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Tell Us Your Worst Story Of Winter Driving

Illustration for article titled Tell Us Your Worst Story Of Winter Driving
CountersteerYour true stories of good and bad things that happen in cars.

In two days, two feet of snow will fall on my place of residence. I will be out in my weedy little rear-drive car, making the most of it. But driving in the winter isn’t always a powerslider’s paradise.


That same weedy little rear-driver of mine (pictured above) also does not have a heater. I once took a short road trip in it in the dead of winter with the windows down, given that it has no defroster and the windshield would fog up otherwise.


I later checked how cold it was inside the car accounting for the highway-speed windchill factor. Apparently it was cold enough to kill me in half an hour of driving.

It had been a two hour drive.

Clearly, I am dead.

(I was actually just really cold, wearing two coats, two pairs of gloves, and a balaclava while behind the wheel.)

That might be my worst experience with winter driving. What was yours?


Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

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Back in February of ‘07 we had a Saturn VUE (4 cyl., AWD, and the much despised CVT) which, up until the last few months we owned it, it was a decent CUV. As we approached the 3 yr mark and about 45 - 50 thousand miles on it (I think, we’ll get to that in a bit) it would occasionally start “pinging” us. We noticed nothing out of the ordinary other than the sound and occasionally an ABS light that would come on and the next time we hop in the car it was working fine with no noise or anything. We don’t think anything of it since it is intermittent & GM, these things happen.

By this time our eldest son was born and we were talking about replacing the VUE since it was doing this weird thing. I convinced my wife that instead of getting another SUV thingy that we should get a minivan and with a BIL (brother in law) working at a Dodge dealership we could get a decent deal on one. So we arrange to drive down one Friday after work, we load up the kid and the dog and start off on the 6 hour drive we have done so many times before and so many times since.

Not 5 miles from our house the pinging starts. Every 20- 30 seconds it seems. After just a few minutes I decide that I will not be able to drive the next 395 miles listening to the ping! the entire way and do the reasonable thing. I pull off the Freeway at the first exit find a safe place to park and shut the car off. When I tried to start it back up it was dead. It refused to turn over. All the lights on the dash would turn on as expected and then go off except for the flashing security Icon (SRS I believe). Of course I decided to pull over in a less than desirable neighborhood so my wife was panicking, the dog was barking/whining, and the car refused to start but fortunately the kid was happy as could be. I did what most logical people would do and call the dealership. It was about an hour before they closed for the day, the service adviser I spoke with thought it may be the computer and said they could look at it in the morning. After explaining that we were driving it through two states to trade it in tomorrow he shared how to reset the security “feature” that was keeping the car from starting. It was something along the lines of “turn the key to run and then all the way off 3 times in a row on the fourth time leave it in run and depress the accelerator 3 times while holding your breath and sacrificing a chicken upon an edifice of the General” or something like that. Trust me, this is also an integral part of the story.

While I was on the phone with the dealership my thoughtful wife called her dad and convinced him to come pick up the dog and watch her for the weekend. After a few tries to “reset”, I must not have sacrificed the right chicken, the car was brought back to life. We start off again down 35W and before we even leave the second ring suburbs it starts pining again. Normally, when I’m on the highway I will occasionally check a few things, engine temp gauge, tachometer, or the trip odo. often just to keep my mind occupied as the miles slip away. With a car making the electronic pinging sound I was probably watching things a bit closer than I would otherwise. It was during this time that I noticed our car had a few more miles on the odo. than I had expected, finding this odd I checked the trip odo and found that we had more miles that this thing should since our last fill up. (yes, I reset the trip odo. at each fill up.) As it happens I was watching the trip odo (since this one marked tenths of a mile instead of the standard odo which just shows whole miles) when the car pinged and I saw the number jump two tenths of a mile. SONOVABITCH! I still have somewhere around 5 and a half hours to drive and this thing is adding MILEAGE at a rate of .2 every time this thing pings! Immediately I call my BIL and tell him what is going on with the thing we are bringing in to trade in knowing that we already set a trade in value for the POS and fully expecting him to back out on the deal. He seemed a bit concerned but was overall pretty cool about it and told us not to worry about it. So we trudge on, we should have stopped then...

