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Four-wheel drive (4WD) refers to vehicles in which the engine powers all four wheels at the same time. These vehicles often allow drivers to switch from two- to four-wheel drive as conditions require. The 4WD setting is very popular for going off-road into the thick of nature.
"The byproduct of seeing nature this way is that you gain respect for it,” says Bruce Elfstrom, the CEO of Overland Experts, an East Haddam, Conn.-based off-road driving school.
Many people feel 4WD vehicles are also better in bad weather conditions, such as rain, snow and ice. However, the added traction 4WD provides under some of these conditions shouldn’t lead owners to get overconfident. In fact, in at least one respect, 4WD presents a disadvantage. With this in mind, Elfstrom offers these tips for safe driving.1. Stay in the no-spin zone.
The key to safe steering in bad weather is maintaining traction. Vehicles with 4WD are considered superior in this category, but you still have to be careful about spinning. "The grip needs to remain spread to all wheels, if possible,” Elfstrom says. "To accomplish this, go soft on the throttle and give power gently. It’s like walking on ice.”2. Maintain personal space.
One disadvantage of 4WD vehicles is that they weigh more than two-wheel-drives, so they’re slower to stop. That means you need to allow even more distance between you and the car in front of you. "Aggressive drivers end up in accidents long before drivers with forethought and finesse,” Elfstrom says.3. Give your brakes a break.
Increasing the distance between your 4WD and the vehicles ahead is also helpful because it allows you to avoid slamming on the brakes. In a 4WD, the brakes will lock up in this situation, even if you have an anti-lock braking system. "This means your vehicle becomes a sled,” Elfstrom says. "It’s out of control. Instead of slamming, corner softly and brake softly. Always assume you’re about to lose traction.”
4. Think ahead. Keep focused on the road and the vehicles ahead of you so you can anticipate and avoid collisions, even when you require more time and distance to stop. "A driver has to drive for others around them,” Elfstrom says. "Not everyone has the same reaction time as you, or can see as well as you, or has the same pulling power as you.”
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