By on January 3, 2014

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I’ve never quite understood why snowstorms in winter are news, but I noticed Diane Sawyer talking about it on the evening news today so I guess if you live in the eastern half of North America, you’re probably experiencing some winter weather. Living in Michigan, where we discuss the finer points of materials science when it comes to snow shovels (my personal preference is laminated hardwood but those are no longer imported into America from Austria), dealing with snow is just part of life here. Now there are plenty of people around here who stay indoors when the snow emergency announcements start getting broadcast, lots of people hate driving in winter conditions, and I’ve had more than a couple of white knuckle experiences due to poor traction caused by snow or ice, but to be honest, I flat out love driving in snow. Do you?

Can you have more fun behind the wheel, legally, on the street, than when those streets are snow covered? While I admire the car handling skill of professional drifters, I’ve always thought that it’s a bit silly as a motorsport, but I have to admit that its fun to slide a car around. When else, on public roads, can you set up a corner in a front wheel drive car by getting it sideways, power understeer through the corner, then opposite lock to grab traction and get the car straight? I can think of few things more fun to do behind the wheel than drive a front wheel drive car in snow. Scratch that. Driving any wheel drive in snow is fun. I got my driver’s license when just about the only cars you could buy here with FWD were the Eldorado/Toronado cousins, Austin Minis and Fiat 128s, so I learned to drive in snow with big American rear wheel drive sedans. Since then, I’ve driven FWD, all wheel drive, and even a couple of ass-engined Vee Dubs, and I think that I’ve gotten stuck in the snow exactly three times. Scratch that. I’ve gotten stuck in snow once, when I got caught in a big snow drift driving on a not very snowy but quite windy night on a dirt road out to a friend’s farm in a ’74 Mercury Grand Marquis Brougham I’d borrowed from my dad.

The other two times weren’t really snow. On an Ann Arbor street I managed to park my VW bus with two of the wheels in a deep snow rut that had become solid ice and needed a tow truck to yank me out of the rut. The other time also involved ice, also in Ann Arbor as a matter of fact. I was on my way from the D to the Chicago Auto Show media preview in a Pontiac Bonneville SSE, nice car. I usually drive through the night when I go to the Chicago show and decided to stop at an all-night Kinkos/FedEx in A Squared to see if they had empty paper boxes that I could use for all the press kits and stuff. As I pulled into the lot I realized there was glare ice and had to drive very carefully. There was almost no coefficient of friction. Leaving the store, I went to make the left turn out of the lot onto the driveway and when I cranked the wheel, driving exceptionally slowly, the front wheels lost all traction and the car went on a perfect vector in the direction it had been traveling, which was straight at the curb at the edge of the parking lot, which itself was next to a drainage culvert. The outside front wheel went over the curb.  The car came to a stop before the other front wheel went completely over the curb, but when I got out to see why I couldn’t move, I saw that the front right wheel was hanging in mid air over the culvert. Without a limited slip differential, I wasn’t going anywhere. I went back into the store and some people came out to try and help, but nobody had any rope. Then I leaned on the car and noticed that it was so icy the car moved a little. We ended up just sliding the car on the ice back to where the free wheel could get purchase on the edge of the culvert, I put it in reverse, backed up over the curb, thanked them, and got on my way. Down I-94 I kept asking myself, “Did that really happen?”

Other than that, never been stuck in the winter. Maybe it’s because I don’t trust my skills from year to year and every year after the first significant snowfall, I drive over to an empty parking lot and relearn how to drive in snow. Also, my brain, inner ear and tuchas  communicate well with each other so I can usually tell when the tires lose traction and the car starts to dance. More than once I’ve backed it down on the interstate in winter conditions only to come across a bunch of cars that had gone off of the road. Can’t those people feel the front or rear end start to dance? Once I sharpen the skills, I have a great time driving in the winter.  Heck, I even did a couple of handbrake turns today.

So how do you feel about winter driving? What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you when driving in slippery winter conditions? Do you enjoy it and play rally driver, or do you grit your teeth and white knuckle through it?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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85 Comments on “Driving In A Winter Wonderland...”


  • avatar
    raph

    Despite living in the only spot on earth where the temperature can be below 32 and we still get rain, yep I enjoy driving in the snow ( when it does snow ) even if my car is RWD and shod with summer tires.

