Calgary Winter Driving: Hellish (In a Frozen Way)

So here I am, driving home from church this morning, thinking about how incredibly poor the driving conditions are – it took me about twice as long to get to church as normal this morning because I had to slow down so much in order to be safe. For the past month or so, I’ve also been thinking about trying winter tires this year. I’ve never owned winter tires before, but as I thought about what it’s like to drive our two cars on snow and ice – essentially controlled skidding – I thought it might be time to give winter tires a shot. On my way back from church as I was nearing my home, I was marvelling at how the heavy slush made control so difficult – and about one second later I completely lost control of my car (I was driving the Mazda Protege 5). I was heading down a very slight incline, only 30 seconds away from my house, and doing about 25 kmph, and I started sliding to my right. I immediately realized I couldn’t regain control, so I went into damage control mode, aiming my car for a gap between a parked car (on the left), and a fence (on the right). I managed to pull it off, sliding up onto the sidewalk and into a green space area that is also the start of a walking path. Unfortunately there was a large metal pole at the start of the walking path, and I smashed into it.

In the above photo, if you look at the set of tire tracks on the left, the inside tire track is from my left wheel when I was sliding in – I missed the parked car by about four feet. You can see the pole in the middle of the green space area – it was under my car and near the back…so I slid quite far.

This is what I hit – I tried to put it back in, but it didn’t quite want to fit. I’m grateful that the City of Calgary made it a break-away pole…if it was held in place by concrete, I would have caused much more damage to my car (and myself).

And here’s the damage done – it doesn’t look like much, but “not much” in auto terms usually means $1000 to $2000, easily. Since it’s essentially one piece, the whole front bumper will likely need to be replaced.

I’m kicking myself for losing control of the car – the last thing I need right now (OK, ever) is $2000 in car repairs – but I keep telling myself that it could have been much worse if I’d slid into the parked car…then I’d be dealing with not only repairing my own car, but another car as well. I’d have to chose between paying out-of-pocket, or going through insurance and having them hike my rates. Speaking of insurance, I’m reminded once again of how much disdain I have for insurance companies; we’re insured by ING Direct, and like all insurance companies, they consider losing control on icy roads to be an “at fault” accident. Yes, it was my fault because I was driving, but it baffles me that I pay a large monthly fee for insurance against accidents, and when I have an accident, I can’t get it covered. Insurance companies suck – and evidently, so so does my driving skill on snow and nice…

  • I’m glad only property damage resulted from this accident. Do you get fined for damage to city property?

    I’ve only been in a situation like that once and managed — through sheer luck — to avoid hitting anything except the curb. That impact bent one of my wheels, which I had to replace. That was with my old 1990 Nissan Stanza; I’ve had a Subaru Outback for about four years now and I really love the all-wheel drive. While it certainly doesn’t make it possible to drive as though the roads were clear, it definitely improves maneuverability and control of the vehicle in icy and slushy conditions.

  • gdoerr56

    Sorry to hear about the accident. Never a fun thing to have to deal with.

    I’ve been using dedicated snow tires for over 10 years and I swear by them. All the vehicles have been rear wheel drive and I’ve never been stuck even once (except for the time that I didn’t have them on the car!). The difference is staggering and you get a level of control that you don’t get with all season tires. I’m in Chicago and even last year when we had a signifcant amount of snow I no issues whatsoever.

    I’ve purchased the tire and wheel sets from Tire Rack every time and they have perfectly. I also purchased a wall mount tire rack from them last year that gets the tires and wheels up off the garage floor.

    You’ll spend some money having a second set of wheels and tires but it beats the heck out of the trouble you have go through in case of an accident.

  • Dave,
    The first phone call I made was to the City of Calgary (they have this nice “dial 311” service) and I reported the accident. The woman I spoke with said someone would come out to re-seat the pole, but that it was unlikey I’d be charged anything unless the pole was damaged to the point where it couldn’t be used again. Strangely, there wasn’t even any paint transfer that I could see – the pole looks perfect, it just popped out of the ground. They have my information though, so they’ll call me if I need to pay for anything.

    And regarding All Wheel Drive, the first thing I did when I got back to my computer was start looking at the 5-door Subaru Impreza WRX again. 😉

  • gdoerr56,
    Thanks for the info about snow tires – before this accident, I was seriously considering them. After this accident, I’m going to get them for sure…after I get my car repaired. Or possibly sooner if the repair can’t happen for a while.

  • Jason, 4wd won’t make any difference in stopping, but starting would be affected.

