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Here’s the thing with automatic transmission in America: People get lulled into the notion that driving all cars is pretty much the same. Here’s the other thing: In the snow, that notion flies out the window. Cars that have a lot of power and—hey!—ballast shouldn’t be the ones fishtailing in and out of snowbanks. This weekend, you saw vehicles with epithets like Highlander, Tundra, Expedition, All-Powerful Yeti, and so on, skidding pell-mell into street signs, other cars, leering snowmen, &c. Which can be funny, but would definitely make for a lame Chevy commercial.
It’s amazing what you can do with a manual transmission and a bare minimum of common sense. I don’t expect these addled SUV pilots to read a word of what follows, but here’s hoping:
1. Wipe that sheet of ice off the top of your car. Yes, this weekend’s precip. was wet and unlikely to ice into something that can decapitate a sedan. But it’s goddamn irresponsible to drive around with upwards of three feet of snow & ice piled atop your great hulking vehicle. It’s bad for visibility, and—in the event that your snail-like reflexes allow for fast braking—it can seriously fuck the windshield of whoever’s behind you. Ask anyone from north of Delaware; after cursing you and all your living relatives, they will say yes, you should indeed clean that shit off your car.
2. “Can You Rock?” This was the question posed to me by an emo friend as we maneuvered my old Subaru into a trenchlike parking space. At first, I took this as a simple expression of encouragement—he’s trying to amp me up! And yes, I can rock! Then, his meaning became clear: I was to employ the classic two-rev-forward, two-rev-back technique suitable to all snow- (or, for that matter, mud)-drenched conditions. And, with the exception of a sleek late-model Toyota sedan at the corner of 8th and Allison NW, I witnessed few other drivers this weekend who could, properly speaking, rock.
3. Just ‘cuz it’s snowing, a yellow light doesn’t automatically become a red light. Yes, I know there’s 4-6 inches of indifferent slush caking Georgia Avenue. But you’re also driving a Four-Runner. And if Sam Neill could outrun a T-Rex in that thing, then you can damn well make a left turn in all of 12 seconds.
4. Use all that weight! If you’re driving a tank-like SUV, you’ve got mass on your side. Use it! Plunge with confidence into the two-foot plowlines blocking the traffic circle; steer flintily, and—should you start to fishtail—in the direction of the skid. Also, accelerate!
5. Push. Sorry dude, gunning the accelerator is just gonna flood your engine and dig you deeper into that uphill morass.
I wonder at times like these if SUV drivers in relatively snow-free parts of the country experience buyer’s remorse during record-setting blizzards. You look silly driving a Hummer in D.C. in July; but you look a hell of a lot sillier driving the same car, badly, in 30 inches of snow. Would a little 1973 Citroën fare at least as bad? Yes. Yes it would. But the Citroën driver would have an excuse. And it would make an awesome Mr. Bean video.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery