I was at work last night. It wasn't too bad. But although it started snowing last night about 6-7 PM, because of the holiday there were very few plow/salt trucks out at all overnight.
We got about 5" here, and I daresay a similar amount out in Orland Park, where I work; and so when I left work this morning I did so with the four-wheel drive engaged. I actually used the 4WD a couple of times on the way in, too, but I had it on most of the way home. I drove about 35 MPH almost all the way home, in speed zones ranging from 35 to 55.
I could have made the same trip in about the same amount of time in my Escort, though.
The Jeep is basically the same as any car or truck with an open differential without the 4WD on, maybe a little more unstable. I could have spun out very easily if I'd gotten on the gas too hard in slick spots, but for the most part, I could use 4WD to get moving, then shut it off, and have no trouble maintaining control. A limited-slip differential (LSD) would limit the amount of time you have to run 4WD, and under most circumstances I don't think you'd need to use it all that much.
With the 4WD on, the difference in traction is incredible. You can still slide but accelerating from a stop is accompanied with minor (or no) wheelspin as long as you're not standing on the throttle. I had a couple of incidences of understeer while turning. Otherwise, it's pretty easy to see why the uneducated think that 4WD means not having to slow down for nasty weather.
4WD, naturally, does not allow you to slow down any faster. In fact if the brakes locked up, the wheels had a tendency to take longer to start turning again. If you get into a bad skid in 4WD, I expect it would be a lot harder to recover. This is probably why you usually see 4x4s in the ditches after big snowstorms; people think 4WD makes them invulnerable to skidding or getting stuck, and then find out the hard way that it ain't so.
In summation, I think this marks the "hour" that I'll use 4WD this winter, and I found it to be useful but not critical. I used it because I had it; but if I had not had it, I would have managed.
My Cherokee has the "Command Trac" system, which is part-time 4WD only. I think the "Selec-Trac" system, which has a full-time 4WD mode, would be a good investment. The part-time system locks the front wheels to the same speed as the rear wheels, which is why the manual recommends that you only use it in slippery conditions. The full-time system has a differential so that all the wheels can turn at different speeds, as needed, which saves wear and tear on the drivetrain.
Of course, if I were buying a new 4x4 I'd get LSDs in it, too, which would limit the amount of time I needed 4WD. I'm still mulling upgrading the diff in the Cherokee to LSD. It would probably run me about $300-$500 to do the rear diff, which is all I'd really need to upgrade. The I-6 in that truck generates enough torque that accelerating on wet pavement is sometimes tricky.
Finding a good Selec-Trac transfer case, and the associated interior bits, would probably take more time, effort, and money, and for less benefit than upgrading the rear diff.
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It was not a bad night at work. After midnight, holiday pay kicked in. I worked Receiving last night, and had a pretty fair dinkum night, although my feet hurt a lot when I left work this morning.
I resisted the temptation to buy some Christmas merchandise (lights, decorations, etc) even though they were 75% off (and then I get my employee discount, 10% off the remaining 25%). I got some confetti thrown at me. I threw Monty Python quotes at the guy at work who knows Monty Python, who came back after a medical leave of absence.
All told, it was not a bad way to spend New Year's when you're 40 and have no life anyway: making some money, having a little bit of fun, and working just hard enough to get your job done a bit before quitting time.
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So today is Tuesday, January 1, 2008, and my feet and legs hurt. I think I'll go back to bed for a while.