    • 0 avatar
      CrapBox

      That’s strange. Where I live, we frequently have freezing rain. I drove through such a storm last weekend. It was -8C/+18F, the roads were glazed with snow (because it was too cold for the salt to melt the residue from ploughing), and the rain instantly froze on the windshield of my car. I had to turn the defroster on maximum and leave the wipers running in order to maintain visibility. Luckily, the roadway didn’t freeze. Nevertheless, traffic slowed to a crawl because drivers understood that conditions could change in an instant, especially on bridges and other exposed areas.

      Driving on snow is easy. Driving on ice requires some skill.

      I’d recommend a car with a low center of gravity, good feel of the road through the steering wheel and driver’s seat, and new tires.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        I kid for the most part but living just off of the Chesapeake Bay saves the Hampton Roads area from a lot of snow due to the Gulf Stream passing right outside.

        Well until it shifts I suppose or cools a few degrees then things might get a little snowy.

    • 0 avatar

      Can anyone explain to me why some folks turn on flashers while attempting to drive in snow ? I’ve seen this dozens of times…

      Does it mean “I give up ?”
      “I’m having a crisis of competence ?”,

      I don’t get it. BTW, took the teen out yesterday for spin class in a snow covered lot. She loved it, and learned to bring the car into and out of skids….

  • avatar

    I was doing spinouts last night in fact.
    youtu.be/jfobZoRKcQI

    We had a big snowstorm last night which shut down all of NYC today.

    You must have winter tires if you have a RWD. I recommend Blizzaks.

    Driving in bad weather is ok right up until you want to stop and can’t. My car lost traction right away (Goodyear RSA2) on the ice last night so I got home as soon as possible and switched to the Jeep. I am afraid someone else will rear-end me by panic braking and sliding- so I try to stay home as much as possible till salt trucks arrive.

    • 0 avatar

      300SRT extreme winter handling
      youtu.be/H4wPiQECnJM

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      “Driving in bad weather is ok right up until you want to stop and can’t. My car lost traction right away (Goodyear RSA2) on the ice last night so I got home as soon as possible and switched to the Jeep. I am afraid someone else will rear-end me by panic braking and sliding- so I try to stay home as much as possible till salt trucks arrive.”

      Therein lies the rub with driving in inclement, cold weather.

      I LOVE driving in the snow, especially with a rwd sports car with aggressive snow tires (one reason this is fun is to see the looks on the faces of 4x4s as you pass them on particularly snowy roads).

      It was when I had to come to a stop (due to backed up traffic) in a relative’s 2003 4×4 Jeep Liberty (the last real Liberty) on a local freeway covered in ice that it dawned on me that no matter how prudent and/or able myself/my tires/my vehicle were that these things may do me no good, as I saw one vehicle after another try to accomplish the same stop, and each and every one spin out around me, be they hatchbacks, sedans, trucks or SUVs.

      The freeway was an asphalt stretch of I94. Time seemed to slow down as I saw what was about to happen in my rear view mirror. I sat helplessly at a complete stop, with nowhere to go, since stopped vehicles were to my front, left and rear, as I witnessed the equivalent of motor vehicles spinning on black ice all around me, and smashing into the concrete median divider, other vehicles, and off the right hand side of the highway, down into the snowy ditch.

      It was only by sheer luck or the grace of a higher power that I was not struck, and at a relatively high speed, by a completely out of control vehicle.

      My brain actually had enough time to process what was about to happen, and I reflexively braced my body for the impact that luckily never came.

      Ice, and not snow, is the real grim reaper, in winter, and neither snow tires, AWD, 4×4 or mad driving skills will keep you safe from the hazards it creates if you have to be on any public roadway.

      • 0 avatar
        TomHend

        DeadWeight, I love everything you write, I actually search for your comments,you want to know something else? I look at Ford much, much more critically than I ever did before and actually like what GM is putting out- that said-there is no such thing as black ice, it sounds silly.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Black ice is indeed real… of course the ice itself isn’t black, its just nearly clear and you can’t see it vs black asphalt.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          You might want to ask EIC JB about “black ice” I’m sure he can enlighten you on it’s reality

          “Black ice” is clear because less air was trapped during the freezing process and is harder to see then cloudy “white ice”

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            JMHO, but I don’t think any ice on pavement truly invisible. Sometimes it may be very difficult, though not impossible, to spot (or to see in time to prepare).

