I perform a traction test anytime I believe the road surface under my wheels is in question. It’s a simple test that allows you to judge for yourself how well your tires, the road, and weather conditions match up to provide the grip necessary for safe driving. Sometimes traction is poorest when you least expect it.
I’m willing to explain this method, but be careful if you try it. It can be hazardous if you overdo it, so take it easy when testing. Here’s how it’s done:
Find a stretch of road that is straight and representative of what you’re traveling on.
Make certain there aren’t any cars nearby. Give yourself plenty of space – perhaps three hundred yards or so.
Slow down by about 5 to 10 miles per hour so you have better control should the road surface be more slippery than you imagine.
Prepare yourself to recover if you begin to drift, skid, hydroplane or fishtail.
With an automatic transmission, simply lift off the gas when you perform the test. With a manual transmission, you’ll have to push in the clutch while performing the test.
Strike the brakes lightly, sharply and very briefly to see how your vehicle reacts. Be sure to get off the brakes quickly so your wheels can track (continue to turn) and thus allow you to steer your vehicle.
Continue the traction test by increasing the intensity of the strike on the brake pedal, but make certain you release the brake pedal quickly. Continue to increase the intensity of the strike on the brakes until you’re satisfied that you have sufficient traction on the road, or you find the point where you’re losing traction.
Adjust your speed and approach to handling the vehicle according to your findings.
While traveling through New Mexico one winter morning many years ago, I noticed that the road surface appeared to be covered with frost. I questioned the traction that I had with my big lumbering sedan, so I performed a traction test and determined that I couldn’t travel any faster than 45 miles per hour. I distinctly remember two trucks blasting by me and thinking that they either had a better idea of what was a safe speed for them, or they were headed for trouble.
About 10 to 15 minutes later I passed them on the road and as I expected, they weren’t – on the road that is. One was jack-knifed in the median and the other was only a few miles farther down the road turned over on its side in the median. We all need to drive our own drive and let others drive theirs.
Perform a traction test when road conditions are in doubt, and you’ll be able to more correctly determine a safe speed for your vehicle.