Piston Slap: Is The 2WD 'Burb Ready for The Snow?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap is the 2wd burb ready for the snow

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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. 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.

Join the conversation
4 of 224 comments
  • Dswilly Dswilly on Dec 10, 2013

    For all those advising taking a 2WD Suburban to the mountains, throwing a bunch of sandbags in it and calling it OK, go for it, but it’s far from good. That’s what we all did when we had no choice and they got stuck all the time. There are much better options out there. If you think that thing would be “OK” in mountain weather take it up to Georgetown for one of the ice driving schools and see how it shakes out. If you can even get it there on a snowy day.

    • See 1 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Dec 10, 2013

      I agree with Lorenzo. I'm not saying that the sandbags is the BEST answer, but I do believe it's better than any of the options listed in the original question. Those people need to learn how to drive on snow and ice before they try driving an expensive lifestyle car in it. When I learned to drive, RWD was just about the only option available and you learned how to handle it--or crash. I had the luxury of gaining access to a grass field shortly after a moderate rain (so the ground wasn't exactly muddy) and learned to handle slides and skids when I was 16 years old. I learned how to make those J-turns work without a handbrake. I learned how to enter and get out of skids under almost every condition. Even then, I got caught out cold up on I-70 in the Rockies when a hailstorm laid pea-sized hail just over the crest of a hill and I slid sideways almost a quarter of a mile with the wheel turned hard over and my foot OFF the brake and gas. The road curved and I had a choice of broadsiding into the median, or trying to spin to back in. I chose the spin and did no more damage to car and passengers than blowing the bead on one tire. I drove back out of the median, swapped tires and continued the trip. No stability control or ABS would have prevented it. AWD MIGHT have let me pull out of it. As for the load over the back wheels? I later purchased a compact pickup truck and KNEW it would have skid issues on snow and ice. When I shoveled my driveway and sidewalk, I dumped it all in the back of the truck and drove everywhere with no trouble whatsoever--even when others were sliding all over the place. That weight DID help on a typically nose-heavy rig. However, my point is that you have to learn how to handle the conditions and expecting the car to do all the work for you is just plain dumb; you WILL end up in the ditch. Or ramming somebody else's car. Oh, and I would have loved to attend that snow driving school, if I'd known it was there 30 years ago.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Dec 15, 2013

    "He liked the control of a RWD power train, eliminating understeer with tail wagging oversteer as needed." Do we need to explain to the rally car drivers that they're doing it wrong? Seriously though, how could someone own a part-time 4WD vehicle and have not figured out that they can throw it sideways with the throttle anytime they want either way, the main difference being that all acceleration occurs in slow motion in one of the settings.

  • Jeff S If AM went away I would listen to FM but since it is insignificant in the cost to the car and in an emergency broadcast it is good to have. I agree with some of the others its another way to collect money with a subscription. AM is most likely to go away in the future but I will use AM as long as its around.
  • BEPLA I think it's cool the way it is.If I had the money, time and space - I'd buy it, clean it up, and just do enough to get it running properly.Then take it to Cars and Coffee and park it next to all the newer Mustangs.
  • Dave M. I suppose Jethro’s farm report comes via AM, but there’s a ton of alternative ways to get that info. Move forward people. Progress is never easy.
  • BEPLA For anything but the base model, I'd rather have a pre-owned Polestar 2.
  • BEPLA "Quality is Job........well, it's someone's job, but it's not our job.Neither is building vehicles that people actually want or need.We only build what's most profitable. If only someone would buy our 97 day supply of SuperDutys."