            And a lot of people (not all people, and not necessarily the TTAC B&B) use it as an excuse that they weren’t paying due attention to the road. Again, JMHO.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Ice sucks no matter what, if you can see it it helps, if you can’t, it sucks that much more

      • 0 avatar

        Preach it!

        down here in the land of the D-eff-dub and N. Texas we get mostly ice. I stick to surface streets and never get get much over 25mph and leave the trans in 1st or 2nd and let the compression braking slow the car to a near stop, I seldom ever have to touch the brakes. but the big wildcard is other drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      Goodyear RS-As are probably the worst tires I’ve encountered. My last job had a Mazda 3 as an office pool car shod with those incredible pieces of junk. Even though they claimed “M+S” on the sidewall, traction in even light amounts of snow was but a dream. I was on M-5 a few years ago, driving well under the speed limit, and having the poor taste to try to stop for a red light found me skittering 3/4 of the way through the intersection with the ABS chattering away furiously.

      On the bright side, they did wear out fast.

      • 0 avatar

        Goodyear stopped making EAGLE GT. They were a bigger, heavier all-season tire – and deeper grooved for winter driving. The RSA2 was my only choice for an All-season when I dumped what was left of my 3-season F1 Supercar tires.

        • 0 avatar
          Adam

          GTs were great all-season tires. I had a set of GT+4s on my 1990 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD and they were awesome in the snow. Eventually they wore down and got replaced with Dunlop SP4000s….not even close to the same level of traction and stability.

          These days I have Dodge Magnum R/T AWD, and it is also shod with Dunlops. I wish I’d done more research on all-season tires because things can get a little hairy, even at sensible speeds when there is some greasy slush on the road.

        • 0 avatar
          Fordson

          Sorry…I can’t imagine making a conscious decision to buy RS-As.

        • 0 avatar
          Compaq Deskpro

          I can confirm, Eagle RSA’s are the worst tires ever produced.

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        I’ve driven on my RS-As in 2+ winters now, not that bad at all. I’ve had much worse tires in snow over the 40 years I’ve been driving. I just passed 36K on them and they should last another year or so. I’m not buying them as replacements, I’m going to pay the difference and get the same Michelin (don’t remember the model right now) tires a friend has on his car, they are fantastic.

        • 0 avatar

          NRD515

          My car has so much torque that it isn’t stable on dry pavement. Stability control takes a split second to correct fishtailing – noticeably longer than my 6.1 did.

          The RSA2 is ok for wet handling and dry handling, but doesn’t have as much grip as the GT or the F1 Supercar.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    There is a certain joy to driving in snow with little traffic. Forces you to relearn the laws of physics as it pertains to getting to your destination.

    The down side is the plethora of SUV owners who think the laws of physics don’t apply to 4WD. Doing 60 in a 40 zone when 30 is the most appropriate is always fun to watch, as long as I’m not close to them when they try to stop or turn.

    I laugh the hardest at Ford Escape owners who only have 2WD, but think that it’s 4WD. Easy to tell from the back because of the hole in the frame where the axle should be.

    • 0 avatar
      Carrera

      Equally entertaining to watch are guys with Honda Civics and winter tires who now feel invincible. They think winter tires allow you to pass snow plows and do 70 miles per hour. Most of the ones I see in a ditch have winter tires. The laws of physics are put on hold when they drive on winter tires.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        True snow tires don’t transform a vehicle into invincible, but there’s no easier, less expensive way to transform ANY vehicle into a snow warrior than equipping it with a set of true snow tires.

        Those who have not experienced the capabilities that true snow tires bestow on a vehicle – in real life – will NEVER understand or appreciate this fact.

        I’d rather drive a rwd vehicle shod with effective snow tires in a snowstorm than ANY front wheel drive vehicle shod with all seasons.

        All Season tires are really 3 season tires, in the best case.

        • 0 avatar
          TOTitan

          Speaking from the experience of living in Alaska for half my life, the only way to go is four studded snowtires. It doesnt matter if you have FWD, RWD, or 4WD, the only way you can reliably get around and especially stop is with studs on all four corners.

          • 0 avatar

            Studs are illegal in much of the lower 48 I believe.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Studs are not illegal. Most states restrict them to winter and limit the number of studs in the tire though. For example, here is California’s law: “The California Vehicle Code [Section 27454 (e)], permits studded tires to be used on vehicles between November 1 and April 30 of each year. The number of studs or the percentage of metal in contact with the roadway cannot exceed three percent of the total tire area in contact with the roadway.”

