The Truth About Cars » snow The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 11:23:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » snow Piston Slap: The Luxury Sedan Fanboi Fallacy Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:58:13 +0000

Earl writes:

Hi Sajeev,

My wife wants me to sell our pristine, time-capsule 90 Cressida for a 4Runner (or similar) because we live in winter-world. I am looking at used 4Runners and the prices are crazy. Typically a rusted 1996-98 with 350-390,000KM will be asking $5,000 – $6,000CDN. I have seen Lexus LS with half the mileage, far better condition and all services done for that price.

What gives? Are 4Runners that good?

Sajeev answers:

Of course used 4Runners aren’t that good! Well, except they are that good for many folks.

Here’s the deal: you, much like me, have a soft spot for classic luxury (or near luxury) sedans. They are so nice, so affordable and give you so much more than any other road going machine.  And the Cressida isn’t a K-car derived New Yorker, it kinda gives the same thoroughly satisfying experience as a newer near luxury sedan. But for pennies on the dollar. An excellent value proposition that everyone should embrace!

The fallacy?  Nobody’s gonna embrace a cheap alternative to an Avalon under warranty. But everyone outside of Manhattan wants a beater truck (or truck based SUV) to carry shit, safely travel through snow, flash floods, non-KOA campgrounds, etc.  As much as my Lincoln-Mercury fanboi self enjoys the occasional compliment on my cars, I get cash offers on my 5-speed Ranger. On a regular basis: the market has spoken, son!

Is the 4Runner worth the money?  Sure, as they earned a reputation for great quality, excellent performance and even superior fit and finish. And the market reflects those opinions.  But that’s another fallacy: the quality gap at the fully depreciated level really depends more on service records. I’ll take a cherry Explorer/Blazer/Durango with a binder full of receipts over a rust bucket 4Runner with zero service history. Odds are both can be had for the same price.

If you are so frickin’ bad-ass enough to roll a choice Cressida, I don’t peg you as a lemming. The tone of your letter also proved the point. But if the sedan has to go to keep your household in balance, buy something other than a 4Runner.   Because, unless your Fanboi blood runs deep, Toyota SUVs and Trucks (especially Tacomas) can be a poor value for their premium asking price.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Fabric Tops vs Polar Vortex? Mon, 13 Jan 2014 13:25:43 +0000 Josh writes:

Sajeev –

Great news! After research, waiting, and a little bit of compromise, I have finally bought my first ‘real’ car. Last month, I bought a ’05 BMW 645i convertible with very low mileage and a clean bill of health. It is wonderful and brings me a little joy every time I start it.

Bad news! The country is currently gripped in a cold snap the likes of which we haven’t seen in 2 decades, and also, by the way, I live in Denver.

While I am more than comfortable with RWD in the snow, and I am getting used to not having a real spare tire, I realized that I had not considered maintenance of the top in cold-weather conditions. It is currently parked outside, and while a carport is available if I want to go that direction, I am more concerned what the combination of H2O and low mercury will do, at least until I move to a place with a real garage again.

Any suggestions how I can extend the joy and minimize loss when it comes time to sell? Thanks!

Sajeev answers:

Minimize the loss when it comes to sell?  Be more concerned with the litany of possible BMW E63 gremlins to keep at bay before selling it on to the next fan of such “real” cars.

And keeping the interior in tip-top shape, especially if you run everywhere with the top down.

But let’s talk about snow and convertibles: it could be a problem, considering last week’s polar vortex.  If wet snow and/or ice breaks tree branches and collapses roofs, they could bend your convertible’s metal frame.  Perhaps you could scratch plastic rear windows (not applicable here) with your ice scraper, too.

My advice is to keep the top free of snow accumulation so you’ll never worry about bent frame supports when hitting the switch.

Everything else?  Well, if you keep it around for years with no garage, the top’s gonna need replacement no matter what.  And considering the price of a re-pop top, there are far scarier powertrain/suspension/electronic replacement items on this Bimmer that I’d be worried about.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom: 

Do not leave valuables inside your car in plain sight!  A bad idea with any car, but even worse  in a drop top.  Taking a brick to your window to steal your iPod  is one thing, but a knife to your fabric roof to grab spare change on your console is another.  Hell, I’d consider leaving your convertible unlocked so someone can easily open it, look around for something to steal, find nothing and NEVER slap you with a $1000+ repair bill for fitting a new top! 


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Driving In A Winter Wonderland Fri, 03 Jan 2014 12:00:51 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

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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Piston Slap: Is The 2WD ‘Burb Ready for The Snow? Mon, 09 Dec 2013 13:00:28 +0000

Jay writes:

Professor Mehta,

I have some friends that are moving to Colorado from native South Florida. They’ve never lived in a 4 season climate let alone driven in snow. They own outright a 2007 2WD Suburban (80k miles) L33/LS1 FTW. The other car is an Acura TL he drives for work.

