By on February 2, 2018

 

snow tires

Sanjeev writes:

Hello Sajeev, I am Sanjeev.

I moved to Michigan last year and have been driving a used 2006 Corolla. I can definitely afford a better car, but this one is serving me good. Agreed that it doesn’t have all the needed electronics and sex appeal; I am not swayed by that. The recent snow (about six inches) in Detroit area made me think of buying a car with needed ESC, ABS for better handling and driving. I have heard, read a lot about FWD and AWD cars and their handling on snowy roads but haven’t fully comprehended RWD cars on a snowy road.

Many online articles generally suggest that RWD is a bad idea during winter. Still, I see many of many colleagues driving RWD 300s, Durangos, and CTSes. Is RWD better or not on snowy roads?

Sajeev answers:

WELL HELLO SANJEEV: we meet after your years of convincing TTAC’s Best and Brightest (here, here, here, here, here, here) that you run this show. Now everyone knows you do NOT, therefore they’ll stop asking for your help.

Sanjeev, remember that most modern cars are similarly set up in terms of handling: especially relevant on plowed roads, as the benefits of FWD or AWD drop off precipitously. Most suspension (springs, shocks, sway bars, tire pressures, etc) engineers tune for understeer (spin-outs are usually more dangerous) while modern electronics keep wheels from spinning off course.

The main factor — what puts the “N” in Sanjeev, you might say — is tire selection. Why, I reckon damn near every RWD car spanks 100 percent stock FWD/AWD if swapped over to aftermarket, winter rubber.  The video below exaggerates snow tires’ benefits (plus the M3 has a limited slip axle) but it proves the point:

As a former design student at CCS in Detroit, I can vouch for RWD’s benefits for expert drivers/hoons: the ability to dial-in oversteer when the front end starts plowing is either reckless (over-driving) or totally awesome (private road, nobody gets hurt).

But that’s not the point.  My recommendation for most city-folk is still a modern FWD car with 1) all handling nannies activated and 2) proper winter tires fitted. But everyone’s forgiven for going Mercury Grand Marquis RWD when a set of snow tires is in the equation.

[Image: Shutterstock user LeManna]

Send your queries to [email protected]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. 

Also, if your tires suck and you’re shopping for new tires, help support TTAC’s work by doing your research at TireReviewsandMore.com. — TTAC staff

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93 Comments on “Piston Slap: Sanjeev Gets a Grip on Snow Tires?...”


  • avatar
    EBFlex

    It’s not about what wheels get the power….the biggest single factor is choosing the right tire. It is the only part of your vehicle that touches the ground. The video above should be shown in all drivers ed classes.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    As I have said before, going up a slippery hill, RWD will allow you to maintain steering control while the rears fight for traction. It requires a lot of back-and-forth steering input and deft throttle control.

    As mentioned, an FWD vehicle will just spin the tires and you will have no directional control.

    One important factor is weight shift as pointing uphill will somewhat unload the front tires allowing the engine to spin the fronts more easily. Granted, this is only one winter driving scenario.

    But a bigger factor is winter tires. Any vehicle can be made to perform much better in snowy conditions with a decnt set of them.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Yes, but since going downhill doesn’t require as much traction, it becomes more of a non issue.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      “As I have said before, going up a slippery hill, RWD will allow you to maintain steering control while the rears fight for traction.”

      That was true back when I learned to drive in the 1990s.

      It’s no longer true in a modern car with traction control. With traction control, FWD cars have both more traction, and also great controllability.

      FWD doesn’t make anyone feel like a manly man for mastering RWD skills. But, it is the correct drive wheel setup for a 2wd passenger vehicle with 2018 technology.

  • avatar
    Dutcowski

    After years of Astro/Safari and some Chevette I’ll keep to FWD. Regardless rear drive will get stuck & spin on the world’s smallest patch of ice.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I have yet to get stuck in our RWD 2000 Durango since getting Blizzaks. I have pushed snow out int a field with the front bumper one year during deer season. I have pulled another car out of a drift with it. Winter tires work very well.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    RWD is better for practically every application, this is why tractors and race cars tend to be RWD. I’ve been driving in Syracuse, NY for 40 years and have had many different types of vehicles. There are pluses and minuses to every type but two variables are important; the driver and the tires. I’ve seen SUV/CUVs in ditches or up on curbs while Mustangs, Camaros, and RWD Challengers cruise right by. Some people just don’t know how to drive. I started running Cooper snow tires on my 2WD GMC pickup back in the ‘80s and have never had a problem, I’ve been running them on every vehicle since. Awesome tires. People tend to look at the tread, it’s the softness of the compound that makes the difference. You can have an aggressive tread pattern but if the tire’s rock-hard you’re in trouble on snow and ice.