            The Michigan law is similar, though it is written in a bizarrely vague manner. Basically they are seasonal, but the acceptable level of studs is defined to make it impossible to prove that a given tire is compliant. Why not be specific and make them illegal then? http: //1.usa.gov/1i496nj

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      But sometimes folks go too far in the OTHER direction–25mph in a cleared lane of a freeway is just as much of a hazard!

      The best one, though was three or four years ago, following a Kia 4×4 SUV around a snowy cloverleaf on-ramp..

      ..at all of ** 8mph!!! **

      There is a point at which you become as much of a nuisance as someone doing 70mph in an un-cleared lane (grey F-150 in the left lane on NB I-75 in Toledo this morning, I mean ** YOU!! **–would have loved to watch him pinball between sides of the viaduct)! If you are that uncomfortable driving in winter conditions, stay home!

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      I have a 2005 Escape. It’s primarily front wheel drive with “Intelligent 4WD”, words from Ford’s marketing weasels; not me. So yes, they do have (sorta) 4WD. It works via sensors and the computer kicking in, not a big ole knob on the dash.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I’ve always preferred driving RWD in the snow, because you always have some amount of steering to set you right – FWD (even with traction control) requires careful throttle modulation, especially on narrow, winding roads with no margin for error.
    I used to have lots of fun with may ’97 Camaro when it was 10 years old, but not so much with my ’13 Malibu.

    • 0 avatar
      talkstoanimals

      Agreed.

    • 0 avatar
      Aqua225

      I had a ’97 Camaro, and it was no fun in NC. Our pavement becomes ice soon after a snow followed by a cold sunny day. Also not helped by 4wd’ers like me who like to slowly plod along and pack down the snow into a nice ice path either…

      It never moved during the last snow storm I owned it. Auto with 3.8L V6.

      Never got a chance to test my ’02 Z28 on similar pavement, as I had a Liberty along with it, with limited slip reared. That thing could walk in ice.

      Just remember, all cars have 4 wheels, and they all have brakes. Just because you have 4WD and can get moving easier, doesn’t mean stopping will be any easier!

      This public service message brought to you by logic!

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    Funny you should mention it. I was just describing to a friend how I love driving in snow. There’s something about conquering snowy roads that imparts a certain sense of mastery and satisfaction. Last night I even took an extended route home to hit an empty parking lot, turn off the traction and stability control, and do some drifting. IMHO, however, winter driving is only at its best with a good set of snow tires on the car. Anything else can be a bit hairy.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      I love it too, it’s fun to make almost impossible turns easily. My mother just hated it and when she stopped driving, I would take her out to the doctor, etc, in bad weather and I could get her wound up to the point she would punch me for scaring her by making sliding turns and donuts in parking lots. I love it to the point I volunteered to drive my girlfriend’s co workers (Nurses) to work last year in my Challenger. They said the same thing, over and over again, “How can you drive this in the snow?”. My answer, “Easy!”. By the time we got to where they work, they all said I made it look very easy.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I love it! I have the right vehicle for it and I know what I’m doing, so all you people scowling at me ’cause I like to slide around a bit, you look like you haven’t had a day of fun in your whole life

    20 below zero(right now) I can do without

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Too many stupid people on the road when it snows.I don’t want them ramming into me when I’m playing around. Heck I don’t want them ramming into me when I’m trying to stay out of their way. No thanks. I’ve got really good all-seasons (Pilot Sport A/S 3) which are enough to get me home if I get stuck somewhere when the snow starts. I’m not about to go begging for trouble.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      This is the problem for me as well. Between the SUV drivers who believe that they’re invincible and the frightened rabbits who drive half the speed limit or less in the left lane, snowy roads keep me from doing any but the most necessary driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      This. I grew up in the snow belt and drove RWD, FWD, 4WD, and even dump trucks on snow and ice and it never was a problem if I had the road to myself. It was the other drivers sliding through intersections, sliding into your back bumper, sliding through corners, sliding off the road, etc that took all of the fun out of it.

      Not to mention being cold just sucks.

      Just to be hostile, anybody who really thinks RWD is better than FWD in snow is nuts. Drive comparable cars like a ’70 Eldorado vs. a ’70 DeVille, or a ’80 Rabbit vs. a same model year Chevette where the only difference is the drive wheels and there is no question front wheel drive give far more forward traction on snow and ice.

  • avatar
    jz78817

    yes. Ranger 4×4 which can claw through quite a bit of snow, and thanks to having honest-to-god winter tires I can stop with a fair bit of confidence too.

    Not that this makes me invincible, mind.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Yep, I think it’s fun too. I grabbed something with AWD/4×4 and a stick shift for some fun in the snow. 360s on the spot!

