You Only Have Yourselves to Blame

The Breakdown Doctor says:

For the first time in a couple of decades we have seen over the last month a decent fall of snow and once again we are over powered by society’s desire to blame everyone. The motorist is blaming the Local Authority for not gritting, the Local Authority is blaming the weather forecasters for not telling them, and at the end of the day somebody will complain that there is not enough money to do the job.

I have to admit that being a little old-fashioned and possessing a quality called commonsense, I am somewhat biased and put the blame fairly and squarely on the motorist. It is the motorist who goes out and clutters up the road and causes the stoppage. I expect this remark would be greeted by an uproar, BUT!!!

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It surely has not escaped people that not all motorists (far from all) get stuck or have difficulty travelling about in the snow and ice. Every estate and cul-de-sac in the country has a high percentage of people who do come and go whatever the depth of snow or the weather. We read about a thousand cars stuck on the A3, what about all the hundreds that don’t become stranded. Sometimes people do not know why they are successful and why they are not successful driving in the snow and ice. What I am trying to do is shed more light on why this is and help people in future times.
So let me perhaps explain. It never ceases to amaze me that people will spend most of the year planning for a week or two’s holiday, buying bits and pieces to use once, some items they may never use, like sun cream in Eastbourne, but when it comes to preparing and maintaining their cars it goes straight over their heads that during the months from October to March we may get heavy rain and flood water, we usually get at least three or five days of snow and this year, of course, we have had 28 days so now it’s too late to do anything.

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By now people have begun to realise that electronic gismos like anti-lock braking, traction control and electronic brake systems are not designed and won’t work on snow and sheet ice and certainly not at relatively low speeds. As I have just mentioned it cannot have escaped the observant that not all vehicles do get stuck and not all vehicles fail to climb the gradients, which means that some people are already switched on to what is needed.
The ironic part is that it is all about thinking about the bad weather and not the good weather when buying tyres. Once upon a time people would fit winter tyres for the winter and change them back for the summer and there is certainly no need to do that nowadays.

But the range of tyres available is so vast and they vary so much in bad weather performance that it is not difficult when selecting a new tyre in the middle of July to choose one with, to put it mildly, a bit more tread pattern. A tyre with plenty of tread won’t present a hazard and in fact won’t feel any different in the warmest of summers but when the flood water and then the snow comes the advantage is there to be seen. Tyres above 17” diameter and below 50 aspect ratio are never going to convert from summer to winter use.

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The other feature when choosing tyres that people never consider is the newer the tyre from the day it came out of the factory to when it is put on the car the softer will be the rubber and the better the performance in snow and ice. It therefore goes without saying that once a tyre is three years old, whether it has plenty of tread or not, it is a pretty useless bit of kit when it comes to ascending even the slightest of gradients. For this reason I would never have any of my vehicles on tyres more than two winters old and always make a point of renewing in September/October. In the overall cost of running a vehicle it is not a major expense.

In essence, the rubber compound is the critical part of the equation. When remould tyres were available and were made with cheap soft rubber, their performance in the snow and ice was unreal. The best comparison is to compare a leather shoe to a soft trainer or plimsoll and it is easy to understand the difference in performance.
Unloaded recovery vehicles can be a particular problem. For this reason we always equip our vehicles with block-type tread patterns and for the vehicles that do not go out of the area we have opted for remould or recapped tyres solely because of the softer rubber compound.

I operate a fleet of 20 vehicles none of which ever have problems on the snow and ice. This knowledge is then rubbed off on staff, friends and so forth, all of whom adopted the same policy of making certain that their vehicles are correctly shod. There is something immensely satisfying to over take 20 struggling cars on a gradient and then continue as if nothing has happened and feeling safe into the bargain. I suspect the successful snow drivers have finished up on the right sort of tyres by accident.

While this advice on tyres goes 70% of the way, the other 30% has to come from the driver. I ask: why when the snow comes does everyone act like lemmings, why does everyone decide to leave work at 3 o’clock and then queue for three hours. If it was me, I would put in half an hour’s overtime and probably still be home on time at the same time as everyone else.

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Nanny State society again, I suppose, but drivers must learn to drive in the snow; they need to realise more than British Rail do that there are perhaps 8 or 10 different types of snow, each of which requires a slightly different technique. Sometimes you need to drive on the darker coloured bit of the road, sometime you need to drive on the snow. Occasionally it is necessary to have a run at a hill, other times that just doesn’t work. I see people gripping the steering wheel and grasping the controls as if they were going to fall out of the vehicle, but on snow and ice everything is finger tip and tippy toes.

When I was 17 I spent many hours usually after midnight driving round the deserted moorland roads learning the technique of driving on snow and ice. If I had been careless enough to fall into a ditch I would probably have had only a sheep for company. I certainly was not born capable of doing it, I had to learn. I suppose if I was caught doing the same thing in this day and age I would probably be prosecuted for a new offence of “teaching yourself to drive safely”.
I sympathise to a certain extent with the present generation because they do not have enough snow to learn on but you can pick up an awful lot in a couple of hours.

To people’s credit, now that we have had two weeks of snow, a lot of people are getting the hang of it and we don’t see so many of the 20-mile an hour club and I would like to think if the snow stays until March life will get a lot nearer normal.

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Driving on snow and ice does require a large amount of self confidence and I still feel the best thing if you are not confident is not to drive. In this day of Health and Safety it is a little hard to picture how an unqualified person can load themselves and passengers into a 1-ton missile and then set off to cover snow and ice and in some cases are just an accident waiting to happen: this at a time when it is considered too risky for kids to play conkers in the school yard.

I would be foolish if I did not realise that not every car will travel even with the right tyres and some hills are impassable, but the skill is in knowing when to keep away. Also bear in mind that a 4 X 4 with poor tyres is also a non starter, much worse than a 2WD with correct soft rubber. Many of the problems are these vehicles that are causing the holdups.

So I am, perhaps, really making a case here for more people to stop off the roads unless they are up to the task. Let’s not have a few stopping many.

By Fred Henderson The Breakdown Doctor

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