On fear and loathing of stick-shifts: How One Instructor Eases the Pain

By Bill Taylor

The Dodge Colt Turbo is like a rocket-propelled rollerskate, tiny and volatile. Lots of white-knuckle fun, but the last car you’d expect a driving school to use.

There again, Carlos Tomas doesn’t run just any driving school. He calls his operation Shifters. He takes licensed drivers whose idea of motoring is to shove the slush box selector into “D,” and teaches them the ins and outs of a manual transmission and what their left foot is really for.

The Colt is ideal for this purpose. It has one of the sweetest five-speeds around. And as Tomas conducts his one-day, 41/2-hour course (it costs a very reasonable $135) on the highway as well as city streets, the turbo kicks the little econobox up to the legal limit in double-quick time.

Tomas, 33, says most of his students are experienced drivers who have decided to put a little fun into their motoring life. But his course also stresses the defensive aspects of correct stick-shifting and – “because safety is hard thing to sell” – the fact that doing it right can save you a whole bundle of maintenance money.
Shed myths
He is a demanding teacher.

I learned to drive a stick-shift 22 years ago and, though my daily drive has an automatic, I still handle a lot of manual-transmission cars. Tomas told me after an evaluation drive – and I repeat this purely in the interests of journalistic accuracy (honestly) – “You’re one of the better drivers I’ve had out.” But my chick sheet was still full of orange “no-no” marks . . .

• The Colt doesn’t have a “dead pedal” to rest the left foot on so I tend to keep it “cocked” above the clutch pedal. Tomas said that once in a while I was actually riding the clutch lightly. More wear and tear. Similarly, going up and down the gearbox in traffic, I kept my hand on the shift-lever. Strain on the selector forks. Not a lot but enough to add up after a while.

• Not giving the Colt quite enough revs in the first gear, causing it to “lug” a little. I pleaded lack of familiarity with the car and the fact that spinning the wheels is uncool. Tomas let me off for some slightly unsynchronized downshifting, allowing that I wasn’t use to the Colt.

• But he got me for revving the engine too high and shifting up later than I should have. No excuses. I didn’t tell him what a temptation it was to red-line the sucker all the way into 5th. Its like giving a kid a drum and then telling him to keep the noise down.

• Tomas also penalized me for not pacing myself better in traffic and not “reading” stop lights properly. “I’ve driven downtown to my home in Scarborough during rush-hour on the Don Valley Parkway and used my brakes three times,” he says. “It all comes down to reading the traffic flow and planning ahead. I had 60,000 kilometres on my last car when I traded it in and the brakes weren’t even half worn. I expect this car will got to 100,000 kilometres without needing new brakes.”

Among other common stick-shifting faults, Tomas says, are:

  • Incorrect engine-starting procedures. Having the car in neutral and the clutch depressed, he says, minimizes starter and battery wear and is also safer.
  • Waiting at stop signs with the car in gear. Tomas admits there are two schools of thought on this but prefers to have the car in neutral and (foot off the clutch)
  • Leaving the car parked either in gear only or secured only with the handbrake. Use them both, he says.
  • “Clutchitis” – depressing the clutch every time the brakes are applied.
  • Incorrect footwork on slow maneuvers such as parking.
  • Jerky starting, or rolling back on hill-starts.
  • Holding the car on a hill for extended periods with the clutch and accelerator.

Loves standards

The man knows what he is talking about. Tomas has taught standard-shift with Young Drivers of Canada, worked with disabled drivers, and even instructed instructors.

He figures he can take a licensed driver who has never used a stick-shift and within the first hour “have them taking off without jumping. Once they understand the clutch, it’s smooth sailing.”

And he’s a great believer in standard-transmission cars.

“A stick-shift gives you greater control over traction, power and handling and the greater degree of driver involvement also makes you more aware of what’s going on. It’s safer.

“it makes you flexible. Your can drive any type of car, anywhere in the world. And it’s more fun than driving an automatic.