Since I’m the resident car guy, they’ve asked for advice. Should they trade the Suburban and get her a CPO X5 (her dream car)? Or buy an MDX, RX350 AWD?

My thought is they should keep the Suburban, at least for the first winter, and put a really nice set of Blizzaks on it. That way they can learn to drive in snow, and get a feel for what kind of vehicle would thrive in their new town (commute, traffic, snow etc).

After all, if it’s horrible, they can always mosey down to the dealer and trade out. It’s also my concern that AWD would be seen as a cure all and/or bring overconfidence on the road. I told them AWD doesn’t do squat with braking. Am I giving proper advice? What do you think?

Don’t let Sanjeev anywhere near this Piston Slap!

Sajeev answers:

When I was a wannabe-car designer in Detroit, a friend (rural Ohio native) explained why he almost never used four-wheel drive in his Blazer.  He liked the control of a RWD power train, eliminating understeer with tail wagging oversteer as needed. Because, as you mentioned, AWD can inspire overconfidence…and understeer into something unforgiving.

That said, Detroit did plow/salt the roads when needed. And when it really, really snowed, you didn’t want to go outside until the plow could keep up. Such is metropolitan city life: there’s a chance your friends don’t need a 4×4/AWD SUV…unless they live on a real steep hill. Or they live in a suburb with less frequent plowing. Or…

Take it from me: your advice only goes so far with others (especially when that advice is horrible – Sanjeev) so if they either want OR need an AWD vehicle, they should test drive the X5 and some others, and let them buy whatever they want.

See if they’ll put Blizzaks (or similar) on the ‘burb, because it’s the smart use of their money.  That might be enough to make them believers.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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First Annual White Knuckle White-Out Challenge Sat, 23 Feb 2013 11:45:57 +0000

Most harebrained ideas are hatched under the influence This was no different. A thousand miles removed from Canada’s largest city, two freelance automotive writers were guzzling beer and bandying about ideas for potential stories. Most of the concepts were actually elaborate ruses designed solely for gaining access to OEM press fleets.

“Let’s drive to Toronto!” Mark heartily suggested. “It’s only, what, a thousand miles?”

“That’s sixteen hundred kilometers, in Queen’s English,” I corrected him. “Why? For what purpose?”

“Well, the Canadian International Auto Show is in February. Let’s crash that party.” White out!

Perfect. Smartphones were synced. Billfolds were audited. A plan was put into action. Deciding to go was the easy part; now we had to figure out how to get there. Clearly, driving would be the preferred method, given that we both write about cars. For me, a personal rule is that if I can drive to a destination with minimal fuss and aggravation, I will do so rather than suffer the anguish of thundering through the atmosphere in a poorly ventilated jet-engined cigar with wings.

Several OEMs were approached and the idea was pitched that two Large Persons driving a thousand miles to Toronto in the dead of winter would make for a great story. Two manufacturers grabbed hold of the concept – Mazda provided an MX-5 and Chrysler ponied up a Fiat 500 Turbo. Shod with winter tires, having a couple of sport compacts out of their natural elements promised to be entertaining.


Little did we know just how entertaining. Setting off at promptly 9:48am from far flung Truro, Nova Scotia, spirits ran high. The sun blazed, crystallizing the record snowfall from a major snowstorm that had dumped a foot of snow the day previous. As we vacated town, the hills rang with snow-blowers, and the occasional mating call of a rare species, the Snowplowus Interruptus.

We were in northern New Brunswick, about seven hours on the road, when the snow was back, to strike hard and fast. With little daylight remaining, we exited the highway, trundling to a halt at a little used coffee shop that smelled like pee. Eschewing their blackened offerings, we weighed our options. The snow was falling at an apocalyptic rate. Even a military convoy ahead of us had sought shelter at a nearby, downtrodden motel.

“I’d rather get a kick in the nuts than drive in the dark in this shit,” I blustered aloud while beating two inches of ice off the little Fiat’s wiper blades.

Taking a long drag on his cigarette, Mark flatly suggested that we at least make a run for the Quebec border, some 200km distant. Knowing full well that once I had the chance to curse the weather and refill the windshield washer fluid tank on the Fiat, I’d be game to continue the drive. He was right. We reentered the divided highway full of gusto, verve, and fuel.

“The little red-headed Italian likes to wiggle her hips,” I tersely reported over the two-way radio. Hardly the car’s fault, this. In fact, the snow was so deep that the front bumper of the MX-5 often acted as the most rudimentary of plows, biffing fluffy white powder up in the air and back over its bonnet. Snow was a good six inches deep on the road surface.