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Drove in a big snow storm this morning at 0420 coming to work. It wasn’t pretty but when you’re the only one on the road at that time, it isn’t bad at all. My AWD Ridgeline, while not a truck by most people’s definition, makes an excellent snow vehicle when equipped properly. Since it’s FWD based, I don’t even have to worry about adding weight in the bed like I would with a “real” truck.
    My town is very hilly and most RWD or FWD vehicles, even the ones with snow tires, have a hard time taking off from the inclines we have here. On the inclines, an AWD vehicle really shines.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I like driving in the snow, if I am doing it for fun, not commuting to work. Sadly, since snow is but a couple of times a year thing here, I don’t own a 4WD, but when I have one and retire in New England, I plan on driving in the snow just for fun.

    Being that I own a dinosaur or three, it is very interesting to compare the characteristics of the modern car to the dumb ones. My 2009′s nannies jump in all the time, killing the joy of sliding around on demand. compare that to my old Sable, which positively becomes a dance partner in comparison. How sad is that!

  • avatar
    ATLOffroad

    We don’t get much snow in Atlanta,but when it does I’m out on the road checking it out. I love to drive in all kinds of inclement weather. For me, it is just fun as well as challenging. I used to watch those storm chaser shows not to see the tornados, but to see how abused the show’s vehicles would get and still motor on.

  • avatar
    JK43123

    I read somewhere that news ratings increase during bad weather, so I figure the hype about snow boosts their income.

    For me, driving in snow is like all other forms of driving–I would enjoy it if it weren’t for the other idiots on the road.

    John

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Having grown up in the days of bias ply tires and open diffy’s in New England , I used to enjoy driving the rural roads in the snow , now I wonder how I did it and never got stuck .

    That first snow fall of the season re learning bit was always mandatory .

    Great article .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The secret to driving rural New England roads in the snow without getting stuck is, DON’T STOP. It’s when you stop and your warm tires sink into the snow that gets you stuck. I remember once in Rehoboth, MA, I had to pick someone up on an unplowed road, and I unlocked the doors, rolled the window down and yelled to run alongside the car, grab the handle and hop in as I drove by slowly. She wasn’t too happy about it, but she made it easily and I got her to her job.

  • avatar
    MidLifeCelica

    I like driving on the slippery stuff, but it terrifies my wife any time the TCS light comes on, let alone actually breaking loose. So all my fun happens when I’m by myself. We’re having a nice little blizzard today, as it happens.

    My worst winter drive was the day I hit black ice in the far left lane of a 100kph 4-lane wide overpass in Calgary, Alberta (travelling 80 at the time). Black !985 Ford Mustang GT manual, dubbed ‘The Widowmaker’ because of it’s tendency to swap ends at the slightest provocation, even with winter tires and sandbags in the hatch.

    The back end started to oscillate, and it just got worse and worse no matter what I did. Foot off the gas…gear down gently…parking brake maybe? Nope, nope, and nope. Traffic around me could see the problem escalate and they moved out of the way…but the road curved to the right ahead of me as it crossed a river. I fought that thing for as long as I could but it just kept sliding like a ball bearing with no connection to the road. So, rather than chance a dive to the right across all the traffic, and possibly spinning right off the road into a river, I pulled a Nascar, and let the left side ease into the concrete barriers at the curve. That sure straightened up the car wonderfully! Scrubbed all my speed off on the wall, shredding the left side, and pushing the nose over about 6 inches. After doing something like that on purpose, no other winter slide or skid event can scare me.

    The car still ran after I got it under control, and insurance actually paid to fix it! When I looked under the hood later, the nylon fan blades were all folded at 90 degrees in the middle because the fan shroud had moved so much relative to the engine :-).

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Did you try pushing the clutch (or putting it in neutral)?

      • 0 avatar
        MidLifeCelica

        Indeed I did. The whole event took a long time to complete. I had time to try one of everything, and then combinations of things, and look at what others were doing around me too. What annoyed me the most was that I was able get the speed down to about 40 kph before hitting the wall, and still had no traction, while all the cars around me were fine. I sold that car the same year, it just could not handle winter. A few weeks earlier, I had gottehn stuck in a 7-11 parking lot because it couldn’t climb a 2% grade out to the street. The back end was just too light – it handled like the balance was 90-10 or something.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Ouch! Yep… even among my knucklehead high school friends (including myself by that description, and this would have been late 1980s/early 1990s), the eighties Mustangs had a poor reputation for winter driving- light in the back end, a lot of power going through those wheels.