“And it’s cheaper. You’re going to save about $1,000 on the purchase price of a new car if the transmission is manual rather than automatic. If you drive it correctly, your repair bills will be lower. And you’ll also save a lot of fuel – about 11 per cent if it’s a four-speed; 15 per cent with a five-speed.

“Just figure out the global fuel savings if everyone in the world drove a stick-shift.”

Once you’ve got it figured out you can reach Carlos Tomas and Shifters at (416) 921-7845.

The Globe and Mail: Quick, Bring the BMW, I’ve Synchronized those Revs!

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By David Climenhaga – The Globe and MailThe Glove and Mail Logo

Itching to buy that classy sports car but (blush) you don’t know how to shift gears? Help is near, And you get to learn on some pretty hot wheels.

Imagine you’ve finally made it, you’ve got 30 or 40 big ones burning a hole in your pocket and you want wheels that’ll announce your arrival, loud and clear.

But you know, way back before business, law or medical school you learned to drive on Dad’s Detroiter, which was big, plush, heavy, slow – and automatic.

So you face a dilemma: you can buy the BMW or Mercedes your heart desires, with an automatic transmission, and just know that all the real cubic inch guys out there are snickering at you behind their hands. (“Forty grand for that thing and he can’t even shift gears, yuk, yuk.”)

Or you can learn how to shift a standard transmission – which presents problems of its own if you don’t want to burn out that expensive West German-made clutch in two weeks, or worse, stall your silver-grey chromeboat in front of two dozen guffawing Pinto owners.

Which is where Carlos Tomas comes in: your problem is his opportunity.

Now, you could always get a friend to teach you, Mr. Tomas observed yesterday during a combined interview and driving test. But because “the people who phone the school are people who’ve invested in a car anywhere between $16,000 and $40,000 – the average is about $27,000 – they’re not going to want to learn from a friend.

And anyway, he thought (after 10 years of teaching neophyte drivers how to get by on slush-box automatics for a national driving-instruction chain), if car manufacturers can profit from “niche marketing,” why shouldn’t a hard-working car driving instructor?

So early last summer he took his bright idea and set up Shifters Manual Shift Driving School, bought and modified what must be the hottest driving school car in Metropolitan Toronto – a fire-engine-red, turbo-charged Dodge Colt – and got to work on carving out his niche. (The modifications to the Colt, by the way, take the form of passenger-side clutch and brake pedal. Additional cost, if your spouse’s driving is driving you nuts and you’re wondering: about $500.)

Like many people in small business, Mr. Tomas didn’t bother with a lot of expensive or complicated market research. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” he said, ever since he observed in his previous job that “every summer the stick-shift department just went hairy. There were so many calls we just didn’t touch the licenced drivers at all.”

However, he confesses, the real germ of the idea was formed in his first manual car during a hot summer rush hour 16 years ago, grinding and stalling down Toronto’s College Street. (It was an Austin Mini, humiliating enough to be seen in, even without lousy driving.)

Practical experience with Shifters has confirmed his long-held suspicion, Mr. Tomas said, that the real potential for profit is not in training completely new drivers, but with already licenced drivers who have never been behind the wheel of a car with a manual transmission.

In fact, he said, probably 90 per cent of he clients hold a valid driver’s licence – “I would say probably 40 percent have just bought a car, 40 per cent are shopping for a car and about 20 percent are thinking about getting a car, and they want to be able to get a standard.”

Customer subcategories include “husbands who don’t want to end up getting the sports car of their dreams in automatic” and folks bound to European nations where a special licence is required to operate a car with a manual transmission.

“You’d be surprised how many people I work with that have a car in their driveway right now.” ——–

—– The lessons are not always laid out in the same order as those for an automatic car, he adds – for example, there’s no point learning how to park until you know how to start a car on a hill.

Going through the paces yesterday with the Greatest Driver in the World – that is yours truly, this correspondent – Mr. Tomas emphasized synchronized shifting, minimized clutch wear and use of the hand brake when starting and stopping on steep hills.

