Enjoying Hokkaido in Your Rent-a-car
Enjoying Hokkaido in Your Rent-a-car: Safety TipsDrive Safely: Don't overestimate your 4WD's performance!
While it is true that 4-wheel drive (4WD) equipped vehicles generally drive and handle better than 2-wheel drive (2WD), remember that 4WD vehicles are generally heavier and it can be difficult to stop if you are driving too quickly. Especially in winter, drivers can find themselves driving too quickly on snowy or icy roads, unable to stop on a curve and running off the road; or worse, wrecking their vehicle. Please, drive carefully and use common sense.
Being familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of a 4WD vehicle the best way to safely enjoy renting a car in Hokkaido!
More room... but not to speed
Hokkaido's roads are extra wide in order to make room for all the snow that piles up in winter. With this extra room, you can easily find yourself over the speed limit without even realizing it. In recent years, police have been increasingly cracking down on speeders; don't let your trip in Hokkaido be ruined by a penalty and speeding ticket!
Just relax, follow the speed limit, and enjoy all that awesome Hokkaido scenery--you'll be glad you did.
Use Those Brakes: Tips on Braking and Accelerating
Almost every rental vehicle in Hokkaido features automatic transmission, or "AT". All of Choinori's rental cars are automatics as well. One tip for winter driving that native Hokkaidoans know well is to use the "creep effect" (the way a vehicle with automatic transmission will start moving forward when the brake is released) to your advantage to get a rolling start before pressing on the gas. Another tip is to use the engine to gradually reduce speed before pressing on the brakes, known as the "engine brake". Vehicles with automatic transmission have different gears that can help slow the car, reducing the chance of slipping on snow or ice. First, make sure to reduce your speed, then shift to one gear lower; the engine will start slowing your vehicle. Finally, apply the brakes to stop completely.
Remember: This method requires plenty of room ahead of you! Take care.
Putting your foot down: How the ABS works
All of Choinori's rental cars are equipped with an ABS (Anti-lock Braking System). Without ABS, slamming on the brakes on wet or icy roads can cause the tires to lock up. Locked tires are extremely dangerous, causing you to lose control of the vehicle, unable to turn left or right even if you turn the wheel. You could crash into something ahead of you, or even go off the road and get into a wreck--especially on tight curves. The ABS system works to stop locking by automatically applying and letting up on the brakes in rapid bursts. With ABS, even when suddenly applying the brakes, you can still be in control of the vehicle in a kind of controlled skid. When the ABS starts working, there will be a loud noise, and you will feel the brake pedal moving under your foot. Drivers experiencing this for the first time may think that the brakes have failed and panic; however, do NOT panic -- the noise and movement means that the ABS is working. Just keep your foot on the brake, keep your eyes on the road, and most of all, keep calm as you control the wheel and vehicle to a safe stop.
Safe Driving on Snowy Roads
Winter driving in Hokkaido is safe -- if you know your roads! Studless winter tires are generally good for driving on roads covered with snow pack or frozen snow and ice. However, a beautiful, sunny day in the middle of winter can be dangerous. The sun can melt the surface of a frozen road, significantly increasing braking distance, or even causing a vehicle to become completely unresponsive when the brakes are applied. Reduce your speed, and be especially careful to start braking with plenty of room ahead. Be on the lookout for "ruts" made by cars driving over roads with soft snow or well-traveled roads. Ruts are especially common on narrow roads, and ruts on roads often used by shipping trucks can be very deep. These ruts can sometimes be helpful, in that drivers can stay "in the lines" as it were and not slip and slide; however, please be aware that some ruts can be so deep that the underside of a vehicle can get caught on the ice. In this case, the only way to get free is to have several people push your car, or have someone pull you to safety. Take care when navigating roads with ruts. Hokkaidoans are used to these driving in winter and most have had the experience of getting stuck somewhere -- it happens! Most people are happy to help out a driver in need.
If you find yourself stuck, don't be shy; try asking someone nearby for help.
Hokkaido is beautiful! Slow down and enjoy the ride.
Hokkaido is known for its wide, roomy roads, but also for its drivers to speed and get into accidents.
Above all, take care and be aware of possible dangers to not only your vehicle, but other drivers and pedestrians.