          Sorry to hear about your wreck- even if it was a long time ago!

  • avatar
    ajla

    If I was forced to drive in the snow, I would probably crash and die. I greatly dislike the snow and cold.

    I went to college in Michigan but I never once drove in the winter.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I’m a FL native and thus have the same issue. In fact if its below 50 degrees I stay inside! Driving on ice seems like a really stupid idea. Heck most people down here (who actually came from northeast) can’t drive in rain so how did they ever manage in snow?!?

  • avatar
    vtnoah

    Growing up in VT you had to learn how to drive in snow regardless of what kind of car you had. I drove everything from my Parent’s RWD Chevy Astro, to my 1989 Jetta with bald tires in a snow storm. You learn little tricks as you go along. Note that I was a lot younger, poorer and dumber when I had my Jetta with “slicks”. Now I always make sure my family has snow tires on our vehicles. Our Forester’s got a set of Blizzaks and I run a set of snow rated A/T tires on my Frontier. Lot’s of fun either way!

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Loved it as a kid, growing up in snowy, flat northern Minnesota. Big RWD cars were fun, but the RWD, rear-engined VW was just the most fun you could have with clothes on, short of skiing, maybe.

    Current AWD cars are not as much fun with the electronic nannies. My skills are set to RWD, and we don’t really get enough snow here to play around much.

    To all those who are afraid of the other traffic, go out and have some fun after 8 or 9 PM. There is no one on the road then during a storm!

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      My best friend had a VW based dune buggy that we would drive stupid on frozen lakes. More fun then anyone’s entitled to

    • 0 avatar
      TOTitan

      I agree. In Alaska in the early 70′s I had a 68 VW squareback with four studded snowtires. It simply would not get stuck unless I high centered it, and that only happened if I came to a complete stop in deep, fresh, snow.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Learned snow handling in 80s V8 B-body sedans. Learned to turn a corner by using the throttle and very little steering wheel. Learned to correct and avoid accidents on icy overpasses with a 307 V8 Cutlass.

    Still scare the shit out of my wife with those skills. Raised in New Mexico on FWD she thinks I’m going to crash it. (eye roll)

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I live in Norway. I F***in love driving in snow XD. I think fwd stationwagons are the most tailhappy, but rwd cars feel more controllable when drifting (not so good at climbing hills though) No one here would try drivingn without winter tires though, and summer tires are not even legal if there’s snow or ice on the road. (all-season tires are popular on larger city driven SUV’s though)
    RWD biased 4×4 cars are the most fun on slippery roads, and fwd biased ones (like my CRV) are the most boring (still quite practical unless you actually try offroading them)
    Proper 4×4′s like old Quattros (with manually lockable center/rear diff) or BOF live axle SUVs are great for helping out all the daredevils and people who don’t understand physics :)

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      So all-seasons are legal (though probably not wise)?

      I was in Scandinavia in 2005 and saw several examples of big RWD GM iron in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen! Must be interesting!

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        Yeah, as long as they are labeled m+s they are unfortunately legal. Older RWD iron isn’t so bad as long as they have decent tires, since those sold over here often had a limited slip differential, and usually huge tires. They are also owned by enthusiasts, not little old ladies ;)

  • avatar
    Onus

    Just drove in the snow this morning to work.

    Good fun in my rwd 1990 f250. Just got new snows on the back a few weeks ago.

    Huge difference from the snow storm a month ago with worn out snows.

    I enjoy it. But i just changed the front brakes and they are far far too much grip ( bendix fleetmetlok ).

    I have to be careful to not put the truck into a slide by locking up the brakes.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Driving in snow in The Capital of the Free World is not fun because our winters are so variable. Some winters are snowless; others can bring a foot of snow, or more. As a result, lots of people get out of practice . . so there’s a general panic when snow hits.

    We used to own a place in Canaan Valley, WV — highest part of the state, which gets more than 100″ of snow per year. That was much more fun. People there knew how to drive in snow. Still, there could be problems. I slid through an intersection and got T-boned when the snowy surface I was driving on turned out to have a sheet of ice underneath. Even Blizzaks weren’t much help. I remember driving home one time on icy roads with cable chains on the rear wheels + Blizzaks + AWD. That and being careful got me and the family back safely. We sold that place in 2000 and have been back only occasionally since then. One thing I have noticed is that the so-called driving aids on newer cars that I now own are an impediment to winter driving. Overly aggressive traction control impedes progress, and in fresh snow, ABS (which is not defeatable) actually lengthens stopping distances.