(Your reporter comes by his title honestly, by the way, usually from the passenger seat. A typical mortoring conversation sounds like this: Reporter – “Watch the truck!” Friend or loved one at the wheel – “Oh, sorry, I forgot I was with the Greatest Driver in the World.”)

Critics take note: At lesson’s end, Mr. Tomas awarded an A-minus. Major sins; however included clutch-destroying unsynchronized downshifts, an embarrassing first-try stall and” a stop-sign that you rolled.”

Taking a driving lesson in a bright red car with fat tires, turbocharging and racing stripes – plus a large driving school sign – is a paradoxical experience. Other drivers keep their distance, but eye you speculatively.

Why the relatively expensive and peppy car? A lot of my customers are going to go out and guy a car with lots of muscle,” Mr. Tomas explained, and I would rather show them how to drive on a car with muscle.”

And is the business gamble paying off? Well he said, he’s busy enough that it’s getting hard to get an appointment.”

But expenses such as a driving-school insurance – not to mention the occasional clutch job – are high enough that Mr. Tomas says Shifters will have to expand to meet his income expectations.

As a consequence, he intends to quit operating out of his home and rent an office within weeks, and he plans to hire another instructor or even two, by next summer.

What he didn’t expect when he started, Mr. Tomas concluded, was the demand for more elaborate programs and fancy footwork techniques. “I was surprised. I didn’t know so many people would like this extra fancy stuff.”

The Toronto Star: Identity Threat and Act to Avoid Road Mishaps

The Toronto Star logo

By Carlos Tomas
Special to The Star

Nine out of 10 accidents happen to so-called “average drivers” when they fail to identify a situation’s accident potential or respond to it correctly. Now, thanks to the accident-proofing techniques employed by expert drivers from around the world almost anyone can drive safely, efficiently and accident-free.

Another bonus is that you can save money on insurance, fuel and maintenance costs.The idea behind reducing driving risk is simple: Identify potential accident-prone situations in advance and act accordingly. Keep a safe distance from other drivers. Communicate clearly. And be aware of what’s going on all around you at all times.

Get the whole picture:

In city driving, many things are happening all at once. So being able to quickly read the total traffic picture is the surest way to maintain better control of your driving situation. To do this, you must continuously scan the area two blocks ahead and behind you and from one side of the street to the other.

Stopping and accelerating your car to driving speed burns up to 16 times more fuel than keeping it in motion (not to mention all the unnecessary wear and tear on brakes, tires, engine and transmission). So while you’re driving, look as far ahead as two or three traffic lights. By pacing yourself, you’ll arrive at each intersection on the green with the traffic already moving.

You’ll also reduce your chances of being rear-ended. And you’ll also be les apt to block intersections.

Expect the unexpected:

Having established a safe steering path, check to see whether anything is coming into your lane by quickly glancing from side to side.

Be especially cautious at intersections. Often drivers will enter these without signaling or making their intentions clear. Study their movements. Be aware of such clues as angled front tires.

At an intersection there are three common zones where conflicts arise – with drivers failing to yield right of way. Check the left side for drivers not slowing down for their red signal. Check ahead for approaching drivers slowing down, preparing to turn left -across your path. Check the right side for drivers completing a right turn, into your driving lane.

Another common cause of accidents is vehicles unexpectedly intruding from an adjacent lane. Or from a parked position. As you approach parked cars notice the angle and position of the front tires, and look to see if a driver is at the wheel, ready to pull out without signaling or checking for on-coming cars.

Also check under parked vehicles for children’s feet or animals that may run out. Have your thumb over the horn, ready to warn them. Or, better still, lightly sound the horn to make them know you’re coming. That way your attention is free to check elsewhere.

Check your rear-view mirrors about every five seconds. And more frequently in heavy traffic. Or when preparing to slow down or change lanes.

Make your own space:

To be in full control, create a “space cushion of safety” around your car – ahead, on both sides and to the rear.

Insulate your vehicle with space by adjusting your speed. Drive as if you’re not following the vehicle ahead of you. (As a bonus, you’ll seldom have to stop for a red light!)

