In this article, I will discuss handling of the Tesla 3 (and other cars) in slippery conditions. I’m not going to cover frozen door handles or reduced range in the winter. Those could be issues that you might want to research and I encourage you to do that. They’re just not part of this article.
Now, what does someone living in Florida know about driving on ice and snow? I’m so glad you asked! If you aren’t interested in my story of growing up in the north, skip the section titled “My Love Affair With Snow.” But I’ll warn you, you’ll miss the story where I hit a tree and it was the tree’s fault!
My Love Affair With Snow
I grew up in northern Iowa and then moved to Minnesota to attend college and later take a job at IBM. I have always loved the snow and would take advantage of it to make forts, make snowmen, start snowball fights, go skiing, and of course drive in it whenever possible. I remember my first experience with oversteer was at 5 years old when my father decided to have some fun and show how he could slide his 1964 Ford Mustang around on snow-covered roads. We went into a deep rural ditch and we had to walk a short distance to ask a local farmer to pull our car out (no cell phones in the ’60s). I recently told my 91 year old mother that story and she was a little upset that my father had never told her that (she is sharp enough to remember).
I had a 1977 VW Scirocco as my first car. As a front-wheel-drive car, it tended to understeer. I couldn’t have that, so I installed a front sway bar that made the handling more neutral. One of my favorite things to do after school was to take the car to a local park with a large circle. That’s because if you took the circle at about 15 miles an hour when it was slick (or 30 in good conditions), you could drift with the car, right on the edge of oversteer and understeer. My classmates loved it too. I learned how to handle a car in very slippery conditions and had a lot of fun doing it! (This was long before electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.)
I almost forgot to tell you about the tree that hit me! On the first day my mother got a new 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit 1.5L (not a powerful engine), I took it to the park to test out the car, but my favorite circle was closed due to heavy snow. I had to turn around in a small cul-de-sac. In the middle of the cul-de-sac, someone had placed a small tree (about an inch in diameter and about 5 feet tall). I hit the tree with my mother’s new car’s left fender and it didn’t really do any damage. But that isn’t the end of the story.
There was also a steel post holding up the tree and I hit that also. It did some damage and my mother was not happy. I told her I would learn to fix it myself and I did. Unfortunately, I did a very poor job. In fact, it was one of the worst examples of body work that I’ve seen in my life. Luckily, my mom is very forgiving. As fate would have it, my second cousin (while bonspeiling — drinking and curling, but mostly drinking — at the only curling rink in Iowa) hit the same fender a year later and paid to have it professionally repaired.
This is what I did, but I’m a little better at controlling the car:
How the Different Tesla Models Handle on Snowy & Icy Roads
If you have 10 minutes, this next video is well worth your time! If not, that’s what I’m here for — to summarize the points in a couple of minutes instead of 11 minutes.
The reviewers test a Model X, Model 3, and Model S. The first test is climbing a very steep 30 degree incline with a strip of ice on one side. First they turned off traction control — on a Model X, only possible by Tesla, we can’t do that (without hacking the hardware or software). All Teslas have an open differential that lets all the power go to one side. This means the car can’t climb the hill. This is how most cars were 15 years ago, before electronic traction control came out. 40 or 50 years ago, they had a mechanical fix called limited slip differential that helped, but it was not very sophisticated.
Once the reviewers turned the software back on, it applied braking force on the wheel that is spinning so that the other wheel can get some power and the car has no trouble climbing the hill. This great feature is in no way exclusive to Tesla, but Tesla’s version of it works very well.
The next test has them try an emergency lane change at 65 mph on slippery roads with the software the turned off. About half the time the driver spins out, and about half the time he counter steers perfectly and maintains control. With the software on, it is a boring lane change. The stability control software cuts power and applies brakes to individual wheels incredibly quickly (far faster than a human could) to maintain control.
The third test is in a Model 3 Performance on a giant skid pad. With the normal software on, the rear end will come out a little but still keeps the car under control. If you turn on the Track Mode, it lets you accelerate more quickly and it will let you get a lot more sideways. The software still saves you if you really screw up, but it lets you have a lot more fun! Starting at about the 8 minute mark, it does all the tricks of the Model S, but it also shifts power from the rear to the front and back to the rear instantly to pull yourself out of the situation.
Tesla Taking Advantage of Outstanding Handling to Sell More Cars
I recently got invited to enter a contest to go with a friend to Finland to drive on the frozen sea in a Model 3 and Model S. If you would like the chance to enter, click on this link.
The other thing I might do is rent a Model 3 Performance in a northern climate on Turo. Then I would have a whole day to play with the handling. Although doing this on public roads entails some risk, I’m prepared to accept the consequences. [Editor’s note: Maybe that shouldn’t be shared publicly.]
Whether you love the snow like me or are deathly afraid of slippery conditions, Tesla offers choices to make your driving experience safer — and for the Model 3 Performance, more fun than ever!
If this article on driving on slick roads helps you to decide to order a Tesla, take advantage of my Tesla referral link to get up to 9 months of free Supercharging (6 months if you have test driven a car with Tesla) on a Model S, Model X, or Model 3. Here’s the code: https://ts.la/paul92237. Hurry, because the program is ending on February 1st.