The real world of wet and snowy roads.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

Could you recommend the proper way to slow down and stop on a slippery road surface? My husband insists on shifting into Neutral (automatic transmission) the moment he begins to brake. He says this disengages the gears and makes the braking more effective because nothing is pushing the car forward while he's trying to brake. He tries to get me to do this, but I have enough to concentrate on without trying to worry about jamming the car into Neutral at the same time.
Also, I seldom drive too fast for conditions anyway, and normally have no trouble stopping on any road surface. He, on the other hand, has so much faith in this method that he often travels quite fast on slippery roads.
We just purchased a 1992 Ford Taurus with driver AND passenger side airbags (at my insistance, since I'm the passenger 90% of the time), but NO anti-lock brakes. He's much too confident about his approach and much too set in his ways to think that he would ever need ABS. Is he taking unnecessary risks, or is he (God forbid!) correct?

TOM: Well Sue, we're glad you talked him into the car with two air bags. Because with him behind the wheel, you may need them!

RAY: Actually, if we look at this as a purely theoretical, physics-class, laboratory experiment, he has a point, but it only applies at very low speeds. In the real world of wet and snowy roads, however, putting the car in Neutral doesn't help you at all. In fact, at speeds above a few miles and hour, taking the car out of gear may even increase your stopping distance, since it eliminates the natural braking effect of the engine.

TOM: So we agree with you, Sue. You DO have enough to do in an emergency stop without worrying about shifting into Neutral. Concentrate on watching the road, steering the car and coming to a safe stop.

RAY: But what disturbs us more than the fact that your husband likes to play with his gearshift, is that he thinks he's invulnerable. He's so convinced that he can stop the car from any speed under any conditions, that he drives like a knuckle?head. And that's why we're glad you have two air bags.

TOM: It's too bad you couldn't talk him into anti lock brakes, too, Sue. ABS really helps you steer the car during emergency stops. And it'll do a whole lot more for you than shifting into Neutral. But other than getting ABS on your next car, our advice is to do what you're already doing; drive slowly enough so that you're always in control of your car, and do everything you can to convince you husband to do the same. And if you can't convince him, I'd enroll in an adult education class and learn how to do auto body work.

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