  • avatar
    dima

    Yes, winter tires are game changer in winter driving. Just recently use them in full potential when was crossing Julian Pass in Swiss Alps right after snow storm. Newer has car lost traction on ascent or descent. And all I have is FWD Ford hybrid. Amazing.

  • avatar
    PM300

    Detroit area here, same as Sanjeev and I have a 2016 RWD 300S on Pirelli winter tires. I take my car out in a snow storm before my wife’s 4×4 Cherokee on all seasons every time. I can’t launch from a stop like her Jeep can but it is way more fun being able to stop and steer! I’ve never even come close to getting it stuck either even starting out on ice and 6+ inches of snow.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      A major minus for putting snows on a FWD car: the noise! The noise of snows in front! Make it stop!

      You don’t get that noise when the snow tires are in back, when there’s no snow on the pavement – which is most of the time in the winter, except in Buffalo NY/Erie PA where they have lake effect blizzards almost every day.

      Having learned to drive RWD in the northeast, I can’t say enough about RWD with snow tires and limited slip differentials – and staying home during and right after snow storms, to give the highway workers time to clear the roads.

  • avatar
    bg

    FWIW, for the last three winters I have put studded snow tires on my bicycle, which is rear-wheel drive. With my Suomi Nokian W106’s I can easily pedal up snowy and icy hills passing FWD and AWD vehicles which cannot ascend due to having what I assume are non-snow and ice tires.

    Back in 1998 after a particularly harrowing winter drive in our new Dodge Caravan (front-wheel drive), we bought Blizzak snow and ice tires, and the van was transformed into a sure-footed winter driver.

    Whether it’s a two or four-wheeled vehicle, what makes the difference in cold temperatures is running a tire with tread that can handle loose dirt-like snow, and a compound made to remain soft and pliant in cold weather.

    Studs help on ice…especialy on a bicycle.

    Studs help on ice…

  • avatar
    mikey

    I’m 64 years old and a life time resident of Southern Ontario. I grew up driving RWD Chevys, Buick’s etc etc. . In those days we ran “snow tires ” on the rear.. No stability or traction control. It wasn’t perfect but we got around.

    Ive owned FWD Impalas, Grand Ams, and I’ve lost track of how many “J cars I bought for the kids. My wife and I shared a 89 S15 Long Box 4×4. My wife drove a 84 RWD Chevy Caprice everyday . I bought her a new 2003 jimmy 2 door, equipped with auto 4×4. I had to pry that one out of her hands.

    The point I’m making is, that I have pretty good idea of how snowy weather impacts 4×4, RWD and FWD configurations.

    As mentioned earlier , choice of tires is crucial. Stability and Traction control have levelled the playing field of FWD vs RWD.

    My first year driving an EB mustang equipped with “all season tires” was a nightmare. I used every skill I ever learned keeping that Mustang out of trouble that year.. Lucky for me it was a mild winter. I was also a little house bound, caring for my wife. Circumstances demanded that I needed a lot of essentials delivered, and the car never left the garage much.

    In the fall of 2016 I did the research and bought the Michelin X and had them mounted of OEM matching wheels.

    This year I’ve had the Mustang out in all kinds of conditions. RWD does require some different winter driving skills. That Mustang performs in snow as well as any FWD I’ve ever driven.

    These days I live alone..My kids tell me the Mustang is not a winter car, and i should buy a Grand Cherokee. My buddies say “Mikey’ park the Mustang and buy a Silverado crew 4×4 for the winter ? $60 K plus just to get through the winter ? I don’t think so.

    • 0 avatar
      PM300

      The X-ice is a great tire. I wish they made them for my vehicle (I would have to buy different wheels and downsize). You are making me miss my 2011 Mustang V6 manual on Goodyear UltraGrip Ice’s. The Mustang limited slip rear end combined with a good ol’ fashioned manual transmission was awesome to drive in the snow!

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        Down sizing can be a good thing if you go to a lower cross section coupled with higher aspect ratio to maintain the normal diameter. The skinnier tires can bite through the snow and get down to the pavement better. I’m told that Model Ts were actually not bad in the snow for this reason.

