Winter Driving in a Front Wheel Drive Hybrid: Keep Your Distance

I learned to drive in midwestern winters. I mastered the art of pulling out of a fishtail on an icy road without leaving my lane by the time I was seventeen. When friends got stuck in snow or ice, they called me to come get them out. I never liked to drive in winter but I was confident in my ability to do so safely… until I got a Ford C-Max Hybrid.

I love my car. Of all the cars I have owned, this one is my hands down favorite. It’s like a tardis. From the outside, it looks like a compact hatchback. But then you get inside and it sits like an SUV. Case in point: one of my first passengers was a 6’5″ guy friend, he got into the front passenger seat and stretched out. He was so impressed that he jumped back out and scrambled into the back center seat and sat up tall. There were still 4-5 inches of space above his head and his knees weren’t hiked up into his chest. “I’m so comfortable. This is amazing.” I was quite proud of my little-big car. And the handling! On dry or rainy roads, it’s a pleasure to drive, with such responsive steering. My car leaves other cars in the dust with its high torque electric engine. I just gently tap the gas pedal and z-o-o-m! I can barely see my former stop light comrades in my rear view mirror.

Summer driving like… WEEEEEE!

But the second the temps fall below freezing, all bets are off. Not only does the efficiency of the hybrid battery go to shit, but the tires spin out on frost. FROST. When there is actual snow accumulation, my car will get stuck. I have had to get help driving out of my parking spot due to 2″ of powder, let alone more. The issue: it’s that torque! The tires spin so fast at the shadow of my foot that they instantly melt and refreeze snow into a perfect well of ice. The car is so lightweight, to help with its efficiency, that it can’t get a grip on the road like a heavy vehicle can. The slightest puff of wind and I’m sliding sideways. And there is no option to add weights because it is a front wheel drive car. Which also means that when I start fishtailing, all of my instincts are wrong.

This is me turning on snow. 

So– Ladies and Gentlemen, and everyone in between, when you find yourself sharing the road with a low-profile hybrid vehicle, give us some space. We’re going to accelerate slowly so we don’t just spin out and get stuck. We’re going to take corners very slowly since our back end is very likely to slide out. If it’s windy we’re going to drive extremely slow to maintain contact with terra firma. Don’t get pissy. Because if I slide a bit and I have room, it’s NBD for you. If I slide a bit and you hit my car, I am going to make it a very big, protracted, painful ordeal for you. I’m driving carefully to prevent my car from causing damage to you, your passengers, your vehicle, pedestrians, woodland critters, and public infrastructure. If you insist on tailgating me and my car loses control I will take you with me. 

My tips for winter driving in a front-wheel drive hybrid:

  1. Just don’t. Do you really need to drive somewhere today? Can you wait until snow plows come through and clear the roads? Utilize delivery services or public transit.
  2. Get snow tires. They’re noisy and will affect efficiency but they might save your life and/or car.
  3. Get yourself some heavy duty, rugged, floor mats. You’re going to use these to get out of those massive 1-2″ snow drifts, by jamming them as close to under the front of your front tires. Mind you– make sure no one you care about is behind your car because they are more than likely to become projectiles. Use this knowledge to your advantage come the Zombie or AI apocalypse.
  4. Be very gentle on the gas and between gentle taps on the gas, move your wheels so as to not form a perfect tire shaped well of ice.
  5. Use these gentle taps when accelerating from a stop. Never try to gun it when it’s frosty, let alone snowy. You’ll end up halfway into traffic and stuck.
  6. giphy-3Slow down to the point of ridiculousness before attempting a turn, prepare for your back end to keep going straight.
  7. Don’t attempt corrective steering when the back end is playing up (fishtailing), do try accelerating to pull the back end in line. But practice this in a closed area first.
  8. With my car, Ford C-Max, you can’t lift the wiper blades because they’re blocked by the hood. You’ll need to get them thawed and manually get ice off of them.
  9. Slow down until tailgating aholes pass you, and as they do passive-aggressively scratch your driver side cheek with your middle finger. If it’s a pickup truck featuring camo (and it’s always a pickup truck featuring camo) be sure to wiggle your pinkie so that they know that you know that they have a tiny prick.
  10. Find a snow plow and drive behind it.
Maybe not plow. 

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