Tires, ice and quattro (long)

Doyt W. Echelberger Doyt at
Tue Dec 3 09:53:42 EST 2002

Yesterday afternoon northern Ohio was hit by record low temperatures and
snow which continued until this morning. It totalled 5 inches and
temperatures dropped to 7 degrees F in places. That is record cold in these

I was 60 miles from home with two members of my family in the car when it
started. We decided to cancel our afternoon activities and start for home
in the daylight, because it was obvious that 5 o'clock traffic and
accidents would tie everything up. Crews were salting the roads and the
traffic was beating the snow into frozen slush, and it was so cold that the
salt wasn't working very well.

One stretch of I-90 on the west side of Cleveland had to be closed because
it became one solid sheet of ice for miles, and the plows just made the ice
smoother. Police blocked the ramps and kept everyone off the road. This is
almost unheard of. We managed to get through this area before they blocked
it off.

Traffic on the turnpike slowed from the usual 70+ pace, and even the 18
wheelers were slowing down. Passenger cars were crawling along but
everybody was still moving.

My old 87 5ktq (with 264k miles on it) was running on 3 year old Arctic
Alpins, and the combination of all-wheel drive and high tech tread really
made a difference.  I didn't have to slow down when everything else was
having trouble staying out of the ditches. It was amazing. I played with
the wheel a few times and tried to fish tail, but couldn't. The Alpins bit
in and it came right back into line.  I pumped the brakes and the car slid
but it was slowing down and grabbing like we were on gravel rather than
ice. I had control.

I was able to run on the highways at any legal speed I wanted, and on the
side streets where it was sheet ice I could turn and stop the car well
enough to feel comfortable being there. I had a predictable range of
control. I have driven the same streets in the quattro (pre-Arctic Alpin)
when turning the wheel changed nothing and braking had no effect at all.
Actually, this time the problem was staying away from other cars that were
sliding around sort of at random.

I can't imagine spending a winter in Ohio without a car like this, equipped
with ice tires. And the tires are the biggest part of the equation. The
Arctic Alpins are doing the job. I examined the tracks they left in the
frozen slush, and the grooves and patterns of the tread had formed the
slush into hard-packed mirror images made of ice. The weight of the car had
squeezed out the water and made the slush into blocks that added up to a
cogwheel-like surface with considerable cumulative grip......enough to
provide some acceptable trade off against the noticeable
higher noise levels of these 3 year-old Alpins on dry roads.

I've also encountered black ice with these tires, where they gave me an
acceptable level of control.  On black ice the micro-siping was able to
interact with the smooth hard ice sufficiently to provide some small amount
of grip that enabled stopping and turning, if I kept the speed low enough.
I've driven the same car on that kind of ice with all-weather tires, and
there was no grip at all at any speed. For stopping and turning, quattro
didn't matter under those conditions. It did help a little at first, in
getting moving, but moving at all was pretty risky.  I encountered a patch
of black ice in the quattro one night about 4 years ago, at night, at about
50 miles an hour. I was running all-weather tires, and I had no control at
all.  Turning the wheel had no effect. Touching the brakes didn't even
change the sound of the tires on the ice. I had zero steering and braking.
Talk about a panic attack.....this experience convinced me of the need for
dedicated ice tires for this quattro.

Snow is no problem.   In Ohio, it is ice and slush.   And those conditions
require a special low-temperature tread material and several patterns of
grooving and siping.

The other part of the problem is that 90% of the time I have ice-free hard
roads. The Alpins have been a good compromise for 3 years. They may even be
up to going 4. I think I'll consider the Kumho's when I replace them, for
half the price. But this 'q' is gonna have dedicated ice tires.

Doyt Echelberger
87 5ktq  Ohio USA

More information about the quattro mailing list