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Winter and why you need stability control

Blessed with living in the Kootenays means we get four distinct seasons. Fortunately or unfortunately, winter is one of them. During the winter we must drive and drive we do. Winter driving is filled with very different driving conditions and we must quickly adapt to each or suffer the consequences.

If you own a vehicle with all wheel drive you may feel winter driving is less of a challenge than mere mortals with only two wheels to propel them up steep slippery slopes. The addition of electronic computerized control systems means two wheel drive vehicles have come a long way when it comes to winter driving. As important as ascending a slippery slope can be, the descent is likely more difficult and having four driven wheels is not nearly as important on the downhill slide so to speak.

The advent of anti-lock brake systems (ABS) begot traction controls systems (TCS) which begot electronic stability control systems (ESC). Old Testament speak. All these systems are now built into many late model vehicles. If you have not driven a late model two wheel drive vehicle with all these systems you owe it to yourself.

They literally anticipate your mistakes and, provided the vehicle is equipped with four of the best in snow tires, the results can be amazing. Some computers and software are now in charge of your throttle (gas pedal) and your brakes (all four wheels individually).

Inputs of lateral, yaw, and roll sensing accelerometers combined with a steering angle sensor increases the capability of a seemingly simple traction control system to a dynamic stability control system that can make you a master at negotiating winter’s traction vagaries.

How this all works is probably a very tedious physics lesson. Suffice to say these accelerometers combined with wheel speed sensors that can read the driver’s intentions, do some calculations and apply the necessary correction to the driver’s input. A little too much gas pedal, no worries. You can only have enough power to stave off the onset of slip. Coming into a corner a little too quickly and your vehicle is not steering in the direction in which you have the wheels pointed. A little braking of the front and rear inside wheels and voilà life is looking and feeling a lot better.

For these systems to work their magic, your vehicle’s braking system must be top notch. They require very rapid cycling of the individual brakes. That fine vibration you feel and noise you hear are the solenoids and pump controlling the flow of brake fluid in the brake system. Many of these systems require a new lower viscosity (thinner) brake fluid to meet the needs of fast action and reaction.

Remember that when any of the orange warning lights associated with these systems are lit then the system is no longer functional but basic braking is available. If the red brake light is on with these orange warning lights, then you could have an impaired basic brake system and repair is a must.

Once you have experienced the capability of one of these newer systems, like your seat heaters, you just won’t want to live without it.

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