09 January 2014

My Jaguar is not a snow cat

When I retired last summer, I allowed myself one indulgence. I bought a Jaguar XK. I knew it wasn’t the most practical choice. But I’d coveted a Jaguar since before I could (legally) drive. All through my working life, there was always something that took precedence over it – buying a house, remodeling the kitchen, saving for the kids’ college, saving for their weddings, saving for the grandkids’ college. So when I started to plan for retirement, I resolved that I would finally get one.

As I worked with the representative at the Jaguar dealership, he asked if I planned to drive the car in the winter. I said ‘yes.’ I only have a two car garage, and I certainly didn’t want to store the car for four or five months of the year. I figured as a retiree, if the weather ever was so bad that I didn’t feel comfortable taking my Jaguar, I’d either take my wife’s car (Honda CRV with all-wheel drive) or I’d just stay home.

I’m not so naïve that I’d expect a car salesman to say, “Well wait a minute, Steve. An XK is not really a winter car. Maybe you should consider something else.” And he didn’t. He said, “Put snow tires on it, and you won’t have any trouble.” SnowCat

It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I had my heart set on an XK.

I don’t think I’ve ever put snow tires on a car that I’ve owned. I think I’ve always just relied on all-season radials. But that’s what I did. I had a full set of snow tires mounted on the car in early December, just before we started getting significant snow in Minnesota. And technically, he was right. I’ve been able to get around during winter weather. I haven’t tried driving it in deep snow. The car is so low to the ground I’m afraid it would get hung up even with snow tires. But basically I can keep it from slipping and sliding, and I’ve been able to keep it moving when I need to.

Of course, it helps that I learned to drive in cars that had V-8 engines and rear wheel drive. It does take different techniques to handle winter road conditions. Some of them are actually kind of fun. I was doing a u-turn at an intersection when the road was just a little slippery. As I was turning, I remembered to flutter the throttle just a little. Sure enough, the rear end slipped around and we took off down the street, just as slick as you please.

But really, the car is not built to trudge along at 20 miles per hour in stop-and-go traffic. It’s just not as much fun to drive that way. It’s really made for driving 85 mph on a clear, dry road (someplace where that speed is legal) on a sunny spring, or summer, or autumn day.

Also, I really hate seeing the road spray and ice mess up the pretty paint job on the car. It seems disrespectful. Fortunately, the dealer offers free car washes. So I stop in as often as necessary, and then drive v-e-r-y carefully home to avoid getting a new coat of slush on the car right away.

During the ‘polar vortex’ that kept temps in Minnesota below 0 F for 80 hours, I kept the car mostly parked in my garage (attached to the house, but not heated. It got pretty cold in there as well.) But I did have a meeting in Buffalo, MN. I considered not going; I could have called in. The roads were clear and dry, it was just beastly cold, and I decided it would be good to run the car at highway speeds for a while. I worried a little about it freezing up. But we didn’t have any problems. It ran smooth and quiet the whole way out and back. No speeding on this drive.

Still, I can’t wait for spring.

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