AWD and Winter Driving

Last week I wrote about how winter tires will make any vehicle good for winter driving. A reader wrote in noting that I was quite dismissive of the benefits of All Wheel Drive (AWD) in winter and that a vehicle with AWD is objectively better if it has winter tires. He’s correct; however, I understated the benefits for a few reasons. In this follow-up post, I want to go over the benefits of AWD in winter driving, and then explain why I understated those benefits in my initial post.

First, let’s go over what AWD is. AWD is a feature that enables power to be sent to any of the four wheels without user intervention (this is one of the primary differentiators between AWD and four wheel drive). Direction of power can be done purely mechanically or with the control of a computer depending on the system used.

The obvious benefit is accelerating in slippery conditions. By having the ability to send power to all wheels, you are able to capitalize on the traction at all four corners of the vehicle, greatly decreasing the likelihood of getting stuck or spinning tires. This is emphasized when trying to go uphill. Note that the total amount of traction the vehicle has isn’t increased; it’s just better utilized under power.

A more subtle benefit is revealed once the vehicle is moving. If the driver maintains some amount of throttle, an AWD vehicle’s superior traction under acceleration may enable the vehicle to maintain stability when being pushed around by slush or snow; rounding a slippery corner; or powering out of a slide.

These are great benefits, so why did I understate them so severely in my original post?

My first and primary reason was to hopefully influence the conversation about what makes a vehicle good for winter driving. While a vehicle with AWD objectively has the potential to be better than one without, it can’t capitalize on that potential without winter tires. I’ve had many people comment that my truck would be awesome for winter driving without knowing what tires I have. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding, or confused prioritization, of what makes a vehicle great in winter.

I stated the second reason in my original post, albeit without explanation (emphasis added):

Four Wheel Drive (4WD or 4x4) or All Wheel Drive (AWD) [isn’t] a replacement for good tires because they don’t help with braking.

As stated above, AWD helps with distributing power to the wheels. When braking, no power is distributed to the wheels as the goal is to slow the vehicle. All vehicles have 4 wheel brakes, allowing all available traction to be utilized when combined with ABS and stability control systems. The only way to improve braking performance is to increase the amount of available traction by getting by getting better tires.

The gains in braking performance due to winter tires cannot be understated. To quote just one test, performed by Tire Rack (emphasis added):

[W]e measured the distance it took the tires to bring the Civic to a complete stop from 12 mph (20 km/h). The car’s speed was stabilized and the driver fully applied the brakes to engage the vehicle’s four-wheel disc anti-lock braking system (ABS) until the vehicle came to a complete stop.

When equipped with all-season tires, the car’s ABS engaged relatively easy and it took an average of 53.6-feet to stop the Civic. The Studless Ice & Snow tires provided more grip and actually squealed against the ice whenever the ABS activated. The Studless Ice & Snow tires brought the Civic to a stop in an average of 35.1-feet, representing a 34% improvement. Their 18.5-foot shorter stopping distance was over a car length improvement compared to the all-season tires.

Finally, my third reason is the amount of understanding and experience needed to fully reap the safety benefits of AWD. Being able to go forward is a safety benefit only in the respect of not being stuck somewhere undesirable (middle of nowhere, unsafe location, etc). Other than that, being in a non-moving vehicle is inherently safer than being in a moving vehicle.

When moving, I want to quote what I wrote above with emphasis added:

If the driver maintains some amount of throttle, an AWD vehicle’s superior traction under acceleration may enable the vehicle to maintain stability when being pushed around by slush or snow; rounding a slippery corner; or powering out of a slide.

All wheel drive’s slide prevention is notable, particularly when combined with winter tires. However, once a slide begins, unless the driver is experienced with slides and understands the benefit, maintaining throttle is the least intuitive response. The most intuitive response is to slam on the brakes, at which point the AWD system is rendered irrelevant. This incorrect response is significantly more likely, even with experienced drivers, when the slide is encountered during an evasive maneuver or while the driver is distracted, resulting in the slide being entirely unanticipated.

