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Snowstorm Proves Sportscars Make Lousy Snowplows

Woman At The Wheel, January 9th, 1999

By Krystyna Lagowski, The Toronto Star

Torontonians show helpful spirit in storm aftermath

My bright red Mazda Precidia is a pocket rocket - sleek, low-slung and light, it's a fun and powerful little car.

Unfortunately, it has nothing in common with a snowplow.

And that, friends, is why I go stuck in the snow at the corner of Pine and Spruce Hill Dr. in the Beaches last Saturday night.

My friends Heather and Eric had one of their famous dinner parties and I wasn't about to miss the fun and fabulous eats.

Alas, my car became truly and deeply embedded in the snowbank in front of their house.

At 3 a.m., when Eric's valiant efforts to extricate the Mazda proved fruitless, my hosts graciously offered me all the essentials for a good night's sleep, including Millie the cat.

And so I became the dinner guest who stayed for breakfast.

The next day, I managed to slip and slide my way down the street and around the corner.

Every time I got stuck, generous helping hands from complete strangers pushed me on my way.

Advice was offered; heads were poked in to cheer me on.

I had to concede that my driving skills were wanting and gladly accepted any help.

If you don't have the ground clearance, you'll float the car right up on the snow.

Plus, I had to admit, you meet the sweetest guys when you get stuck in the snow.

A group of about six lovely fellows (do all the cute guys live in the Beaches?) kindly told me that my car was incapable of making it through the snow, and gallantly dug me a nice parking spot.

Thanks to John, Peter, Charles and Brian from Balsam Ave. for all your help in rescuing this damsel in distress.

And with the help of my friends Bob and Kurt and their Jeep, I finally made it home in one piece.

My snow adventure had a happy ending, thanks to the people - some complete strangers - who put their shoulders and shovels to work for me.

How gladdening that Toronto not only has a heart, but is so willing to open it.

Yet, once safely home, I couldn't resist calling the Skid Control School in Oakville and asking owner Doug Annett if he'd been deluged with calls.

"Yes, we've had a lot of calls today," he chuckled. "Unfortunately we're booked up for the next month.

"It's normal for us to look about a month ahead in our scheduling."

He was more than happy to give me a few tips and dispel a myth or two about driving in snow.

"You just don't have enough ground clearance in a car like your Precidia," Annett said."You could have the best tires in the world, but you're like a turtle on a rock. Your tires can't do the job."

"The only way to solve that is to get right under your car and clear the snow out from under the chassis to get your feet back on the ground."

He didn't think much of my idea of weighing down the trunk with a bag of kitty litter.

"In normal circumstances, I'd say that might be good for traction," Annett said."But if you don't have the ground clearance, you'll float your car right up on the snow, so it's just like a ski."

How about those smug folks driving by in four-wheel drives, I asked him."There's always going to be some condition that overwhelms any vehicle," he asserted.

"Even the most gentrified Lexus four-wheel drive can do a pretty good job of getting through snow. But it can still have the same problem your car had. If it doesn't have the ground clearance, it can get ramped up on the snow and its four-wheel drive is useless."

Annett also said having four-wheel drive may give some people a sense that they're invulnerable, that they can go out and push the extended boundaries of their vehicles."You may take more risk if you're in a safer vehicle," he noted."Of course, not everybody does."

Should I dash out and buy snow tires?

Annett says my all-season radials may have failed me last weekend, but unless I plan to drive through 39 cm of snow on a regular basis, I'm probably safe.

"An all-season tire is going to be a bit of a compromise," he explains."It does adequately in the summertime, in the rain, in the wintertime, but you can't push it. You have to think about how you use your car, what you can afford."

Annett admits that even he got carried away on the weekend."I have an '89 Audi quattro wagon, and I tried to blast through the pile of snow left by the snowplow at the end of my driveway. I didn't make it. I had to shovel myself out."

The Skid Control School is an all-season school that teaches more than skid control.

Annett explains,"It's really a driver improvement course. Not only do you learn to handle skids, which can happen at any time of year, but how to be a better driver."

A one-day course at the school costs $245, while a day-and-a-half course costs $330.

For more information, call the Skid Control School at 905-827-5413.

And the next time Heather and Eric have a dinner party during a storm warning, I'm taking a cab. And my pj's.

Krystyna Lagowski is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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