    The best winter car is one that is light, which leaves out almost all of today’s 2-ton plus SUVs. Sure, with 4wd and snows, they go. But try stopping or turning . . . and say your prayers. I’d take my Saab 9-5 wagon over my Honda Pilot in the winter any day, even with both cars having snows and even recognizing the lower ground clearance of the Saab. The Saab is just lighter than the Pilot, which makes the difference. Oddly, even though both cars are essentially FWD (the Pilot has “slip-and-grip” AWD), the Saab feels more stable going down the road in a straight line.

    I’ve never driven a small AWD car, like a (older) Subie, but I imagine they’re quite good because they have an intelligent AWD system and they don’t weigh two tons.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      +1 on mostly everything you said. Especially the part about a light car for winter driving. A couple of older 4×4′s I had (88 Audi Quattro, and 93 BMW 525iX) did not inspire any confidence when driving, partially because of their weight. Nothing is more fun than playing in the snow with a car that you (or you and a friend) can lift/push out of a snowdrift/ditch without the need of a tractor or an old Audi.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “I slid through an intersection and got T-boned when the snowy surface I was driving on turned out to have a sheet of ice underneath. Even Blizzaks weren’t much help.”

      Yep, you need studs if you want any traction on smooth, warm, wet ice.

      “One thing I have noticed is that the so-called driving aids on newer cars that I now own are an impediment to winter driving.”

      Absolutely. They exist to proactively stop you from doing things that may get a novice driver into trouble, not to improve performance.

      “I’ve never driven a small AWD car, like a (older) Subie, but I imagine they’re quite good because they have an intelligent AWD system and they don’t weigh two tons.”

      As you already know, competent drivers don’t want electronics making drivetrain decisions. To me, the ideal subies are the manual transmission models. They have a simple fully mechanical AWD system that predictably delivers power to all four wheels all the time. I’ll be taking a road trip tomorrow to drive back a Hakka7-shod ’05 Legacy GT that my buddy just bought for a winter city car. As usual, the roads are slippery so it should be fun!

      “The best winter car is one that is light, which leaves out almost all of today’s 2-ton plus SUVs. Sure, with 4wd and snows, they go. But try stopping or turning . . . and say your prayers.”

      Lightweight vehicles are good because they tend to strongly communicate to the driver what’s happening at the wheels, but heavier vehicle can have advantages when it comes to stopping or turning. Often the tires are narrower relative to the weight of the vehicle and the greater pressure can be an asset in digging the tread into a hard-packed surface or through loose snow to a grippy base, or in pushing the studs firmly into the ice. The only inherent disadvantage I can think of is the tendency to carry momentum farther through loose snow. A 7000 lb 4WD manual transmission diesel truck is still somewhat of a fun, sporty drive on slippery days when you have over 200 studs per tire. I’ve driven many other 2-ton or larger vehicles that do fine as long as the tires are good. The odd one is even quite communicative, like the manual transmission ’98 Pathfinder I owned. As you may have noticed, I strongly believe it’s best not to have a torque converter or automated shifts filtering out any valuable information on wheel slip.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    I live 25 miles north of Buffalo. Just shy of two weeks into winter (officially), Buffalo has had 44.1 inches of snow this season.

    My winter car is now my ’03 SVT Focus, with four Pilot Alpin PA3s, ABS, defeatable traction control, heated seats and my #1 winter driving option, the block heater which was part of the factory cold weather package. Oh – and windows that CAN be cleared of snow and ice, in apparent contrast to other cars…

    It’s very competent and if it can’t handle conditions, I stay home.

    I learned to drive in the 70s, with 60′s and 70′s RWD Detroit iron on bias-belted and radials. Fun, but they sucked in any objective analysis of winter driving performance.

  • avatar

    The best experience was probably when, at 14, my father let me drive around a snowy, icy empty parking lot in the Peugeot 404 (4 on the tree). I had a blast. SEcond best: ice racing on a lake in New Hampshire a few winters ago in my old Accord (5 speed) with the Boston BMW Club.

    I also had a lot of fun in Virginia during Snowmaggeddon several years ago. I had snows on my Accord and plenty of confidence.

