to remove the snow that’s in front of the tires, along with some type of abrasive product. I recommend a salt/sand mixture, but kitty litter can work as well.
And remember that traction is important when you are stopping as well, so allow plenty of stopping distance on slippery road surfaces.