Know Your Brakes
To pump or not to pump? It’s a question that you can only answer with another question: What kind of brakes do you have?
If you drive a newer car, you don’t have to guess. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has required all new vehicles to include Electronic Stability Control since late 2011. An antilock brake system, or ABS, is a necessary part of Electronic Stability Control, which means all new vehicles have them. Even before this federal requirement was in place, ABS brakes came standard in many vehicles and were offered as options in many others.
So how do you know if you have ABS? One way is to check your car owner’s manual, but you don’t even have to do that. When you first turn on your vehicle, check the lights on your dashboard. If you see an amber icon with the letters ABS light up, you know that your car has anti-lock brakes, and that you should never pump them.
Understanding the Different Types of Brakes
The reason behind the old advice to pump the brakes when stopping in snow or on ice was largely to prevent the wheels from “locking,” or ceasing to spin (which leaves the car skidding uncontrollably) when the brakes are slammed on. Since you never want to suddenly brake in icy conditions in the first place, it makes sense to pump traditional brakes when driving on slippery roads.
Antilock brakes, however, are specifically designed not to lock with electronic controls that alter pressure in the vehicle’s brake lines. These brakes essentially “pump themselves,” so all you have to do is keep consistent pressure on the brake pedal and steer as you usually would. There’s no benefit to pumping ABS brakes, and trying to do so can mean it takes longer for you to stop – definitely not something you want when you’re at the mercy of an icy roadway.
No matter what kind of brakes you have, remember to always leave yourself more time for braking when driving in winter weather conditions. Being able to slow to a stop gradually and smoothly makes you less likely to lose control of the car and wind up in a crash.