    I’m glad to so you’re ok.

    I’d definitely agree on the snow tires and repairing your current car.

  • Hey Jason – something that might help for your next drive in the snow is to pull the ABS fuse before setting off. You’ll have the annoyance of a warning light in the dash, but it might make a huge difference when it comes to stopping, since in snow you can lock the wheels and build up a wedge under the front of the tyres.

    Have been in a situation like yours where I continued sliding down a gentle incline and right across a busy junction. Fortunately didn’t hit anything, but the ABS was running non-stop and making it impossible to stop.

  • David,
    Disabling anti-lock brakes? Hmm. I’m not so sure I want to second-guess the very smart engineers who designed that car. 😉

  • Well, ordinarily it would be an extremely foolish thing to do. However, if you’re on an icy surface and need to stop, you’ll find the ABS is actually releasing the brakes when in fact you might want them locked and building up a wedge of snow. This is, obviously, only useful if you have snow on the ground, otherwise it’s pointless.

    That’s why I slid across the junction: because the brakes locked under slight pedal pressure, the ABS simply released them and made it impossible to slow down. I went on a skid control course a couple of years ago and we spent a lot of time working on cadence braking, which is where you brake with the pressure just on the edge of locking the wheels and it can bring you to a halt quite effectively. It’s also possible to do it with ABS, but harder and you start accelerating again every time it kicks in…

    Like all things it depends what you’re doing – last year I went down a very steep and fairly twisty track with sheer drops to the sides. It was icy and I was damned glad I had ABS. I got up quite a bit of speed but could still steer around the bends! There were a couple of unpleasant crunches from the underneath of the car as I hit a few potholes at speed, but much better than going uncontrollably off the road.

  • Although, thinking about it, it was probably ABS in your scenario that helped you avoid those cars so maybe ignoring my suggestion is the better option! 😉

  • David,
    Thanks for the input and explanation. I’m going to try and find some winter tires and get them studded – and leave my fuses alone. 😉

  • Cold Flame

    Hey Jason,

    Make sure you buy Nokian tires per my suggestion on your other thread regarding winter tires. Truly, you won’t be disappointed. Whether you choose studded or not, they’re the best you can buy! Blizzaks are fantastic, but the ultra-sticky compound they use that makes them so wonderful is worn off so quickly (~20% into the life of the tire) that they aren’t worth it in my book.

  • Cold Flame,
    I’m having a HELL of a time finding ANY winter tires for my car. I’ve called all sorts of places, and apparently my tire size is “rare” or something (sheesh, just like the mini). I have 16″ tires on the Protégé 5. Where’s a good place to buy tires from? I’m honestly surprised I’m having any trouble at all – I just assumed these companies made tires for every car they possibly could…

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  • Cold Flame

    Good places to buy tires? Well, there’s your staples: Blaskin & Lane, Fountain Tire, and Kal-Tire. I can’t remember which of those sells Nokians… either Blaskin or Kal, but I forget which. As well, you might want to try Costco. Although they don’t sell those Nokians, they have some of the most competitive pricing on tires that you’ll find, plus their price includes installation, balancing, new valve stems as well as their road hazard warranty… PLUS they use nitrogen rather than traditional air to fill the tires. It’s supposed to be less susceptible to temperature variances than air is thus resulting in longer life for your tires.

    What size are they if I might ask? 205/55/16? Unfortunately for you, I believe you’re not able to drop down to a 15″ rim because of your brake calipers. If you do go with Nokians, I’ve read/heard/seen many impressive things with the RSi’s. They’re supposed to be amazing. Backing up my suggestion, you can check these two links:

    There’s lots of props for the RSi’s and the Blizzak WS-60’s. Ultimately it comes down to price, availability, and patience! =) Good luck! Let us know what you get…

  • I don’t know if ships to Canada, but they can drop-ship to the tire installer’s shop or your home. See if they carry the Nokians.

  • Cold Flame


    They do ship here, but unfortunately we have to pay for high shipping fees and duty to get them here. That *usually* negates making it worth while. It’s worth checking into for sure though Jason. If you’re intending to go, say, to Montana anytime soon. It would be VERY worth your while to have a set shipped there and installed while you were visiting. Unfortunately you’d still need to pay duty when you came back over the border because it would be pretty hard to explain how you have your summer rims/tires in the back of your vehicle and some brand new spanky rims/tires mounted on the vehicle. *laughs*

    And no, they don’t carry Nokian’s unfortunately.

  • Stan Gritsouk

    Is that an Audi 100 to the left in the first photo?