In conclusion, if you are regularly driving in winter conditions or you can easily afford it for the few times you are, I would highly recommend getting AWD when purchasing a new vehicle. The benefits are significant. Just make sure you also get a good set of winter tires so you can stop once you get moving and truly unlock the performance of your AWD system.

The Best Vehicle for Winter Driving

Over the course of winters past, I’ve been asked numerous times by acquaintances, friends and family whether a certain vehicle would be a good choice for driving winter roads. I want to cover the topic once and for-all with this post. I will go over what makes a vehicle good for winter driving and then go into detail about what makes winter tires different from all-season or summer tires.

Driving technique, drastically more important than the vehicle you are driving, is something I will cover in a future post.

First, I want to define what I mean by winter driving and winter roads. I’m referring to maintained roads, highways and freeways. This includes getting around town, travelling between cities (potentially over mountain passes) or going to ski hills in winter. This advice does not apply to travelling on unmaintained or remote winter roads where snow depths can become excessive.

Following from that, the road conditions I’m referring to are dry, wet, icy, slushy, compact snow or limited amounts (rough maximum of 12 inches) of fresh snow, all in cold temperatures.

With that context out of the way, let’s get into what makes a good vehicle for winter driving.

The answer is simple: any vehicle is good for winter driving if it has good winter tires.

If you read nothing else in this post, take that answer to heart. Your tires are the only things holding your vehicle to the road, so no other part of your vehicle matters more for winter driving.

Note that I didn’t mention Four Wheel Drive (4WD or 4x4) or All Wheel Drive (AWD). Neither system is a replacement for good tires because they don’t help with braking. Their benefit comes in making the car go forward and, to some extent, keeping it straight on the road.

Because of those benefits, I do recommend a vehicle with 4WD or AWD if you drive in the snow regularly, but they are by no means a requirement.

(Update: I’ve expanded on my thoughts about AWD and winter driving in my next post.)

Other factors I’ve found people regularly associate with a good winter vehicle include vehicle weight, tire size and ground clearance. Let’s run through those.

  • Vehicle weight can help somewhat with vehicle stability in snowy conditions, allowing the vehicle to push through the snow rather than be pushed around; however, the benfit isn’t nearly great enough to bias vehicle choice.
  • Larger tires only matter in extremely deep snow, a situation which I’m explicitly not covering as mentioned above.
  • Ground clearance only matters in extremely deep snow, a situation which I’m explicitly not covering as mentioned above.

So what separates a winter tire from all-season or summer tires? There are a number of factors, but the largest is the tire compound or rubber.

Rubber hardens in colder temperatures. Soft rubber has more grip, exactly what you want in slippery winter conditions. Winter tires use rubber compounds that are significantly softer than other tires so that as temperatures drop, they remain pliable and sticky. Because of this, a winter tire will have significantly more grip than an all-season or summer tire in cold temperatures even on bare, dry roads.

If softer rubber gives so much more grip, why don’t we just use winter tires year-round? Mainly because of longevity and fuel economy. Softer rubber wears significantly faster in hot temperatures and reduces fuel economy due to increased resistance to rolling. Additionally, if the rubber becomes too soft in extreme heat, it can actually have less grip than a harder rubber.

There are a couple of additional benefits to winter tires beyond tire compound:

  • Significantly increased siping. When you look at your tires, particularly winter tires, you’ll see what look like cuts across the tread blocks. These cuts are called sipes and increase the number of surfaces gripping the road.
  • Strategic packing. Snow-on-snow grip is actually quite high, so winter tires are designed to strategically pack with snow to utilize this benefit.

If you’re going to be driving in the snow this winter, or just live in a city that gets very cold, grab yourself a set of winter tires this year. The cost will be infinitely less than that of your life or someone else’s.

Identity Theft, Credit Reports, and You

Patrick McKenzie, someone passionate about credit reports and the industry, has some good advice in light of the recent Equifax leak:

You should never call a CRA, ever. They have phone centers staffed with people whose only job is getting you off the phone. They have very limited availability to help, for the same reason that the phone center for Walmart does not have anyone who can help a shoe. You will deal with CRAs only in writing.

