High Heels and Four-Wheel-Drive

It’s a good idea to skip the high heels if you’re going out for a hike.

Similarly, a two-wheel-drive truck is just about the worst possible choice for attempting to make your way up a steep gravel driveway in summer.

Forget winter.

I rediscovered this truth the other day afternot making it up my friend Tim’s steep gravel driveway in my 2WD pick-up. Combine loose gravel (which behaves a lot like snow) a steep incline and a vehicle (my truck) with most of the weight up front – but all the power going to the (light) rear end.

Slip-sliding away…

This same steep gravel driveway did not even faze the low-slung 2016 Acura ILX sport sedan I made the attempt with the next day. Despite the Acura having short-sidewall performance (not off-road) tires and having just a fraction of the ground clearance the truck has.

But the Acura is front-wheel-drive.

It pulls rather than pushes itself.

This is a great advantage. Think of a cat clawing its way up a tree.

And a FWD car’s engine sits on top of the drive wheels, weighting them. Which is why it’s got more traction than a light-in-the-ass 2WD truck.

This weighting of the drive wheels, incidentally, is also why the old VW Beetle – air cooled model – was such an outstanding snow car. Though rear-wheel-drive, the Beetle’s engine was also rear-mounted. The weight of the engine pushed the tiresthrough the snow, where they usually found at least some purchase. Instead of spinning, you kept moving.

But a front-mounted engine in a rear-drive vehicle = stuck, Chuck. Make that a double if the rear-drive vehicle is a truck – with an empty (and so, light) bed.

This, by the way is why bags of sand or other heavy things are popular carry-alongs in 2WD trucks.

They help… some.

Of course, four-wheel-drive (4WD) would help more – and with the extra ground clearance, you now have what you need for both gravel and deep, unplowed snow.

You have push and pull working together.

And – usually, in a truck-type system – you’ve also got more weight over the front wheels (transfer case) as well as a more even weight spread, front to rear.

Utopia Towels Commerci... Buy New $21.99 (as of 10:00 EDT - Details) Most truck-type systems also have 4WD Low range gearing – which really helps. Mechanical leverage is multiplied; the truck (or SUV, if it has truck-type 4WD) will hunker down – and dig in. With the right tires, such a vehicle can go almost anywhere – including my friend Tim’s god-awful driveway.

Did I mention having to back down? And that his driveway is about a quarter-mile long – and really narrow?

But  keep in mind that when you’re not trying to bully your way up a steep gravel driveway (or through deep snow) 4WD should, as a rule, be disengaged – else you risk wear and tear on the parts. Some 4WD systems must be disengaged on dry, smooth roads for exactly this reason. But this leaves you in back in 2WD (rear-wheel-drive) mode – with all the traction disadvantages that attend.

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