In the Fiat, the windshield washer fluid reservoir continued to stick in my craw, running dry at what seemed to be three second intervals. Memo to Fiat: please, please increase the windshield wash capacity. At a mere two litres, all it takes is for a few trucks to roar by the 500 Turbo to deplete its meagre allotment of blue liquid. At minimum, add a LOW WASHER FLUID idiot light to the cinnamon bun of a gauge cluster. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Fiat driver’s seat was astonishingly comfortable for this six and a half foot author.

Trucks rocketed past in the fast lane, secured by the weight of their 52 foot heavy trailers. With visibility near zero, I went on ahead in the Fiat, hazards blaring. I figured that if I illuminated the car, my chances of being found when I eventually deposited myself into a crusty roadside snowbank would rise from None to Slim.

It was during this leg of the journey that I dubbed the whole event the First Annual White Knuckle Challenge.

But you know what? The sojourn into the snowbank that seemed so inevitable simply didn’t happen. Not only did we forge through to the Quebec border, we made it all the way to our planned stop at a hotel which had been booked several days prior. It was a solid thirteen hours after setting out from Truro that morning and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

For two cars that are usually approached in winter with the same caution as one would approach a lump of plutonium that has suddenly appeared in the lettuce crisper, the 500 Turbo and MX-5 were totally and superbly competent machines. Cars are like sex: with the correct rubber on, they can go anywhere.

The next morning brought more snow covered roads and much appreciated daylight. Precipitation and perspiration ceased about an hour after we left the hotel, and we approached the froggy delights of Montreal with élan. Pausing for some photos at the base of a picturesque mountain in a random megabucks suburb, the two sport compacts suddenly looked like the entirely right choices for this journey. At that moment, I couldn’t have imagined driving anything else. Onwards, then.


Montreal drivers frequently displayed a dangerous mixture of apathy and aggression, prompting banzai lane changes and the occasional furrowed brow. In fifth gear, the Fiat’s turbo lag is best measured with a calendar, forcing one to row their way through fourth and even third gear in order to keep the 1.4L on full boil while maintaining flank speed in heavy traffic.

Navigating the busiest highway in North America, we wound our way to our hotel in downtown Toronto. Arriving in the dark, I reflected on how damn well these two cars performed, completely out of their element. The Fiat even returned good fuel economy, 7.2L/100km. That’s 40mpg , as close as makes no difference. On snow tires. In rough conditions. Win.

At the base of CN Tower, high fives were exchanged. We made it in one piece, even though the brown pants factor was high on occasion. That evening, more alcohol was consumed and more plans were hatched. What kind, you ask? Let’s just say it involves a couple of full-sized trucks and some precision driving. VTEC just kicked in, yo!

For this journey, Mazda provided an insured MX-5 while Chrysler provided an insured Fiat 500 Turbo, both with clutch pedals. Save the Manuals!

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]]> 45 New or Used: Seatown, not Snowtown! Tue, 16 Oct 2012 14:00:13 +0000

TTAC Commentator Horseflesh writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Winter is coming. Like any true Seattle suburbanite, I dread the debut of the white stuff. We’re so scared of snow up here that the local insurance company even aired commercials teasing us about it.

I have to admit, the truth hurts, and I am a big snow-baby, choosing to stay off the roads as much as possible. But sometimes, you have to drive. And here’s the question: I need a hand from the Best & Brightest on selecting a snowy steed, because I just don’t have enough experience to know which of our vehicles is best suited to the job.

Option One: 2010 Mini Cooper Clubman, with manual transmission and Michelin Ice-X snow tires. This car is front wheel drive, obviously, including an automagical “dynamic stability control.” Sometimes the DSC light on the dash comes on under hard cornering, so you can be sure that something is happening… but how helpful is the system behind the dashboard light? I have no idea.

Option Two: 2000 Impreza RS, with manual transmission and all-season tires. This is a normally aspirated sedan, with AWD 50/50 power split and a limited slip rear differential. It has no form of electronic stability control. Surprisingly, the Scooby only weighs about 100 lbs more than the Mini. Lastly, if it makes the difference in the Snow Day Showdown, I’ll put on snow tires.

Option Three: 2003 E350 cargo van, with automatic transmission and all-season tires. Weighing more than the other 2 cars put together, and featuring the refinement of a coal train, I cannot see this being a good choice. Also, it is glacier white. The inevitable wreck would therefore be well-hidden from first responders.

What say the B&B? Does a FWD car with stability control and snow tires beat an AWD car without either? If the AWD car gets snow tires, does that change the outcome? There is likely at least one long, snowy drive ahead of me this winter, so I very much appreciate any input.


Steve answers:

It’s a good thing you’re thinking about it. As a former resident of upstate New York, let me clue you in on a few things.

First off, both the Mini and the Impreza will be perfectly fine in the snow. Although I would favor the Mini due to the snow tires and the electronic stability control. All wheel drive will not save your bacon if you don’t have any traction for the wheels. Snow tires make that difference in real world driving.