In heavy traffic, drive in the lane with the fewest cars. A following gap of at least three to four seconds is advisable, with more on slippery roads.

When stopping, stop a car length or more behind the car ahead, to leave plenty of room to maneuver.

Occasionally you’ll encounter the persistent tailgater. Even when another lane is unavailable you can usually squeeze over to the side to allow him to pass. If this doesn’t work, gradually decrease your speed and drop back to allow for plenty of stopping distance for the both of you.

Don’t drive blind:

Avoid blind- spot driving.

Adjust your speed as soon as you find yourself in a blind spot, or someone moves into yours.

Develop the habit of checking your blind spot before changing lanes, parking, leaving a parking spot, and turning, especially to the right. (Cyclists will particularly appreciate this!)

Each time you start the car turn on your headlights. This is simple procedure alone can prevent so many accidents – even in daytime. Many insurance companies reward “daylighters” with premium discounts.

Don’t make’em guess:

Communicate!

Make your intentions as clear as possible. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate.

The less confusing you are to other drivers, the less other drivers will confuse you.

Establish eye-to-eye contact. And if you’re in a good mood – what the heck: Smile!

The Toronto Star: This School Gives ’em the Gears

This school gives ‘em the gears
By Linda A. Fox

Call it a “driving” ambition but I’ve always wanted to walk into an upscale dealership and take a snappy, imported sports car for a spin.

A few days ago, I finally did it. Top down; wind in my hair. A dream come true.

What prevented me all these years from this seemingly simple task? Not being able to drive a stickshift.

For 23 years I’ve wimped-out and driven automatics, knowing in my heart that every car I’ve really lusted after came with a standard shifter.

So it was with visions of speeding to the office in my Lamborghini (after the lottery win, of course), that I put myself in the capable hands of Carlos Tomas, operator of Shifters Manual Driving School (921-7845).

Shifters offers a course in basic manual transmission driving skills for those who have a licence, plus courses for the complete beginner.

I chose the course entitled From Automatic To Stick-Shift which gave me five in-car sessions of 1½ hours each . . . .

Carlos says the most common fault of drivers is (lack of) communication. He stresses keeping a safe distance from other vehicles and being aware of what’s going on around you at all times.

“Don’t be afraid to over-communicate,” he says. “The less confusing you are to other drivers; the less other drivers confuse you.

There are obvious benefits to driving a vehicle with a standard transmission. First, the purchase price is usually about $ 1,000 cheaper. But most important, they are more fuel efficient and therefore, easier on the environment.

Do men and women differ in their ability to learn stick-shift, I asked.

“No, not at all. Both show about the same ability with training,” Carlos feels.

I know I still need practice. Now if I can just get my next-door neighbor to let me take a spin in his red vintage Ferrari . .

The Toronto Star: Drive Smart, Drive Green

Means and Ends
Jody Ness

Ease up and take pressure off you and environment.

My 13-year old friend, Sarah loves to roller-blade she is also far ahead of me when it comes to environmental issues. Recently she questioned whether my test-driving cars all the time wasn’t potentially an eco-problem.

Add to this the growing concern, especially in California, over car emissions. With these thoughts in mind, I turned my attention to the emerging topic of eco-friendly driving.

After much discussion with him, I’m passing along some suggestions offered to me by Carlos Tomas, founder and chief instructor of Shifters. The Driver Education Centre, the Toronto-based school for better driving and specializing in manual transmissions.

Tomas’s hypothesis is that if we all drove more environmentally consciously, we wouldn’t need to worry about legislating vehicle emission standards. We could make a bigger difference by just driving smarter.

Here’s some food for eco-thought:

1) Keep the vehicle in motion. Overcoming friction of a stopped vehicle spends more energy than gradually increasing the speed of a vehicle in motion. Obviously, with a red light or a stop sign, we are required to come to a full stop. But there are lots of times when slowing is sufficient to reach the next stage for the resumption of traffic speed. Stop-and-start traffic doesn’t need to be so. For example if you are looking ahead and see that traffic is stopped you should:

a) continue your speed until the last possible moment, then jam on the brakes, and lurch to a halt to inspect the serial number of the muffler in front of you, or;

b) anticipate traffic flow and let off the gas early, coast gently and brake gradually, maintaining a safe and appropriate distance between you and the vehicle in front?

