Appearances can be deceiving. We realize this, in so many elements of our lives, yet we continue to make snap judgements based on looks and first impressions.
That pattern seems apply to just about everything, including people, dogs, views and flavours, and it can lead us astray.
I made the mistake of going on first appearances when I bought a set of all-terrain tires for my Dodge Powerwagon pickup. Parked outside the Anvil, in Horsefly, B.C., those tires, raised white letters and all, looked ready to chew their way through mud, slime or snow.
At that time, I was working in the backcountry between racing seasons, putting my future ex-wife through school. On our forestry crew, everyone gave their vehicles a name. Rawhide was a rusted-out Chevy pickup, a yellow Suburban became the Bush Banana, and an old red Ford F250 was called Waylon, presumably because of the low growl from its worn differential.
I'd met singing-songwriting legend Jerry Jeff Walker the year before, in Dallas, Texas, when I was doing some driving demonstrations for BMW in conjunction with a helicopter exhibition. So, naturally, my Dodge became Jerry Jeff Walker.
The first hint that all was not well occurred on a muddy stretch of the Alaska Highway. The aggressive-looking tires had all the traction of frozen fish on a steel roof. In the months that followed, Jerry Jeff got stuck just about everywhere, including on level ground.
I learned all kinds of winching techniques. Perhaps a name that included the word "walk," applied to a vehicle, should have hinted at trouble.
It wasn't until I switched back to the original all-season tires that the Dodge was able to reveal its formidable potential.
Fast-forward to early March of this year. Storms were brewing, and I had to drive north across the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau. Earlier this year, we'd run a winter-tire test, comparing Bridgestone's Blizzaks with the General Altimax Arctic, Hankook Optimo 4s, (all-season but with the winter tire mountain/snowflake symbol) and, just for good measure, a set of half-worn Michelin X-Ice winter tires.
With a garage full of choices, I bolted on the Blizzaks, which had been the top choice amongst all the testers.
There is nothing in the outward appearance of the Blizzaks to hint at their prowess. Pretty ordinary-looking, especially mounted on dull steel wheels. On this drive, they were exceptional, whether in deep snow, hardpack or on that delightful glaze caused by ice fog. They were even reasonably competent on dry pavement.
If I had been shopping based on appearance, the Generals would have been my first choice. They looked the part and, with an aggressive tread pattern, did well in moving from a standstill in deep snow. General is part of Continental Tire, a leading European tiremaker. The Altimax Arctics were good, but a step behind the Blizzaks, including in their dry-pavement behaviour.
Bridgestone and Michelin seem to lead the pack these days when it comes to winter-tire technology, each year bringing advances. The compounding will wear out quickly if driven in warm weather but, out on the road with snow swirling, they're worth every penny.
I remember Jerry Jeff, that night in Texas, performing a song about leaving town. Tough to make a great exit if your tires don't grip.
Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca