Tire inflation question

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Sep 27, 2004
On another web site, I've had an ongoing debate about tire inflation and how it can relate to traction in snowy conditions. My view, as well as the individual that I debated with, is that there is no real substitution for snow tires when it comes to winter driving. With that said, another person had asked what to do if they didn't have snow tires on a ranger pickup. I suggested that in the absence of snow tires, adding weight in the back plus perhaps reducing your tire pressure by a few pounds, especially the drive wheels, can give you added traction to make it home. I pointed out that I have had some personal experience with this myself. I had gotten caught in a rare snow storm in Seattle one day and had trouble getting up a snow covered hill. The tires on my truck, some type of standard all-season radials, failed to hook up on the snow. The only chance I had, in my mind, was to lower the air pressure (5lbs. or so) in an attempt to get some traction. Well, as it turned out, after bleeding out some of the air from my rear tires I very easily was suddenly able to climb the hill. Now, I understand that nearly all tire companies and consumer web sites tell you that this won't help, but nonetheless it DID work! After stating all of this my opponent told me that it couldn't work since all it did was make the tire wider and that a wider tire does not work well in snow. I agreed with him about a wider tire being poor in snow but stated to him that my tire wasn't truly wider, it just got more surface contact with the snow and DID get more traction as a result. No matter what I said this guy just refused to accept that it can work (even if it is in direct conflict with what info is out there). He told me how it would be dangerous to corner fast (in snow?), and that a blowout could result (who's going to go seventy or more in a snow storm?). In the end I told him that the argument is pointless and that we would have to agree to disagree. Besides, we both could agree on the importance of using real snow tires in a snowy situation. I just can't believe that he could tell me that what I had experienced (several times since), didn't happen and couldn't be factual. Anybody have any similar stories or am I full of hot air??
I don't know if it directly relates, but there was a show on Speed TV about people in Iceland who drive around on glaciers in Toyota Land Cruisers. They have huge tires that are so soft you can run over your arm with the truck, and you'll be fine. As they get higher up the mountain and into deeper and deeper snow, they let more and more air out of the tires, until they're down to 5 or 10 psi. This way they drive across the top of the snow (powder, not packed) and don't sink in near so badly. This is probably extreme and may not apply to street driving, but if you're driving on virgin snow on a glacier, then yes, let air out of your tires! And modify your suspension and get big soft baloon tires...
There are 2 different situations here. The first is that it is always better to get through the snow and down to the pavement. That is where the narrow tires / high pressure recommendation comes from. Added weight also helps. HOWEVER, if you can't get down to the pavement, then wide with low pressure is the way to go. This puts less pressure on the snow and provides more edges to the snow surface to get traction. So both of you are right. It just depends on what the surface is. Hope this helps.
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