Dear Tom and Ray:
Dinner at a nice restaurant is riding on your response. I told my girlfriend that if you shift into neutral on slick roads, the vehicle will stop more quickly. The reason is, there would be no power going to the drive wheels when you shift to neutral. She said that she would only believe this if it came from you guys. Well? -- Rob
Tom: You?re buying dinner, Rob. With fuel injection and electronically controlled automatic transmissions, there?s no advantage to taking the car out of gear when you stop.
Ray: There was a time, 25 or 30 years ago, when cars had carburetors, and fuel metering was rather barbaric. In those days, it was possible for a misadjusted carburetor to be pouring so much gas into the engine that the idle speed would always be too high.
Tom: If your idle speed is too high, and you slow down to 5, 4 or 3 miles per hour, the car can feel like it?s trying to keep ?pushing you along,? even though your foot?s off the gas pedal. And on a slick surface, you might have to lock up the wheels and skid to stop the car. But even back in the old days, that was the exception rather than the rule.
Ray: And now, with all cars being fuel-injected, abnormally high idle speeds are rarely a problem.
Tom: Plus, the key to stopping in slick weather is to anticipate your stop, begin stopping early and brake as smoothly as possible. Today?s electronically controlled transmissions will actually downshift as you?re slowing down. Rather than making it hard to slow down, that helps you slow down by taking advantage of the car?s natural engine braking.
Ray: And perhaps most importantly, when you?re trying to stop on a snow-covered street, facing the potential of skidding through a red light in front of an oncoming UPS truck, the last thing you want to do is take your eyes off the road and one hand off the wheel, and fumble with the shifter, trying to nudge it into neutral without accidentally throwing it into reverse.
Tom: So you?re toast, Rob. If you want to win the next bet, take the position that the best strategy for driving on slick roads is to always drive slowly. Get her to bet against that, and we?ll back you up 100 percent next time.