The First Annual Unofficial Winter Tire Test

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Ann Arbor is mostly flat, but my need for a 5-car garage left me with no choice but to rent a house with a driveway about as passable as Mount Everest in the winter. I must be insane.

We've had an exceptionally cold and snowy few weeks here in Ann Arbor, and that means that I've subjected everyone in the office to a whole lot of complaining.; While we all long for the sweet smells of spring, I have an extra reason to complain: my driveway is something straight out of the depths of h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

I chose this house only because it had the five-car garage necessitated by my ridiculous collection of old German vehicles. The irony is that the garages are barely accessible-while Ann Arbor's geography is generally flat, my driveway was designed specifically to resemble Mt. Everest.

The thirty-something percent grade is the first problem. It's so steep it's hard to walk up. I'm worried that an old Mercedes Turbodiesel I recently purchased won't generate enough grunt to climb it when I finally get it home.; And even cars with sufficient power have problems, too. Want to back up the driveway? It won't work in a rear-driver. It'll just spin its tires-but not move. In the wet, front-drivers can climb it so long as you don't try to stop in the middle. Try to move again (which is especially fun with manual transmissions), and it'll just slide downward as the front tires spin.

I was hoping that all the rubber I've left on the driveway in the past six months would make it grippier. It probably didn't, but either way, a couple of percent of extra adhesion would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

Almost as problematic as the steepness is the sudden and immediate transition from level, horizontal street to the steep climb.; If it doesn't rip your front spoiler off as you enter the transition, it'll rip off your muffler just as you smugly begin to think you've made it.; Try to enter it at a diagonal in anything with limited wheel travel, and one or more wheels will lift off the ground.; No limited slip? No climby, either. One Infiniti M45 Sport I had the pleasure of driving this summer left a skidmark from the inside wheel that is so permanently etched into the concrete I think my Landlord is going to keep my security deposit.

Back to the weather. Now I want you to imagine what would happen if this Grade of Horror were covered in snow, ice, or any combination of the above. You'd go sledding, you say?; Well, not if you looked and saw that there was a ten-foot, straight-down Drop of Death on the other side of the street. So if you slide down the hill (whether in a toboggan or a Toyota) at a fast enough pace, you'll probably die.

Die? No thanks. Forget the sled. I'll take an all-wheel drive car with snow tires and lots of airbags, thank you.

Satan's Driveway;has been completely covered in snow for a few weeks. Mind you, I can't shovel it, because if I try, I just slide down it on my ass. Which I agree would be funny to watch - if it weren't for the fact that my neighbors seem to enjoy hurtling past my house on the ice at one hundred miles per hour.

On the ice?; Indeed - the masochist who built this house also chose to have its French drains empty right into the street in front of the house, virtually ensuring a six-inch deep ice skating rink for four months of the year. Needless to say, Sally Suburbanite would not be able to stop her 2-ton SUV in time if I were to louge out onto the ice in front of her, even if I were waving the shovel like a flag and screaming like a stuck pig (with lipstick on it.)

So each day at work, when it comes time to sign out a car for the night, I have pass up anything without winter tires, and anything with less than all four wheel drive. Sometimes I wait for the world to come to a sudden, screeching end when I hear myself say things like "No thanks, I don't want that BMW 650i, I'll take the Mercury Milan AWD instead."

Everyone at the office thinks I'm nuts. When I tell them tales of my driveway defeating a Range Rover and spitting it out (sideways) onto the street, they laugh. Telling them that a CR-V couldn't even pull itself fully onto the driveway to attempt the hill climb didn't fill them with confidence of my sanity, either.

But it's true. And now you can all see it for yourself. Satan's Driveway is now the star of an Automobile Magazine Video.; It's the perfect place for an impromptu winter tire test.

My original idea was to test nine cars - each with a unique combination of rear-, front-, or all-wheel drive and either winter, summer, or all-season tires.

That idea was scrapped when nothing with less than four driven wheels would come close to making the climb - even with aggressive Blizzaks. And the aforementioned 650i (on summer performance tires) got stuck on the level part of my street before it even made it to the base of the driveway.

So we bring to you the First Annual, Unofficial Automobile Winter Tire Test.; It's not a scientific study-it uses three different vehicles after all-but it certainly demonstrates a point.;

Judging by the snickering of passers-by while I wrestle with the snow and ice every night, there's apparently nothing more satisfying than watching a Range Rover scrape halfway up the driveway with four rooster-tails of snow shooting out the back... only to come sliding back down, sideways across the street, and stopping inches from plunging over a stone wall.

Oh cool, we have an M3 in the office?; Wait - never mind, that Suzuki SX-4 has Blizzaks on it. I hate;Old Man Winter. And the old man who built this house.

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