Ask the Editor: Does a Front-wheel-drive Honda S'Accorde With Canadian Weather?

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

Pete writes:

I find myself in a situation uniquely suited to seek out the counsel of the wise and insightful folks at TTAC (Sajeev, Mark, and the B&B).

I have been a long time resident of Tampa, Florida, where my ’98 Honda Accord and my wife’s ’04 Honda Accord perfectly suit the needs of my family (which includes our two boys, ages one and three). The ’98 has about 175,000 miles on the clock. I am just handy enough to do all required maintenance and repairs myself.

My employer has offered me the opportunity to relocate to Ottawa for the next three years. My wife works as a CPA and all of her clients are here in Tampa or greater Florida. The plan for now is for her to spend the tax seasons in Tampa with the boys while I enjoy the Ottawa winters solo.

Here are some additional facts of the case:

– I have aspirations to drive on occasion from the city to some of the ski areas to the north of Ottawa.

– My wife’s ’04 will likely remain in Tampa for her and the boys’ use while they are here.

– I have plenty of winter driving experience while my wife has none.

– There is a decent chance that the ’98 will not survive the entire three years (check me on this).

– We’re both pretty frugal (cheap).

– While she is in Ottawa, we will each need our own car.

So (finally) here are my questions:

– Will a good set of snow tires on the ’98 Accord be enough to get by?

– When and/or if my ’98 Accord freezes to death, what should I replace it with? If it comes to this, I would probably travel south to Vermont or New York to buy the replacement car.

– Would I have to get a Canada car for my wife? The assumption here is all-wheel drive. Yes, CR-V is an option. I have heard that Ottawa can get some impressive snow from April through to May which would require her to drive in the snow.

– Do I need to learn French?

Thanks for having stayed with me as I meander to the point of my message.

Mark answers:

As this is the first letter sent to me to answer, I’m sure the Best & Brightest will poke all sorts of holes in the advice I’m about to offer up — but that’s the whole point, right?

To your first question, the Honda Accord is the 32nd-best-selling car in Canada. That doesn’t lend much credence to it being a stellar winter performer. Canadians prefer other vehicles. But it’s those other vehicles that are most like your Accord.

Consider this: After the Ford F-Series and Ram pickup truck line, the best selling model in Canada is the Honda Civic. Comparing the ’15 Civic and your ’98 Accord, they have relatively similar lengths (14 feet and 11 inches for the ’15 Civic, 15 feet and 8 inches for ’98 Accord), are separated by fewer than 2 inches in wheelbase, and their curb weights are separated by the average weight of a teenage Canadian male (2,754 pounds for the Civic, 2,888 pounds for the Accord). Both have front-wheel drive. Neither has an all-wheel-drive option. Yet, Canadians buy Civics in droves. My mother owns a Civic. She lives on the outskirts of a small town on a road that’s probably on the bottom of the plow drivers’ priority list. She rarely has a problem getting to where she needs to go.

Taking into account your assertion that you have some winter driving experience under your belt and that you plan excursions outside of the city, a set of winter tires should do you just fine in the ’98 Accord. If you were bound to our nation’s capital, quality all-season tires would suffice — but they wouldn’t be the best option. Unfortunately, in that part of Ontario, you can’t use studded winter tires, so you’ll have to make do with studless rubber. Try to get narrower winter tires than you would summers as the narrower tread will allow you to dig through the white stuff to make contact with harder, grippier surfaces below.

The answer is clear as to what to replace your Accord with when it finally succumbs to copious amounts of Canadian road salt: whatever you are most comfortable driving within your budget. All-wheel-drive vehicles are going to allow you to get away from a stop in a much quicker, more predictable manner when traction is hard to come by, but it’s almost all equal once you get on the highway. You’ll have a better idea of your comfort level with front-wheel drive in the snow after the first year with your Accord.

Sidebar: You want to go to the U.S. to buy a car and bring it back to Canada? Hold right there, mon ami. There are a number of things to consider when purchasing a vehicle in another country. Any factory warranty guaranteed by an automaker on the American side of the border will be invalid on the Canadian side. Also, have you seen the value of the Canadian dollar lately? If you’re buying used, you’d be out of your mind to buy a car on the U.S. side today if you’re getting paid in American dinero — and some analysts are predicting the Loonie to continue its downward slide. The other concern is import duty. If you are buying a car that wasn’t built within NAFTA (United States, Canada or Mexico), you can incur some stiff charges upon bringing your U.S.-purchased car back to Canada. And there’s the annoying three-day waiting period to top it all off.

Instead of making a decision right away regarding your wife’s ability to drive in the snow with a front-wheel-drive car, put her in the driver’s seat of your Accord during a visit. If the majority of her driving will be within the city, I’d say she’d likely be comfortable with the Accord. It’s when you get outside of the city and off the highway where all-wheel drive vehicles can really come in handy.

However, the best advice I can give you is this: If you feel unnerved about the weather conditions, don’t drive (if you can help it). Canadian employers know the pain associated with living in a winter climate. If you’re snowed in, well, you’re snowed-in. Go shovel that driveway or work from home. If you feel lazy, watch TV or do something else to prolong your stay at home for the day. “Snow day” in Canada is just another name for “unscheduled vacation.”

Being that you’ll be living in Ottawa, just across the river from Gatineau, Quebec, some basic French is a requirement: Quebecers mention church and church-like things when they’re mad, they typically eat Russian presidents when hungry, and being called a tête carrée is not a compliment you dirty, dirty Anglo.

[Image credit: By IFCAR (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

This is “Ask the Editor,” where you can pose questions on anything you want as long as it’s somewhat car related. Chances are you’ll receive a different answer depending on who you ask — so caveat emptor! Do you have a question? Send it to and we’ll make sure it gets routed to the correct party.

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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2 of 113 comments
  • Kurt B Kurt B on Jan 06, 2016

    Current Ottawa resident here. Your Accord will be fine with a decent set of Winter tires (Blizzak, X-Ice, Conti WinterContact SI) They salt the roads like crazy so it'll be good to have an older vehicle for the winter. One thing to check that may sound silly. A former coworker imported his Ford from the southern US and it didn't have standard rear defrost. That caused him a huge PITA in the Winter. I'm sure it's no longer an issue. As for your other vehicle: In my neighborhood there are essentially 4 vehicles that dominate. Subaru Impreza / Forester Toyota Rav4 Honda CRV CRV and Rav4 AWD systems are vastly inferior. That said, there are a lot of small sedans that do just fine including a Sonic. I have never owned a 4x4 or awd vehicle and have driven in nasty conditions and ski regularly in Quebec. Your winter considerations in Ottawa will be as follows: 1)Ice, including black ice - This is the most dangerous as it can't always be seen and can cause things to go badly quickly. 2)Snow - They are very good at clearing snow in Ottawa. If you can, find a place that doesn't require on-street parking. There are overnight winter parking bans in Ottawa that become a pain in the butt. 3)Ground clearance - When they clear the main roads, they leave large snowbanks that you have to cross. Good luck with the move and bring your ice skates for the canal :-)

  • Lurker_n Lurker_n on Jan 11, 2016

    Also lives in Ottawa, drives a RWD with winter tire. Did a quick scan of the comment, didn't see anyone bring up winter driving school. $300CAD (like USD220 now?) 1 day driving school by MCO (Motorsport club of Ottawa), it'd be good for your wife to get some winter driving lessons in closed course. Google or Youtube clips of the school, welcome to Ottawa.