And:

Banks deal with lots of angry people, and are optimized to treat this like a customer service problem. Some do better and some do worse at this, but you never want identity theft treated like a customer service problem. Their CS department is scored on number of tickets resolved per hour, and each rep’s incentives are simply to classify you as something requiring no followup and get you off the phone.

Instead, you want to communicate with the bank in a manner which suggests that you’re an organized professional who is capable of escalating the matter if the bank does not handle it themselves. You do not yell – not that you’re ever verbally speaking with anyone, but you wouldn’t yell in a letter, either. You do not bluster. (“I will tell on you to my attorney” is, generally, bluster, and that’s bluster that is common to people who do not actually have attorneys.) You instead present as if you’re collecting a paper trail.

Actually, that last bit is great advice if you need to handle any problem with any company. Acting professional will get you much further than not.

Public Service Announcement: You Should Not Force Quit Apps on iOS or Android

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has the definitive post on why you shouldn’t force quit apps on your iOS device (double-pressing the home button and swiping them away):

The single biggest misconception about iOS is that it’s good digital hygiene to force quit apps that you aren’t using. The idea is that apps in the background are locking up unnecessary RAM and consuming unnecessary CPU cycles, thus hurting performance and wasting battery life.

That’s not how iOS works. ...[U]nfreezing a frozen app takes up way less CPU (and energy) than relaunching an app that had been force quit. Not only does force quitting your apps not help, it actually hurts. Your battery life will be worse and it will take much longer to switch apps if you force quit apps in the background.

The only reason you should force quit an app is if it is misbehaving, such as not responding. All of this reasoning and advice applies equally to Android, which operates in a similar way.

If you force quit apps to keep the app-switcher clean, know that you are hurting your phone’s battery life and your experience. At the time of writing there is no alternative way to keep the app switcher clean.

What Football Will Look Like in the Future

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I highly recommend reading this story put out by SB Nation about what football will look like in the future.

It looks at the future of football...in the year 17776. Very creatively written and presents a number of philosophical ideas about the future of humanity. It also presents a future for humanity I hadn’t considered before.

Forewarning: it’s long (25 chapters), so I recommend reading it over a number of days. It was originally released one chapter per day.

Found via Daring Fireball.

Put down that cellphone; distracted-driving law is here

A new distracted driving law has come into effect in Washington state, making cell-phone, or any other electronic, use while driving a primary offense (meaning you can be pulled over for it). If you drive in Washington state, take note if you’ve been using your phone while driving.

The Seattle Times has all of the details, but here are the key points:

Q. What is banned?

The law forbids all handheld uses. Not just phone calls, but composing or reading any kind of message, social media post, photograph or data.

Drivers may not use handheld devices while at a stop sign or red-light signal.

All video watching is illegal, even in a dashboard or dash-mounted device.

This is fantastic. If you are having to hold your device in order to do something, you shouldn’t be driving at the same time (including stopped at a light, where people inevitably don’t see the light turn green).

Q. What’s legal?

Common built-in electronics, including hands-free phones, satellite music and maps, are legal.

Drivers may even turn on a smartphone that’s mounted in a dashboard cradle, for limited purposes such as navigation apps, a voice-activated call, or music streaming. The new law allows the “minimal use of a finger.”

Handheld phone calls to 911 or other emergency services are legal. [...] Amateur radio equipment and citizens-band radio remain legal.

This is where this law shines. It recognizes that for many people, including myself, their cell-phone is their car’s entertainment system. By allowing for “minimal use of a finger”, my phone can be my music and navigation center, as long as it’s dash-mounted. This use is similar to someone using the factory entertainment system in their car, which has been legal since cars have had them.

I do question how enforceable this law is, but at worst it is a step in the right direction. We will see over time how effective it is.

Picture of two trucks facing the camera with a snow-capped mountain in the background between them.

Overland: WABDR Section 2

A couple of weekends ago, a buddy and myself took our trucks and went exploring in the southern Cascades. To say the trip was more than I was expecting would be an understatement.

We met up in Packwood Saturday afternoon, then headed to a secret dispersed campsite for the night. This was my first time dispersed camping so it was great to truly get away from civilization.

