How to Drive in Snow on Hilly Roads – Traction Control Does Not Always Help

How to Drive in Snow on Hilly Roads

I demonstrate driving a modern 2 wheel drive, front wheel drive vehicle on some snowy, hilly unplowed roads. I also will show why in some circumstances traction control can limit your ability to climb or get unstuck. There are certain situaitons where turning traction control off can actually help.

When I filmed this video, I was using tires that were completely worn out. They had approx. 62,000 miles on them (rated for 50,000) and were due to replaced later the same week. Since we happened to get some snow a few days before I had the new tires, I decided it would be a good opportunity to demonstrate driving with very poor traction. While its always best to have tires much better suited for snow driving, this video shows that they will even work when they are not.

The biggest key to winter driving in the snow is to be smooth and graceful with all inputs to the car. Accelerate smooth, brake smooth, and turn smooth and gradual. Any jerky input will increase the chances the tires will lose traction and slide.

When you are sliding, releasing the brake will usually allow the tires to regain traction. If you need to slow down, you can then reapply the brake gently. If the slide resumes, repeat this process, gently tapping the brake until control is regained.

This is especially important if you need to steer the vehicle away from an obstacle during the slide. If the brake is being held, the front tires cannot rotate. And if they cannot rotate, they cannot steer the vehicle. In a previous post, How to Control a Slide on Icy Surfaces ( I used a viral video of a mass pile-up which made an excellent example of the difference between vehicles that did use this technique, and those that did not, on the same stretch of road.

Traction Control on newer vehicles is very sophisticated. It’s purpose is to prevent the driver from spinning the tires. Wheel spin can cause the vehicle to begin to slide. While controllable, it requires some practice. Additionally, on dry pavement conditions, you get more traction without spinning the wheels.

However in some conditions, including long snowy climbs, some wheel-spin can actually increase the total traction and help the vehicle maintain momentum. The problem with traction control in these conditions is that it as soon as it detects a wheel slipping, it reduces the power to the wheels. when it is very slippery out, the traction control computer continually reduces power to the wheels until you reach the point there is virtually zero power to the wheels. Even with the pedal to the floor, the vehicle will just act like you are not pressing the accelerator at all.

In the video I show this sort of situation, and then how to disable traction control. With the traction control disabled, I was then able to start moving and gradually build enough speed to climb the hill.

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Comment (48)

  1. Thanks so much for this video. I drive a Ford C-Max that got stuck in the snow on a slight uphill incline when I stopped at a stop sign today. My stability control light came on, and stepping on the gas pedal wasn't making the car move. Jason99942 is right. I had no idea how to turn traction control off.

  2. Traction control can kill momentum. Traction control attempts to keep the tires in control but isn't always smart enough to get you from point A to point B. Sometimes getting from point A to point B depends on when to shut your traction control off. There are situations when momentum must be used rather than killed in order to successfully traverse a definitive length of roadway. Examples:You see a stretch of highway that has drifted over with fairly deep snow. You perceive that you may have to plow through it and use momentum. Turn the traction control off. If you don't the traction control will sense the slipping of the wheels and will slow the engine and/or tire speed down. Eventually bogging you down enough that you may slow down to a halt and be permanently stuck in the middle of a drift.You see a slick hill in front of you. It's not that long of a run to get to the top but you perceive that it would be best to use momentum to climb it. So you turn your traction control off so there is no chance the traction control system will slow your vehicle and reduce your needed momentum.Momentum is your friend in some situations. With traction control off your vehicle may get squirrely. That's when your right foot becomes your manually operated traction control and then decides if traction control trumps momentum or not. In summary traction control is best used in constant state slick conditions where momentum could never last long enough to get the job done.

  3. Thanks for that. I live in a place where we hardly get any snow, then we get a load all at once. So I don't get any practice before it arrives. Didn't know that a bout the traction control. Thanks again man. 👍

  4. Lmfao i got stuck and made a huge traffic because my traction control was on lmfaoooooooo the button was right there too i didnt kniw it can stop the vehicle from moving i was like great lol lol

  5. My 2013 Ford Focus SE Hatch 5 spd man., book states to turn off traction control for slick road conditions. I never saw you down shift:( Going up or down snowy hills. I down shift to the next lower gear to keep traction. I never use the traction control feature of the car. I found it to be another unless feature on the car like Sync, Bluetooth, too many steering wheel controls, too many interior lights, and redundancies with the overall computer system. I hear they've improved thing since my year model. However, the Focus is an easy driver in the snow and handles really well for what she is:)