If you guessed b), try putting it into practice. If you guessed a) read on, then try again.

2) Use fluid, gentle acceleration and braking whenever possible. Tearing out from a red light not only wastes fuel, but rubber too. There are obviously a lot of Toronto drivers who can afford to replace tires more frequently than I can. I wish I could understand what inspires some drivers to peel away from red lights at warp 10, leaving behind metres of Michelin, patches of Pirelli, and gobs of Goodyear. Whatever your reason, stop and think about it. A good tire costs say $100.-150. each. To produce a new tire takes the equivalent of a barrel of oil. Does it make sense to waste both money and natural resources?

3) Check your passenger’s knuckles. This is often a good indicator of your driving ability. Unless your passenger is in a coma, they usually react violently to sudden starts and stops.

White knuckles, pushing imaginary brake pedals, and reaching for the grab handles or” sky hooks” are usually signs that your passenger is not comfortable, in my personal case, vomiting is often a tell-tale symptom of motion sickness as a result of jerky driving.

I fondly remember being driven down a particular twisting stretch of California’ Pacific Coast Highway by former Formula 1 champion Jackie Stewart, and not once worrying whether I would have to embarrass myself by requesting a puke-stop. Now that’s smooth.

4) Smile. Enjoy your driving experience. Whether you’ve invested $10,000, $50,000, or $100,000 in a vehicle, surely it’s more than just transportation. Otherwise you could take the TTC.
Why not enjoy your vehicle? Heck, it’s got a stereo, a CD player, cup holders, seats that adjust in hundreds of ways to ensure a comfortable position. But, do pay attention to the traffic flow.

5) Avoid “hurry up and wait”. Also known as “sit ’n’ stew.” Wouldn’t you rather be driving, albeit slowly, than sitting completely still, only to have to sit at the next synchronized red light all over again?
So would your car!

6) Practice winter driving all year long. Good summer driving is really only practice for good winter driving. If we used the same caution required to slippery conditions all the time, we’d not only be driving safer, but more economically.

7) Give your clutch a break. While sitting at a stop light, shift to neutral and let out the clutch. Don’t even touch it or the gear shift until it’s time to move out. This saves wear and tear on your clutch and entire transmission system.

8) Drive only a much as you need to. Try to combine errands to the grocery store, beer store, and dry cleaners into one trip. Consider alternative “wheeled” transportation form time to time.
My lawyer confided to me recently that he often ”blades” between downtown appointments. Or how about biking for a change of pace? If status is important to you, check out BMW’s latest entry into the personal mobility market – a mountain bike. (I’m not kidding!)

9) Go Cruisin’. Where traffic conditions permit, use cruise or speed control to maintain a constant speed. You’ll notice a big difference in gas consumption over extended distances.
Save gas. Save wear and tear on your vehicle. Save money. Enjoy your driving and get there safely,” advises Tomas.
So for Sarah’s sake, I tried it. On my first effort, I manage to squeeze 600 km out of a tank of gas that normally goes 500. My wallet, my blood pressure and the environment all say “Thanks Carlos.”

For additional information please refer to MEDIA print article entitled On fear and loathing of stick-shifts: by Bill Taylor and Identify threat and act to avoid mishaps by Carlos Tomas.

Globe and Mail: Megawheels – Mamma Mia! Tanya’s shifting gears!

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Specialized driving school gives actress the method for performance in trafficThe Glove and Mail Logo

BY STEPHEN WICKENS

Nicole Robert can’t say that finally learning to drive a manual-shift car this spring has helped her to play Tanya in the hit musical Mamma Mia! But it sure makes it easier to be herself in the real-life world of Toronto traffic, and she says she owes it all to Carlos Tomas and his Shifters driving school.