    I do love to slide on the snow when conditions are safe to do so. I hate shoveling the stuff though, and dealing with it in day to day life.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Ronnie, I too love driving in snow. Just got the Mrs. sideways a couple times last night pulling out of the neighborhood in our FWD. She was naturally convinced death was imminent.

    All I can say to the world at large is, when it comes to driving on snow, practice makes perfect! Hit the parking lots and break it loose, then figure out how to bring it back. God, I miss the good old days of barreling with HS friends into parallel spins, gigantic ’70′s RWD tanks so close together that keeping the spins in phase was essential to avoid dents. Snow is FUN! Yippee!

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I’m with you The thought of year ’round 70 degree weather strikes me as boring as hell. Six or seven more years and I’ll be in snow country and loving every minute of it.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I’ve heard of a couple folks, however, who were caught by the police hooning around parking lots in the winter, and were cited for reckless operation!

      Let’s be careful out there!

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I’m a huge fan of winter driving as well. That’s when you get to drive at the limit all the time while still staying close to legal speeds. Storm warning? Great time for a road trip. I love the feeling of the vehicle dancing around underneath me.

      It’s unfortunate they eventually turn my playground into a disgusting mess of salt and dirt just to accommodate all the people using inappropriate tires. It’s not like it’s an occasional thing for us. The roads are slippery every day for at least three months straight every year regardless of their efforts.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Sliding around (on purpose) in the snow is a lot of fun. Sliding around unintentionally is not as much fun. I’ve got a set of Altimax Arctics on my Sportwagen, and it makes for good times to drive around our subdivision and turn corners with the emergency brake and just be stupid, as long as no other cars are around. I also enjoy getting up to about 20-30 MPH and slamming on the brakes to see how slippery it is. Pretty fun when the ABS is activated, and equally fun when I start off and the traction control light flickers like it’s having a seizure.

    I do worry about all the other idiots with their sense of invincibility (it’s “fourah wheel drive!” as they say in Maine) driving around on bald or just sh!tty all-seasons in their passenger cars and SUVs. Just because it’s 4WD doesn’t mean it’s 200% better at stopping than a 2WD car, especially if it’s not wearing proper winter shoes.

  • avatar
    fiasco

    This morning I had to park my 03 Subaru Legacy with Altimax Arctics and take the 97 Volvo 850 GLT with (at least) 10-year-old NOS Cooper Weathermasters (the Legacy nuked a door latch with the cold). Guess what, the FWD Volvo was about as good as the Subie in most every situation save off-the-line acceleration! The Volvo does have half the miles of the Subaru, but the Volvo TRACS and ABS are much less intrusive than the Subaru ABS (which basically shuts off the brakes on anything that isn’t tarmac). Hell, if I could put the 17-year-old Volvo traction control on a new FWD Sienna minivan, I wouldn’t need an AWD Sienna in the fleet!

  • avatar
    E39luv

    My wife knows as soon as the flakes start falling, I’m off to the office parking lot for some doughnut action or any pointless errands I can dream up. They don’t defy physics, but the Blizzaks definitely deliver the mail when it comes to making an E39 an awesome snowmobile. If I could swap from Pirelli Rosso Corsas to studded snow tires, I’d still rather be motorcycling.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I really want to get the Haflinger running again now; few things amuse me more than the look of outrage I receive from A4 Audi drivers when I breeze past them through foot-deep snow in a tiny truck no bigger than a modern utility ATV.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      You really have a Haflinger? Very cool!

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I’ve enjoyed driving it until one of a prior owner’s patch jobs sidelined it for a couple of years. Finding a NOS Zenith 32NDIX (Oct 10,1983 on the box, woo!) was a high point of last year’s highlights, although I still need to polish the accelerator pump well. I’m trying to restore the drive line to original specs before altering anything, but a conversion to BMW boxer twin power is an enticing proposition – as long as I can govern its top speed below 80kph/50mph.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    FWD has certainly taken most of the fun out of winter driving (except possibly for the few who enjoy tire shredding understeer).

    One of my best winter cars was a Jeep Cherokee with manual t-case. You could drive it like Steve Kinser at Eldora, and if you screwed up and beached it, drop into 4wd and motor out.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    -Sighs- Seeing the normal level of SUV drivers are idiots snark. Some SUV drivers completely understand that 4WD go does not mean 4WD stop. Some of us used to drive 4WD pickups. In days of yore we had to come to a complete stop, get out and lock the hubs in, get back in the tuck and shift the transfer case. SUVs are always the 1st vehicles I see in the ditch!!!! Always!!!! Yeah, sure.


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