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Dealing with slush and ruts

One of the tricky tasks facing drivers in winter occurs when we encounter heavy slush, or, similarly, trying to get out of ruts or trails left by preceding vehicles.

This happens at the two ends of the winter temperature scale — thick, heavy, wet slush when the thermometer hovers near the freezing mark, or frozen snow on top of a surface of pure ice.

Our conditions on the East Coast — large temperature variations around the freezing point over a short period of time — are unique.

Our region, especially those areas near the ocean, is known throughout the auto industry as among the worst in the world for encouraging rust.

That same propensity to go from above to below freezing — or the other way around — results in slush as snow melts and mixes with water. It often then starts to freeze again.

The result is thick semi-snow with lots of deep ruts. Getting safely out of those ruts depends on slowing down and avoiding sudden inputs.

The only places your vehicle touches the ground are the four little areas beneath each tire. They are about the size of the palm of your hand and called contact patches.

They and they alone determine how the vehicle starts, stops and turns. Everything you do as a driver relates to those contact patches.

The trick is to treat them with respect and shift weight among them gradually. No sudden moves.

When you turn the steering wheel, you cause some of the weight of the vehicle to transfer to one side. When you walk, you shift weight from one foot to the other.

That weight shift onto the outside front tire, can generate an additional and often overpowering load on it.

The same is true for braking. Suddenly jumping on the brake pedal will shift a lot of new weight onto the two front contact patches — and off the rear ones.

The extra weight on the front will likely overcome the available grip. If there is any steering input at this moment, the sudden change in fore/aft weight distribution will result in a spin.

By planning and looking ahead you will gain enough extra time to ease onto the brake pedal, gradually moving some weight onto the front tires.

Let the tires do their thing as they are designed do their job when rolling forward.

The tread design has biting surfaces on the edge, including channels to throw away snow, water or slush.

By steering slowly and gradually into the edge of the rut or slush, you allow the edges of the tire to get maximum grip.

If you turn too much, the sidewall on the outside of the tire contacts the edge of the rut. Sidewalls don’t have any tread.

Once you have started a gradual turn keep a tight grip on the wheel and avoid reacting to the tugging you will feel.

Let the tire bite through the rut and, just before you get where you want to go, very gradually turn in that direction.

Avoid any sudden or excessive movement of the steering wheel.

Slow and steady does it.

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