On stage, since moving from Vancouver about 18 months ago, the actress/singer’s role has been that of a glamorous, self-confident, older woman. But away from the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Robert suffered a form of vehicular stage fright behind the wheel of her husband’s five-speed Saturn Vue and in a car belonging to one of the mainstream driving schools.

“One day last year, my husband got me to do the driving on the way to work,” says Robert, who is originally from Quebec and uses the French pronunciation of her surname. “Well, I stalled at a downtown intersection and I couldn’t get stated again because I panicked. I flipped; I lost it. I just had to get out of the car. He had to replace me with all this traffic backed up behind us. It was awful.”

By December, Robert had given up. “I wasn’t going to learn from my husband. I certainly wasn’t going to learn in the winter. I’d spent about $500 on lessons and I was probably getting worse – no confidence whatsoever.”

But she decided to give it another shot this spring after one of her coworkers told her about Shifters, a school dedicated solely to the art of the stick shift.

“What a difference! By the third lesson I was really learning,” Robert says. “Carlos [Tomas] was born to teach. For him, I think that it’s not just about shifting gears, it’s about life. He’s philosophical, he’s into yoga, that kind of stuff. Whatever it is, it works.”

Tomas admits Robert was a tough case. “She’d had a bad experience,” he says, “but that’s common for a lot of people who come to us, especially women who’ve tried to learn from husbands or boyfriends. Young people who try to learn on their parents’ cars can feel similar pressure.

“Yeah, we go through a few clutches, power trains, tires, but the teacher has to be able to stay calm if the student is going to learn. And I try to learn about each student – what they do and how they think. It helps me tailor my approach. It’s really important when you’re teaching to build on things the student already knows.”
In Robert’s case, she didn’t even get to drive Tomas’s Mazda 626 in her first Shifters lesson.

“At the other place it might as well have been a friend or relative saying, ‘Drive!’ then yelling at you when you make a mistake. Carlos started by explaining the concept, not just what you should do but why you do it. He uses, uh, the thing [a power-train model]…if you’re at all visual, it really helps.”

Carla Arnold went to Shifters because she just had to have a Mini Cooper when the popular retro car was launched two years ago.

“I got one of the first 500 in Canada and they only came with the standard,” she says. “I ordered it in April, signed up for the lessons, and by the time the car was delivered in May, I was completely ready to go. We did lots of repetition so it all became second nature. We also did things like go to [Toronto’s] High Park area so I could get comfortable starting on hills.

[Tomas] is so good at explaining things and he doesn’t freak out. I’d signed up for the package of three lessons [$259], but I felt I needed a bit more, so I went with the five [$419],” says Arnold, 35, who runs the ticketing operations for Can Stage. “It was worth every penny.”

The value of learning to drive a standard properly is impossible to calculate. It can save lives as well gasoline and maintenance costs, according to Tomas, who has been a driving instructor for 27 years. The avid sailor, a native of Portugal whose family came to Toronto when he was 10, didn’t settle on the standard-shift niche until 1987, the year he launched Shifters. He has taught driving instructor for George Brown College, Young Drivers of Canada and the Ontario Safety league, as well as courses in skid control and emergency maneuvering.

He has had one long-time co-instructor, Marcel Oostendorp, but thinks he will expand the business soon. “I don’t have any real, direct competition in Toronto, and I’m not sure if there are any companies like this in other cities,” Tomas says. “ Our students come from all over Ontario. We’ve even had people from as far away as Nova Scotia, California, Edmonton and New York city.”

Slightly more than 60 per cent of Shifters students are women. Over all, most are in the 25-to- 40 age range, but he has taught some retired people who have bought their first sports car or who plan to travel in Europe, where many of the rentals are stick shift.

Robert, who will turn 50 in November, likes her new mobility, but says she still has a way to go before she is completely comfortable with the manual shift.

“I’ve still only driven once with my husband in the car …let’s just say I’m rehearsing alone. But c’mon, I didn’t learn to drive at all until I was in my 30’s, and it was hard at that age,” she says.