Picture of the campsite, with a campfire, table and two trucks with their tailgates facing each other.

Sunday morning we hit the dirt, aiming to complete Section 2 of the WABDR from Packwood to Ellensburg.

For context, the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route, or WABDR, is a route across Washington state from the Oregon border to the Canadian border, almost exclusively on dirt roads. It was originally mapped out by adventure motorcyclists, but can also be completed by ATV’s and full-size trucks. Consisting of 6 sections, the route takes about 6 days to complete if done continuously, but it’s common to do sections individually as we did with Section 2.

The first part of the drive is a climb up to Bethal Ridge. Along the way, you must traverse across the side of a mountain, with a beautiful valley below. There is one spot in particular that offers an incredible photo opportunity.

Panoramic picture with truck on elevated plateau overlooking a valley.

The high point of our trip (literally) is Bethal Ridge at 6200 feet of elevation, offering stunning views of the surrounding valleys and Mt. Rainier in the distance. This is the best view I’ve ever had while eating lunch.

Panoramic picture of a distinctly high ridgeline amongst rolling hills, with mountains in the distance.

You can see the rest of the pictures in the slideshow below. This route was moderately technical, but my stock F-150 (including running boards!) with good tires was able to complete it with a bit of thoughtful tire placement and some spotting through the narrow spots.

If you do the WABDR, or any backcountry exploring, make sure you travel with a buddy or have lots of experience before venturing out alone. In the latter half of the trip we helped out someone on an adventure bike who had crashed and was struggling to re-orient his heavy bike on a steep grade. If we had not showed up, his options weren’t great as I don’t think he had communication options while he was far away from cell service.

This was arguably my first true overland adventure and I can’t wait to do more. It was revitalizing and a ton of fun.



Introducing “Mixer”

Congratulation to everyone on the Beam Mixer team for the rebrand and all of the new features launching today! Go check it out.

If you haven’t heard of Mixer before, I’ll let one of the co-founders, Matt, explain on the Xbox blog:

Mixer is livestreaming that’s actually LIVE, compared to the 10 – 20 second latency you typically get on other platforms. What’s more, viewers can actively participate in what’s happening on screen instead of just watching from the sidelines. With Mixer, you can influence everything from quest selection to tools to movement, mixing it up with your favorite streamers to create a new kind of gaming experience. The Minecraft team is experimenting with the interactivity that Mixer offers as a possibility for official game integration. And, some Minecraft community members have already created interactive experiences using this technology that allow viewers to do things like spawn in zombies or change the weather.

There’s tons of cool changes coming, including co-streaming, enabling “up to 4 streamers can combine their streams into a single viewer experience”; Mixer Create beta, “a new mobile app that enables self-broadcasting”; and Channel One, an always-on, moderated channel of content that lets you see what’s happening across Mixer.”

I’m working on the Mixer apps for iOS and Android, and can’t wait to help bring new features to the community.

iOS Storyboards Tutorial

I’m starting to learn iOS app development, so I wanted to learn the basics of the latest and greatest for iOS UI development: Storyboards. A quick search online lead me to this great tutorial at raywenderlich.com.

I found it was short, to the point and covered the basics well. It got me introduced to the interface in XCode and the primary concepts of Storyboards. I would recommend it if you’re jumping into iOS development.

Federal government to test 'name-blind' recruiting process

The CBC:

The pilot program will involve six of the government’s biggest departments: National Defence; Global Affairs Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Public Services and Procurement Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

The project, which will hide applicants’ names from hiring managers during the initial screening process, will compare the results with outcomes from traditional applicant shortlisting. Brison said research has shown that English-speaking employers are 40 per cent more likely to pick candidates with an English or anglicized name than an ethnic one.

Credit to the Canadian government for this initiative. Usually changes like this start in the private, not public, sector. I hope the CBC follows-up with the results of this trial, as I think they will be illuminating.

It’s worth remembering that even if this is successful, name-blind recruiting isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to fighting discrimination in hiring. Once selected for an interview, a candidate still has to make it through an in-person interview where their minority status will inevitably be revealed.