According to physics, does driving with a heavy load increase traction in winter?

Many Canadians enjoy adding weight to their vehicles over the winter to increase traction. How does it work? Since friction is force normal times mu, thus having a greater force normal means more friction. However since mu is usually so small, the increase in friction is negligible as compared to momentum. The momentum from added weight, mass times velocity would be dramatically increases, meaning longer distances to stop and easier fish tails around corners. Therefore less weight is more benficial. This is my logic, and I may be wrong. I don't know, thats why I'm asking...

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Vyger6 years ago
Standard Friction Equation

by Ron Kurtus (revised 31 May 2008)

Friction is the resistance to motion of objects in contact with each other. The standard friction equation detemines the resistive force of sliding friction for hard surfaces, when you know the normal force pushing the two surfaces together and the coefficient of friction for the two surfaces.

When applied to sliding friction of hard surfaces, the equation implies that friction is independent of the area of the surfaces in contact.

This equation can also apply to soft surfaces, rolling friction and fluid friction, but the coefficient of friction may depend on area, shape and viscosity factors.

Questions you may have include:

* What is the standard friction equation?
* What is the normal force?
* What is the coefficient of friction?

When a force is applied to an object, the resistive force of friction acts in the opposite direction, parallel to the surfaces.

The standard equation for determining the resistive force of friction when trying to slide two solid objects together states that the force of friction equals the coefficient friction times the normal force pushing the two objects together. This equation is written as

Fr = μN


* Fr is the resistive force of friction
* μ is the coefficient of friction for the two surfaces (Greek letter "mu")
* N is the normal or perpendicular force pushing the two objects together
* μN is μ times N

Fr and N are measured in units of force, which are pounds or newtons. μ is a number between 0 (zero) and ∞ (infinity).
Applies to static and kinetic

This equation applies to both static and kinetic sliding friction. Static friction is the friction before an object starts to slide. Kinetic friction is the friction when the object is actually moving or sliding.

Static friction and kinetic friction have different coefficient of friction values.
Independent of area for sliding hard surfaces

An interesting result of this equation is that in the case of sliding friction of hard surfaces, the friction is independent of the area of the surfaces. In other words, it is just as difficult to move a 1 square-cm object as a 1 square-meter object, if they both are pressed to the surface with the same amount of force.

This is not intuitive. You would think that there is more friction when the surfaces are larger, but the friction equation states otherwise. You can verify this fact with experiments.
Soft, adhesion, rolling and fluid

In situations where the surfaces deform or there is molecular adhesion, the friction is not independent of the areas in contact. In these cases surface area usually comes into play. This is also true for rolling and fluid friction.

When solid surfaces are soft and deform or when one material is a fluid, the shape of the solid object may be a factor.

Although the standard friction equation still holds, the coefficient of friction may have area, shape and other factors included in it.


So, what this says is that the greater the force pushing down, which is mass times G, gravity the greater the force needed to move the surfaces past each other.
So adding weight does increase friction and therby traction. But as you notice once the system becomes kinetic (and in the case of cars, rolling) the equations change.

Keep in mind also that this is for determining friction between two surfaces. It has nothing to do with the inertia of the objects. Inertia comes into play also in this complex situation. You need force to overcome inertia, but the application of that force depends on the success of the friction between the tires and the road. If you make it to heavy you will not be able to move it because there will not be enough friction to overcome the inertia. This is what happens when your tires just spin on pavement, providing the engine has sufficient power to overcome enough of the friction to spin the tires.
So, there is a balance between weight, friction, inertia, and power. It will vary for every vehicle.

While adding some weight does work, a better approach would be to improve the coefficient of friction for the tires. This way you get better traction without the extra weight. Bottom line, invest in the best snow tires you can get and lighten the load. Provided you can afford it. Otherwise throw a bag of salt in the trunk and when you get stuck you can throw it under the wheels to try and increase the friction.

My longest answer ever, so far.
Vyger Vyger6 years ago
One more thought---
When you get tires with an aggressive tread there is actually another factor at play, and it is one of the reasons for treads on tires. With snow when you drive over it the snow deforms and molds itself up into the tire tread. If the tread can hang on to it then its not so much a matter of friction anymore but rather the shearing force of the snow. For the tire to spin it would have to actually shear the snow off, or maybe a better way to put it, it has to separate it from the layer on the ground and the snow locked in the treads. This is why its better to start moving slowly rather than gunning it. If the tire is spinning then its just the friction between the tire and the snow, but if its giving the snow time to grip against itself then your actually using the cohesiveness of the snow to get traction. Its also why a locked wheel and tire just slides with no control but a moving tire, one that is digging into and holding the snow allows you to still steer. This is almost a science by itself and the reason why they are constantly trying to develop new designs that work better.
ARJOON Vyger6 years ago
i did a test on it today. and got 20/20 on kinematic & circular motion
rickharris6 years ago
If your talking about a vehicle things get different - Adding weight AND possibly lowering the tyre pressure a little allows the tread to get a better grip on snow/mud so for a car - Yes

HOWEVER make sure your car isn't front wheel drive and your adding the weight to the trunk!!!!
frollard6 years ago
There are several factors at play:

When stopped, static friction is greatly affected by force.
Dynamic friction (when already sliding) is greatly affected by velocity.

So, when stopped, that extra weight helps HUGELY in establishing the first bits of velocity and thus momentum.

Once moving, it can go against you to have too much extra weight, that extra mass' momentum works perpendicular to the downforce and counteracts it.

Force equals mass times acceleration
Acceleration is gravity, unchanging
more mass = more force = more friction
Burf6 years ago
Most of the traction benefits arise from the fact that the added weight flattens the contact patch of the tire. More surface area in contact with the road gives greater traction.
Its the same reason that dune buggies and mud runners use very low pressure tires, a larger contact patch.
lemonie6 years ago

It depends what you're driving on, mu can change depending on the surface.
Also, extra weight can change the profile of the tyres as they contact the surface.