Front wheel drive is fine for most regions (which is where by the way?).. Snow tires are even better. Electronic stability control is one more strong plus.

The Impreza would offer a bit more ground clearance if you have to commute in an area where the snowfall is near Buffalo levels and the public services are near Detroit levels. All things being equal, I would stick with the Mini. If you really want to improve your snow driving prowess I would encourage you to strike up a few local conversations and watch some Youtube videos.

Sajeev answers:

Aside from LSX-FTW, tires have the most impact to a car’s performance: various sizes, inflation pressures, tread designs and rubber compounds are in play.  The Econoline might be okay with a ton of ballast in the rear, but it’s the worst choice. The best is the rig with the snow tires.  Plus, it’s front wheel drive!

The MINI is the only choice, total no brainer. Unless you sell it and get a Panther with the aforementioned ton of ballast in the trunk.  I only say this because my first car (1965 Ford Galaxie, automatic, open differential) lived in Palouse most of its life, with snow tires and a couple of sandbags in the trunk for ballast. And if my relatives could tough it out (as if) in a Galaxie for decades, why not treat yourself to a Panther?

I’m just sayin’…who else could make this question all about Panthers???

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New Or Used?: Living In A Cheapskate Paradise Wed, 25 Jul 2012 22:13:29 +0000

I currently drive a 2005 MINI Cooper S convertible. I’ve been swapping winter/summer tires for the past few years but I was thinking that this year I might get a beater car for the harsher weather months. The combination of FWD and wear and tear on the fabric roof are my main reasons for these considerations.

I live in NJ, so most of my driving is on the highway but as part of my job as a systems admin in a datacenter, I’m occasionally called into work at times when even the highways haven’t been plowed.

Do you think it’s possible to find a cheap (around $1000), preferably AWD car that would work well for winters in the northeast? Craigslist searches so far have turned up a handful of Subarus, Volvos, and Audis Quattro.


A Former Resident Of The Garden State Says…


Yes! You can buy an AWD car in New Jersey for $1000!

Of course the car would have to be stolen or misappropriated from a government agency. Maybe both.

Then there is always the slim chance to do one of those low down payment deals and ‘negotiate’ your way through the winter months.

Something tells me that neither one of these possibilities will come true for you. Then again, I have no idea who you work for so feel free to ponder them if you like.

My real advice is two-fold…

1) Buy some top of the line protectant. TTAC isn’t in the official endorsement business. But start with this.

2) Most anything you buy these days for $1000 will require a lot of immediate maintenance… and may very well be at death’s door.

If you want to lose your savings, keep being stingy.

If you want to keep your car for the long haul, invest in it. Snow tires, protectant, and a couple of good cleanings throughout the year will  yield far greater dividends than a broken down jalopy that spews oil and sucks your savings.

You can also rent if you like. Enterprise and a few other rental car companies will pick you up. Make sure you have plenty of coupons and a friendly relationship with the counter person. Good luck!

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Whoa, What’s That? Mon, 07 Feb 2011 13:00:27 +0000
Sometimes you’re just driving along when something catches your attention as you whiz past. Was that a… no, it couldn’t be. This happened to me as I headed home from the Tri-State Swap Meet at Denver’s Stock Show Complex on Saturday. So, we went back around the block and I took this blurry, Loch Ness Monster-style shot (rather than get out of the truck in a snowstorm). No, it’s not a factory-made Superbird or Daytona, but maybe it’s a super-rare Chrysler prototype from the depths height of the Malaise Era, just parked in some dude’s driveway!

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Carmakers Snowed, Stop Lines Thu, 16 Dec 2010 07:19:56 +0000

Due to missing parts, GM, Ford and Chrysler had to shut down plants in the U.S. and Canda, or put them on half shifts for the second day, Reuters reports.

  • GM’s Lansing Grand River plant in Michigan is shut down, and six other plants have shortened or suspended shifts
  • Ford suspended production early at their Oakville assembly plant in Ontario. Some of their plants in Canada and the U.S. missed production earlier, he said.
  • Chrysler factories in Toledo, Ohio, and Brampton, Ontario, were shut down this morning to resume production later in the day.

As reason for the temporary shutdowns, winter storms were cited that stranded trucks and disrupted delivery. However, the true reasons run deeper:

  • There is an industry-wide constraint for parts. Carmageddon has left many parts makers bankrupt and closed. Surviving ones had scaled down. Now the survivors are swamped.
  • The fragile just-in-time system is easily impacted by force majeure in the best of times. During shortages, a snowflake can cause a crisis.
  • Demand for certain car segments and makes is shifting quickly as the market reorients. Sudden demand often outruns supply, especially when lean production has the factory starving for parts.

But hey, missing parts is a better problem than missing customers.

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