Chicago Is Awash With Terrible Winter Driving

- - posted in lifechicago

Chicago is coming alive with the sound of tires spinning and couples arguing with each other in the street. Just like every winter. The same car has been beached barely parked, at a jaunty angle, directly across the street from my apartment since during the Super Bowl yesterday. We watched the couple struggle to grapple with even the most basic aspects of driving in snow. Especially for those of y'all who don’t live where there’s snow (ya lucky bastedds), here are some of my thoughts on winter driving.

First of all, just before we even begin here, before we even say anything else about this topic, let’s be abundantly completely crystal clear: it doesn’t matter what kind of car you have, you are not going to be able to drive in 19 inches of snow, such as there are on the ground here right now. You just won’t. It is not a possible thing, unless you have a very serious 4X4 drive-train and snow tires or chains or both. It’s nineteen inches of snow. This is just not the kind of stuff you can successfully drive through in your shitty late 90s Camry. We are well past the point where even having four wheel drive, it takes significant effort and skill to navigate the street successfully. If you live in Chicago where we see this kind of snow about once a year, driving in this is probably above your pay grade. I know some of y'all will disagree with me hard on that, but you’re probably gonna get stuck just like this guy did, so shaddup.

Secondly. This guy kept digging his car out. Makes intuitive sense, until you realize that the entire street is coated in exactly the same conditions that just got you stuck, so how far do you really think you’ll travel if you dig your car out right now before the road’s even been salted once? I dunno where he lives but I have to say, that car ain’t goin' nowhere right now. It is stuck until this street gets salted and the snow melts a little.

Now let’s say that you’re stuck in the snow and for whatever reason just shoving your car into a nearby parking space and hoping for the best isn’t possible. What do you do?

One thing you’re going to want to avoid is spinning the tires. If your tires are spinning, you are accomplishing nothing, except maybe digging your wheels into the snow a little deeper. A couple of things are going on here. Your tire-spinning doesn’t get you anywhere because the coefficient of static friction between two materials is usually higher than the coefficient of kinetic friction between the same two materials. This means that your tires are unable to impart as much force on the snow while they are already moving against it. It happens this difference in frictional force, which is proportional to those coefficients and also the weight of your car with you in it, is enough to keep you spinning and going nowhere. The other thing that’s going on here is that the movement of the tire rubber against the ice or snow that’s underneath it is generating heat, which is melting the snow immediately underneath the tire, which is digging the tire in deeper. As the wheel gets lower and lower into the snow, the walls of snow in front and behind it present a higher slope to the wheel, and the wheel doesn’t generate enough force to escape the rut it’s digging. So if you want to get out of that spot you’re in, stop spinning your wheels. Wheel-spinning is also really annoying and throws snow everywhere. Yuck!

You might consider letting some of the air out of your tires and then gently rocking the car, pulsing the accelerator in rhythm to the rocking. Get a couple of friends to push, then let go, then push, then let go, rocking your car up and down the sides of the rut. Each time your friends push forward, pulse the accelerator gently. By letting a little bit of air out of your tires, you’re increasing the surface of the tire that comes in contact with the snow, and at the same time giving yourself a little bit of torque before the tire actually moves. With the tire laying looser on the wheel, the wheel can turn a couple of degrees independently of the outer edge of the tire. By rocking the car back and forth you are creating a harmonic resonance between your friends' pushing and the natural movement of the car. Goosing the throttle a little with every push helps your friends out. Once you’re back on solid ground you can put some air back in your tires. If you drive slowly enough it won’t hurt them.

If you want to avoid getting stuck in the first place, just don’t stop. If you hit the brakes too hard, you’ll slide and your tires will have a harder time regaining their grip. If you turn too sharply, your momentum will keep you moving in the same direction and you’ll slide. As much as possible, you want to keep moving slowly so that your momentum carries you over little slippery spots and you mostly keep control over your car. Or, better yet, just stay the fuck home because there’s over a foot and a half of snow on the ground.

Thanks for paying attention, space cadets. Be safe out there.