I’m a late bloomer. I’m shifting the gears, I’m playing a babe [in Mamma Mia], a silly babe, but a babe. Until now I’ve always been a character actor. Now, I get to dance with young guys who are after me. Life’s pretty good.”

Globe and Mail: Megawheels – Clear Vision is Vital In the Wintertime

winter driving in sunshine

Clear Vision is Vital in Winter ConditionsThe Glove and Mail Logo
By Carlos Tomas

It’s harder to see in winter than any other time. And with more than 90 per cent of your decisions riding on vision, even the smallest losses count. After all, how can you possibly control situations if you can’t see?

Here are some of the problems drivers face:

Increased glare. With up to seven fewer hours of daily sunlight than in summer, the sun is in your face during rush hour much more often. Depending more on artificial light, you are subject to a lot more night-time glare. Add the reflection of roads and fresh snowfalls, and visibility may be next to impossible.

Shorter sightlines. Freezing rain, snow and blowing debris dramatically reduce long-range visibility. Night-time whiteouts can leave you with almost no visibility at all. Fog can reduce visibility to 4 per cent.

Impaired vehicles. When compared to daylight, clean headlights reveal only a smidgen of the road. Dirt can rob you up to 90 per cent of the beam strength.

Take time to prepare your vehicle and reduce these effects: check all lights; have your headlights checked for proper aim so they don’t blind the rest of us; check the turn signals as well.

Other things you need to do:

Check the defrosters. Get your radiator coolant tested to ensure that the heater and defroster are in top shape.

Eliminate wiper smear. Replace streaking blades with rubber-encased winter wipers. They don’t freeze.

Brush off all the snow. No one needs your portable blizzard, especially cyclists and pedestrians.

Uncover the windows. How can you see 360 degrees around you through a porthole? Don’t create blind spots that may hide crucial details such as the unlit cyclist.

Clear the windshield. Scrape off all of the ice. Otherwise your wipers are useless and you end up wasting washer fluid. De-ice wiper blades. Wipers need to fit the curve of your windshield to clean properly.

Unclog the jets. Check the operation of your windshield washer jets. These may be cleared with a pin.

Clean the outside mirrors . And avoid damage to the motors by freeing your power mirrors of snow, ice salt and grime.

Degrease interior glass . Window surfaces and rearview mirrors can be easily neglected until nighttime glare assaults your eyes. All glass should be spotless.

Defrost the windows. Use an old credit card as a scraper to clear interior frost. Open windows a crack when carrying several passengers; lively conversations fog up windows quickly.

Wear sunglasses. Reduce eye-fatiguing glare with a good pair of driving sunglasses. These should be of the kind that block out blue rays.

Use the visors – Block out the sun’s glare. Visors are not meant clamping paraphernalia against the headliner.

Eliminate visual clutter. No matter how lucky loose objects on the dash and rearview mirror hangings are, clean sightlines are much luckier.

Save your wiper-motor. Turn off your wipers before shutting off the engine. Otherwise freezing rain can lodge them in midcycle. Restarting the engine can burn out the motor.

Finally, carry washer fluid, a snowbrush, ice scraper, window cleaner, old towels or paper towels, a flashlight and flares.

The Globe and Mail: Megawheels – A Heavy Foot and Winter Don’t Mix

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Globe and Mail Megawheels – SAFETYThe Glove and Mail Logo

A Heavy Foot and Winter Don’t Mix
By Carlos Tomas

If it makes sense to drive smoothly during winter what causes so many people to resort to the heavy hand and the heavy foot?

Late perception equals late response which equals abrupt response.

Dry roads will often excuse poor seeing habits by letting a driver squeal their way out of a crash with a last-moment swerve or stomp of the brake. But winter’s limited-traction conditions are not so forgiving to panic responses. And the restricted view from inside a vehicle, plus the camouflaged decision-making information, adds up to reduced warning of potential dangers.

