With the winter weather having reached some, and on the way to others, naturally, we start to consider winter-prepping our vehicles and changing our tires – unless you live in a place where it doesn’t snow, doesn’t get cold, and doesn’t rain.
When it comes to snow or sand for that matter – cars aren’t an inherently perfect tool coming as they do with wheels that slip slide and sink in anything less solid than, well, solid ground.
There are ways to overcome snow and sand with classic wheels, but what about those tanks, snowmobiles, and excavators? They can go easily where the average car would go down like the Titanic, so why aren’t there cars with tracks?
As always, there are pros and cons to any technology, so let’s see where we got it right with the wheel and why tracks might be an option in some cases.
On The Right Track
Wheels are old, at least 3000 years BC old – and they work, much better than spinning square or triangle appendages. Manufacturers, designers, and engineers have come up with some quirky takes on the wheel such as this origami wheel, but it’s stayed the same since the wheel sheathed within a tire came about.
The tire and wheel combo falls down when it comes to the snow, mud, and sand surface types, due to all the vehicle weight pushing the tires down due to the small surface area and similarly with a small surface of the tire to grip, it often slips when conditions drop below what they’re designed for.
Until we have mastered the flying car, wheels are what will continue to keep us moving, so we have learned to adapt to the ability of our rubber-surfaced friends.
Tracks Are Cheap and Cheerful
They are relatively cheap though and can be swapped for different spec ones depending on what kind of terrain you’re going to encounter, and if things get really rough you can throw on a set of chains.
ABS, traction control, and drive modes have evolved to make optimum use of 4 (or more) wheels on the road.
A tire can be swapped out in a short period of time or you can have different sets of tires on a spare set of wheels to be rotated when the time of year changes, in minutes.
Let’s see if it would be wise to change your wheels to tracks, or just keep your trusty car equipped with the right tires, a pair of snow chains and a shovel in the back, and a snowmobile in the shed outside if things really get rough.
Tank Tech For Your Car
Tracks are far more capable in loose and powdery conditions where tires would normally slip or sink, due to the larger surface area of the track. It’s like standing on a surfboard vs standing on a kitchen spatula.
They can be fitted on all the wheels of a car or using a snow-mobile type setup where two skis complement the two driven tracks – this sounds like it would work much better with a rear-wheel-drive vehicle than a front-wheel-drive one though.
Tracks can theoretically provide a superior turning circle – on construction vehicles, tanks, and tractors equipped with this system, you can turn on the spot (for the king ‘o tractors, though, see the Big Bud 747).
With all that grip you can drive over rocks, sand, mud, and snow while you focus on other things, like in the case of a tank, shooting at someone.
They Already Thought Of That
There are some consumer-available, including the Track N Go: a shoe-like system which you drive up onto and the wheels in turn spin the tracks with no other modification to the car – at least that’s how they’re portrayed.
Cars like the quad-tracked Subaru Impreza here on Youtube, show how cool it would be to have a tracked car for a snow day. Courtesy of American Track Truck and the Dominator tracks.
Pictured above is the Nissan Trail Warrior Concept, which featured at the NY International Auto Show in 2017, while Nissan also made a concept out of a 370Z with tracks fitted to that too, as Caranddriver reported back in 2018.
Otherwise, before you rip off your wheels, there are some downsides. Cost – The Track N Go costs 25,000 dollars according to the video from the company. Retro-fitting actual tracks would cost a lot and be expensive to maintain, as they come with more parts that are less commonly obtainable than a wheel and tire.
Fuel economy is a concern as it requires more power and thus fuel to be spent to rotate the tracks than wheels, a phenomenon that is also seen in tracked vs wheeled tractors.
In addition, on the road, you are usually limited to around 40mph maximum with tracks depending on who you ask where you look, and you would need to modify your car’s conformity document and insurance. It still looks awesome, though, but maybe leave it for the pros.
The subzero sprint will start on December 5.
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