We were cruising on about an hour away from home doing our best to drown our the ping or ignore it, even starting to laugh at how the mileage is piling up. At this point I think around 70 - 80 thousand were showing. At that point the Tach and Speedo decide they would rather play than do as they were told. Literally, both gauges started bouncing as if they were telling me about each and every bump, crease and seam in the Interstate. They looked more like a Seismograph than a Tach or a Speedo. Laughing, we called my BIL again and let him know still expecting him to back out of this deal in heartbeat but he still held his ground. As we cross over into Iowa the fuel and temp gauge crap the bed. Not wanting to get stuck in the middle of the wasteland that is IA with a 7 month old at night we decide to pull over and fill up, “just in case”..... I never should have turned the car off.

I’m filling up, wifey checks the kiddos pants then runs inside to use the facilities and grab a bit of food. We get already to take off and the car won’t start... again on our second or fourth time we get the car “reset” and she comes back to life bringing our limp temp and fuel gauges and the dancing tach. and speedo but at least it stopped pinging! A few miles down the road the pinging starts up again, god damn this car.

We hit Ames and there is a bit of drizzle, wipers and headlights seem to be working fine and we are keeping pace with traffic. We stop for gas again in Des Moines and again I should have kept the car running but didn’t and again it took a few tries before I get the car “reset”. While in Des Moines (roughtly 30 min.) the drizzle turns into sleet (did I mention it was in February?) Coming out of Des Moines we start seeing cars in the ditch, at first one here or there, later in a few spots one on each side of the road. I take up position behind a Tractor Trailer crawling at I don’t know how fast with just enough room between us to know they were still there and wind is gusting like I have never experienced before. The snow makes it seem like we are in the Millennium Falcon at light speed. Roughly 30- 45 min later the car decides it doesn’t like us having a radio or lights on the dashboard. Not that I was using them, it was just one more damn thing to go wrong. I’m white knuckling it through this version of hell, my wife is trying in not so subtle ways that we should pull over for the night which we finally do about an 90 miles from my parents place. We had been on the road since 3 or 4 in the afternoon and it was now Midnight. As we pull in there happens to be a Motel 8 or something, lobby was packed. Everyone was getting off the road and already exhausted from fighting the road this far, I had no fight to argue for a room. My wife on the other hand had a different thought on the matter. After pulling the “I have a baby in the car” routine along with a few tears we had a room.

My wife and baby are getting settled in the recently acquired room so I set about to get the few bags and pack and play from the car. I slide my way though the lot to this thing we called our car and go to pop the rear hatch from the key fob. Silly me, thinking that that would work. I went to find the lock on the hatch, figuring “why would a hatch not have a lock that one could use a key to open?” only to find that no lock existed. FUCK! Ok, minor setback I’ll just fold down the rear seat and get the shit that way. DAMNIT! Car seat is installed in the center postion and we have this stupid dog gate keeping me from just pulling it over the seat. After what felt like a few hours struggling to get a pack and play along with a few bags through the 1/3 of the seat I could fold down, I was successful. To this day I cannot hold too much of a grudge against IA if for only the fact that they let Gas Stations sell actual beer. I earned it that night.

Next morning, I wrestle everything we pulled out back in. As we back out I notice the power steering is out. Fuck it. We finished our journey, made it to my parents house around 8 that morning. At 9, my wife and I left for the dealership. When we arrived there the car had 220 thousand miles on the odo. One of my BIL’s buddies came up to greet us and started asking questions about the car, specifically that he had a couple that were interested in buying this one. I told him flat out, I would not recommend this car to my worst enemy.

TLDR: Drove a CUV 6 hrs (400 miles) with a computer problem through what turned out to be a “ground blizzard” with no Tachometer, no Speedometer, no fuel gauge, no temp gauge, no power steering, no dashboard lights, no radio, refused to start if you turned it off until you performed a sequence not unlike the “Konami code”, and added an extra 170,000 miles to the trip in order to trade it in on a minivan.