Armed only with average visual skills, drivers may be ill equipped to recognize and take control of hazardous situations in time. This can result in drivers being:
•  Too slow in identifying the intended lane because ice, snow, salt or puddles conceal the guiding pavement markings;
•  Disorientated, confused, or lost due to snow-covered road signs;
•  Unable to look through the snow-covered windows of parked vehicles for pedestrians potentially crossing their path;
•  Faced with vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians or animals suddenly emerging from behind snow banks.

Drivers should retool their surveillance skills and eliminate the surprises.

Look way, way ahead. Pick the path of least resistance and best traction and have ample time to smoothly sidestep hazards with few adjustments. When lane markings disappear, pick out the rows of vehicles far in the distance.

Read the road conditions. They’re not all the same. Identify what is slippery and what is not. See the “slip and sliders” in the distance as indicators of the bad spots of the road ahead. Whenever possible, position the vehicle’s wheels on the best available traction.

See everything from way back. How can you see way up front if the vehicles ahead constantly block your view? Hint: If you can’t consistently see two or three traffic lights away you’re following much too closely. On highways continually watch the roadway at least 20 seconds in advance.

Reduce windshield splash. Position the vehicle well away from others’ wheel spray and potential icebergs and avalanches that may dislodge from roofs at high speeds. If the following distance looks like everyone else’s, double it.

Anticipate problems beyond the range of vision. In sub-zero weather always drive as if a patch of black ice awaits beyond the next bend or curve. Approach all visual blockades with less speed and be ready to sound the horn to warn anyone that may move into conflict with your vehicle.

Watch everything but the vehicle ahead. A driver’s central vision needs to be free to roam the Big Picture to retrieve information from all around. The moment the eyes drop, the vehicle ahead becomes the focus and you are tail watching. Tail watching causes tailgating.

See with peripheral vision. The vast majority of people drive oblivious to the fact that the vehicle ahead occupies most, if not all of their attention. This fixation stems mostly from fear of plowing into the vehicle ahead as a result of getting caught looking at the wrong place. Drop away and let the vehicle ahead fade into the foreground until it presents no concern.

Trust gut instincts. If you experience discomfort looking away from the vehicle ahead, take it as a sure sign you are too close to it. Drop back as far as it takes to completely dissolve the butterflies. Your peripheral vision will not let you crash.

Develop speed-reading skills. Do not fixate the eyes on anything for more than one second. If a particular detail concerns you, deal with it immediately so your eyes are free to continue their normal glance behaviour.

Practice seeing space. Nearly everyone focuses attention on obstacles. Instead, look for space. If an obstacle is moving see both spaces – one closing, and the other opening. Project into the center of the expanding space, adjusting speed if necessary. You’ll maneuver much more smoothly through traffic.

Scan intersections thoroughly. From well back, look out for anyone apt to intercept your vehicle’s path unexpectedly. Has everyone that is supposed to stop actually done so? Or do you simply assume the best and drive on and then fume when other vehicles bolt from out of the blue?

Establish visual-search patterns. For example, when turning, be certain that there is an open lane to steer into before checking for conflicts. Then rapidly cycle attention between the key areas of conflict until the way is clear to turn.

Visualize each turn’s exit before steering. Mid-turn corrections to tracking errors can prove costly. Before beginning any turn, establish a clear sightline to the turning target and avoid turning too early or too late. You’ll ensure that no pedestrians are about to run out and intercept your path.

Have the window down when turning left. On rainy nights, visibility can be so bad the intended turning path is not visible through the driver’s window. As soon as a clear opportunity approaches, lower the side window and get a clear view.

See the “other guy” as a potential spin top. Not all vehicles have the same tires. Imagine everyone out there is driving on balding all-three-season tires. Some are! Keep your distance.

Eyes up during a crisis. If despite your precautions you begin to skid you’ll detect it immediately if your eyes are on the horizon. That’s when recovery is easiest, at the start. Just look up to where you want to go.

Sound too radical? Try these techniques out and discover for yourself just how stress-free driving can be. You’ll want to drive this way all year round.