Doofus Of The Day #848

Courtesy of Wirecutter:

Miss D.‘s going to laugh when she sees that.  She tells me that in Alaska, which she still regards as ‘home’, it gets too cold in winter for the roads to be salted to melt ice and snow.  Instead, the Anchorage municipality scrapes away what snow it can, then layers fine gravel and dirt on the ice.  By spring the city has up to a foot or more of an ice/gravel/mud mix on the roads, and as the ice melts the muck gets all over everything.  (I remember noticing that while I was flying up to Anchorage to court her.  I couldn’t figure out, until she told me, why there was so much crud on the roads, and why most vehicles had a mud-brown tide mark halfway up their doors!)

Anyway, what that means in winter is that the roads are permanently hazardous (most drivers up there use studded tires, or something like Blizzaks or the equivalent).  She says with a grin that when some idiot comes flying past you in Anchorage in mid-winter, you simply sit back and smile, knowing that within a mile or two you’ll pass him upside-down in a ditch, or spun out in the central median, or having met some other unkind fate thanks to his careless driving.  I noticed, too, that there are a lot of tow trucks making a circuit of the city on all the major roads.  Miss D. informed me that as soon as they see someone in a ditch, they stop and offer a quick tow back onto the road for a flat fee in cash (it was $60 when I visited).  If the driver has any sense, he’ll hand it over and be on his way again in five minutes.  If he doesn’t, he can wait for his insurance to send a driver, and pay a lot more than $60 (as well as have his premiums increase).  Needless to say, the tow trucks do a roaring trade during winter.  (Apparently in summer their drivers mostly switch to lawn care and garden services for three or four months, until the snow and ice return.  A man does what he can to make a living in the frozen North.)

I think the doofus depicted in the pictures above would probably make a lot of Anchorage drivers smile, and a lot of Anchorage tow truck operators very wealthy!



  1. 1) Lowering springs, low-profile tires, thus almost certainly "performance" (read: summer street) tires…

    2) First caption was right. Four wheel drive did not stop him in the snow.

    3) I learned early in my driving that four-wheel-go does not mean four-wheel-anything-else. Including stopping and turning. Yes, I drive a 4wd pickup truck – but clicking over to use it is a last resort and I'm generally slowing way down once I do, precisely because I do lose some of that road feel that comes from the back end breaking loose so easily.

  2. I can tell you, from having worked for AAA's Emergency Road Service line, that 4wheel and all wheel drive vehicles made up a fairly large portion of our winter road service calls. They really didn't help as much in the snow, ice, slick roads, nearly as much as everyone assumes!

    In upstate NY we spend the winter with the roads being perpetually covered in an ice-salt-slush combo that is as slick as straight ice some days. And when we have a winter like the last couple, where day-time highs don't get above low single digits, the whole mess solidifies into a 2" thick layer of ice on the roads. Which is bad enough by itself, but then the plows come through and cut gouges in it as they try to plow it, and so you're trundling along at 5mph on 2inch thick ice and suddenly have your car slide sideways a foot or two as the wheels hit said gouges……

  3. As ZerCool said, there's no way those tires were anything but summer only tires. A great 4WD system is fantastic, but it ONLY helps you get going. It won't help you stop or turn- that transfer case, driveshaft, and everything else just becomes more weight, which means more inertia to be overcome. Even more, the best 4WD system will only work with the available traction. Put unsuitable tires on it and it just has nothing to work with.

    I run dedicated winter tires on my Grand Cherokee and can darn near climb an ice wall with it… but I still drive with caution in snow. Even a capable vehicle with capable rubber can still blow past the limits of traction.

    I've seen what winter/ice tires will do in really nasty stuff. On glaze ice we were driving a front drive car with no issues… even as the plow/salt truck slid backwards down our street. With AWD/4WD you divide the torque of the engine by four wheels instead of two so getting going is even easier. Four driven wheels and winter tires are an amazing combination. Still needs the loose nut behind the wheel to use some sense.

  4. 1. Thanks to Miss D, you have a very good grasp of winter driving conditions in Anchorage. And I hate break-up's road conditions: black water in every low-lying spot, pothole, gutter, and parking lot.

    2. I bought my first 4×4 on Adak; winter driving in the Aleutians is even worse. Three feet of snow overnight, driving in snow or on packed-down snow like a hockey rink, then melting/potholes on the 3rd day. Then repeat the entire cycle.

    3. The first thing I was told when I bought that '67 Bronco was, "Four-wheel drive just means you get farther from the road before getting stuck." Most drivers never learn that.

    4. In the first day of each heavy snow on Adak, all of us with 4x4s drove around with tow chains or straps, pulling sedans out of ditches. Most of them had California plates, so maybe the drivers hadn't seen the white stuff before … but it generated a good bit of spare cash. Of course, our price then was only a couple of bucks.

  5. Brought back a lot of memories from when I was stationed on Adak (late 60s) and then on Kodiak (late 70s). Driving in the Winter (which on Adak meant September to June) was always an adventure.

  6. In CA, tow trucks are forbidden to solicit business as you describe in AK. Now, if you are flagged down, that is different, but it still leaves you in a gray area.

    The ONLY tow trucks that are allowed to stop on their own initiative are the CHP's own fleet of emergency trucks, the Freeway Service Patrol (FSP), that mostly run during commute hours on freeways in urban areas. They operate under very restrictive rules.

  7. Invariable rule I-5 from canada to seattle snow falls the white suvs develop an irresistable urge to make snow angels.

  8. Actually…

    To be exact, 4WD *can* help you turn. If you know how.

    Requires practice, and is very different from either FWD or RWD drift-turn, but for the last couple of decades it's been the only way to compete meaningfully in the unrestricted-transmission classes of rally championships.

    It's not all that hard to learn if you have a spare lake that's frozen thick enough to drive on for a few months each year. Especially if it's "not a road" and closed from regular traffic so you can start your kids on that once they can reach the pedals.

    Still makes the city folks look at you funny, though.

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