  6. Thank you for posting this (and for everyone's comments) as it reinforces what I thought about my '14 Grand Caravan. It's the 1st vehicle I've ever had w/stability control, and it drives me nuts :/

  7. Thanks for this, I’m from Tulsa OK and while we do get snow here it’s not usually much more than 5” which isn’t anything I can’t handle in my 4×4, but I’m a freshman at Colorado School of Mines and we just got 5” a couple of weeks ago so I can only imagine what it’s going to be like trying to get home for Christmas when it’s actually winter. Thanks Again!!

  8. From a standing stop, ease on gas pedal with transmission in low to second and counter-steer, back/forth, repeatedly and the vehicle will walk right up the hill. DO NOT increase pedal pressure for faster forward momentum as the vehicle may loose traction.

  9. Traction crontole is utterly shit, it takes way to much control of you. I always shut it off when driving my Subi in the snow. And a chance that it's a big button on the left side of the dash, easy to acces. I was going too fast in a curve, tried to turn and nope, traction control! Locked me straight foward… quickly deactivated that thing and was able to turn, well more like drifting without the traction control fighting my imput.
    It also almost made me hit a big pile of snow. My right wheels were having issues gripping because of all the snow on the side, the traction controle slowed them down and it made me steer toward the right side. Again, deactivate the traction control to steer out of this mess.

  10. Nope don't need traction control or 4×4 cause i don't have it when you drive a two wheel drive front wheel drive such as 1993 Ford Taurus GL in a foot to two feet of snow plowed or not it pushes the snow out of the way when driving on non plowed dirt road i live on.. An with all weather tires you learn skills to counter spinning out on paved powdery roads while fish tailing an stay on a curvy mountain roads as i live on a mountain that gets deep snow

  11. Sometimes there's areas on the road where there's fresh, untouched snow. That's better than the compacted, polished main tracks everybody else rides on. In a front wheel drive car, try backing up a hill. That'll put more weight on the driven axle. Permanently pick a line and max speed in such a way that you'd be safe sliding in a straight line without hitting anything for the next few seconds at anytime. If you crash in a slippery spot, get out of your car and warn other drivers from a safe position. Don't put your car on any square foot of road you haven't seen or thought about.

  12. I just had a situation like this in the morning. I have to drive up a very steep hill to get to my garage, maybe 40 degree angle or steeper. There was an ice storm last night, the rain quickly froze to ice and then about four inches of snow fell on top of it. Driving home from work in my hilly area was okay except for this last hill up to my garage. The car got stuck going up. I didn't know anything about the traction control system so after trying different speeds and rocking it for about ten minutes I gunned it up the hill and slowly made it up (over a couple minutes) maybe 100 ft to my garage. The pedal was down to the floor and I was going about the same speed you were in this video.

    There was a burning rubber smell the whole time I was stuck trying to get uphill and then again when I finally started to climb. Do you know what this smell could have been and if there could be serious damage? The car is a 2003 Buick LeSabre.

  13. Great video here. You should also always downshift as well going down an icy/snowy hill. In my truck (which is an automatic), if I am under 30-35 mph, I will downshift to 2nd gear before riding down an icy hill. That way, you barely need to use the brake, if at all. Let the engine slow you down on an icy hill. Just make sure you don't over-rev your engine (keep it under 2,500-3,000 RPMs). If you're over 35 mph, try to stay in 3rd or 4th gear.

  14. just a tip. if you driving up hill in snow road don't try to speed up because your wheels they just gonna keep spinning that when you see your self not going anywhere so try put your car in 2nd gear it gives the car less torque on the wheels spinning just take easy and slowly and one more thing your steering wheel turn it left and right keep it between 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock not fast not slow something in the middle

  15. Thank you for making this video. My girlfriend and I were arguing over whether or not to turn it off while going up an incline in slippery conditions. I told her to turn the damn thing off! She wouldn't take my word for it. So your video helped. All about keeping that momentum up. . . which traction control defeats.

  16. That traction control setting should be much easier to access, such as a button on the dash somewhere.
    That is a very poor design decision by Ford.

    Over 1/2 the drivers of that car – likely more, will have NO idea how to disable traction control.

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