Top Winter Driving Tips from Ford
Guest Post by Tyler Dubetz
To set some context, I have never attended a driving event such as the Ford winter driving event before, and I am not a professional driver or in the automotive industry. But, being a typical male, I of course assume that I am the best driver on the road and would be a Formula One champ if only given the chance. I drive a 2004 Subaru STi, which is a very capable car and handles great, but it does not have electronic stability control although it does have anti-lock brakes. So I was really looking forward to seeing how the electronic stability control systems affected the handling of the vehicles.
The event put on by Ford was really well run in general. It started out with some good generic winter driving advice – generic in the sense that it is applicable to all drivers and vehicles. Certain things seemed pretty common sense to me but worth mentioning, such as leave extra space between vehicles, especially traveling up hill; simply moving over a few inches in your lane to get your tires on a fresh patch of road when approaching intersections where the traffic has worn in polished bobsled like tracks into the snow/ice; and to keep an emergency road-side kit in the car. They stressed the importance of winter tires, which I am a big proponent of, but what was news to me was the explanation of how All-Weather tires achieve their winter rating by having a softer compound on the outermost layer only. Therefore after a couple seasons, those All-Weathers are essentially now an All-Season and probably not up to the task of our Canadian winters.
Then the driving instructor got into some of the safety features on the new Fords such as electronic stability control (ESC) and anti-lock brakes (ABS). They explained the basics of how these systems work, what to expect with them, and what to do to make the car go where you want it to. While they were clearly focusing on their cars and products, it did not really have a ‘sales pitch’ feel to it and they specifically mentioned how these features are required on all cars manufactured after 2011. I thought this was an honest and transparent touch to what I previously feared may have been a glorified sales pitch.
When we got to the course at Canada Olympic Park, they had a local Ford technician discuss some of the points to ensure your vehicle is winter ready, and then we moved on to the driving course. They had two different models: the Fusion and the Escape, and four different driving instructors. The quality of the instruction was really impressive, where I believe all of them are or were NASCAR drivers, and some are currently professional driving instructors as well. Probably the main point of focus that all the instructors stressed was the importance of your vision and making a point of looking well in front of where you are going.
I started with the Fusion and followed the instructor’s comments to test out the car’s safety features – which actually felt surprisingly fast for the conditions and the tightness of the corners. This definitely increased the ‘fun factor’, and testing out the safety features was a primary point of the event, but it showed that these safety systems likely wouldn’t be something that would kick in under regular driving conditions, just under severe situations. When the ESC kicked in, it was rather seamless and worked great. As long as you point the car where you wanted to go, the car made sure you went there or more specifically didn’t go somewhere else. The ESC would selectively brake specific wheels to pull the car into the corner or maintain the direction you were trying to go. So even if you went into a corner much faster than you should, the ESC could be vigorous enough to essentially bring the car to an almost-stop. And that’s why I say it keeps you from going somewhere else – it’s not going to steer you through a corner at race car speeds but it is going to keep you within the lines even if it needs to slow you way down to do so. My initial reaction was “well that’s not very fun”, but the point of the system in real-life use (as opposed to a snow covered closed-course) is not to have fun spinning the tires in the snow, but to keep you from hitting the ditch or worse. It really was much more dramatic than I expected it to be, and it is a very interesting system.
The ABS was much more familiar to me, as I’ve driven several vehicles equipped with it. There was only a couple of important points in my mind regarding the ABS – keep the pedal depressed (don’t pump it or anything like that) and you can still steer even with the ABS engaged, so once again, point the car where you want it to go.
The Escape was much the same as the Fusion, but with a little more weight, a little more power, and a higher centre of gravity, the stability systems felt a little less dramatic. Almost like if you really pushed it to the limits you could get the back end to swing outside of the pylons, yet it always seemed to pull the vehicle back in the lane. I wished I had a couple more laps to see if I truly could push it outside of the lanes, but really it still gave me the confidence that as long as I pointed the vehicle where I wanted to go, it would prevent me from getting too far off course.
I really appreciated the opportunity provided by Ford to test these features in an extreme winter driving situation, and was quite impressed by them. However, whether I liked them or not is sort of a moot point if all new production vehicles are required to be equipped with them. I would like the opportunity to have a similar test with other makes to see if there is much difference between various manufacturers’ implementation of ESC systems or if they are mostly the same. I also wish I had the chance to take my car on the course to see how a capable car without ESC would fair on that course to really gain some perspective on how much impact these systems really do make when pushing a car to the limits.
Thank you to Tyler for attending this event on behalf of Ruff Ruminations and writing about it :D