        • 0 avatar
          PM300

          Agreed and I have heard similar regarding the old Model T’s. It is more of a personal aesthetic preference (and lower cost) as to why I kept the larger factory wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          I second downsizing. On my AWD MKZ, I run -1″ diameter and -10mm width Blizzaks on dedicated wheels (with a set of TPMS sensors). I used a commonly-known formula to determine the correct aspect ratio to maintain the proper diameter.

          Of all the cars I’ve owned, this setup (my first AWD car) has, so far, been the best winter vehicle I’ve owned. While AWD does nothing for braking, the automatic torque split does wonders for preserving steering when applying power.

        • 0 avatar
          Felix Hoenikker

          As were VW bugs!

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          Exactly, go look at the tires on a rally car at a snow stage.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      I am generally from the same demographic and have lived in the same geographic area as Mikey. Never had winter tires until my kids started to drive. So that is 30+ years of driving on ‘no seasons’ in Ontario. Would never go back. Have X-ice on my current daily driver and while they are good on ice and rain, find that they lack grip on ‘slush’.

      Started by driving rear engined, air cooled VW’s. The only problems that I ever encountered in them during winter driving was that sometimes enough deep snow built up under the front end of the Type I’s that the front wheels would actually be lifted off the ground.

      Then moved on to RWD V-8 domestics. Generally PLC’s. Lots of fun ‘fishtailing’ and ‘pulling donuts’. Sometimes very antsy, as the rear end would start trying to pull ahead, or move sideways. The sideways move was particularly disconcerting, when you tried to pass a car on the highway and the back end slid out a little. Also somewhat of a white knuckle experience when changing lanes or exiting a highway that had large ‘windrows’ (snow piles from plows) across the lanes.

      Later moved to a full sized ‘disco’ van. The absolute worst vehicle in the winter that I have experienced. Even worse than the Corvette.

      Then the revelation of FWD, with the purchase of our first Civic. Yes if you had the front tires turned at the wrong time, you would have problems. But the engine weight over the drive wheels replicated the VW experience. Watched as many RWD vehicles floundered, slipped and got stuck while our little Civics motored through everything that an Ontario winter could throw at us.

      Had some AWD/4WD vehicles as well. A Grand Cherokee, a 2-door Explorer and a Realtime AWD Honda Wagovan. Never found the 2 extra drive wheels to make enough of a difference to warrant the extra cost involved.

      For my money, the best vehicle that I have had for winter travel was a Pontiac SV6. Heavy front end and high enough ground clearance.

      So from my experience traction and stability control are game changers. Must haves for any vehicle that I would contemplate letting my family drive/ride in. Also ground clearance does make a difference. As does vehicle weight.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @mikey – Very true. One does need to know how a vehicle responds in the winter. That applies to tires and traction/stability control. I find “nannies” work well in all conditions except very extreme conditions.
      Nannies are programmed to manage oversteer rather aggressively. Extreme conditions especially where there is deep snow, momentum and throttle control is the key. Managing oversteer especially in pickups or RWD vehicles is expected and allowing some of it is fine. Same can be said for a bit of understeer. Again it is all something to be managed and allowed to a degree.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      So a mild Canadian winter is what, thirty meters of snow?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @28-Cars-Later – my brother texted me photos a few years back of a logging area in his area. It was in a heavy snow belt area of the Rockies. They were using D8 cats mid winter onward to keep the roads open. The snow was a few feet taller than his pickup.
        My in-laws live in Kamloops BC which is south central interior and they rarely ever get cold weather or much snow.
        My town just got 8 inches overnight…sounds like a sex joke :)

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    When I had my Trans Am, I drove it year-round, but I did have a set of snow tires (on their own wheels) that I would trade off in December and take off in April. I didn’t use specific summer tires (my “summer tires” were technically all-seasons) but what would usually kill my car was ground clearance, not snow itself. I ran stock springs and even then a few inches of unplowed snow started to become a problem. With my current car, I’ve been using all-seasons with good low weather support and I don’t find them objectionable. But I don’t buy cheap tires, I buy Continentals with good reviews and actual tested performance. It’s not as good as when I had blizzaks on all four wheels, but I manage.

    Regardless of tires, FWD, or RWD, the best advice I was ever given was from my dear old dad: drive like there’s an egg under the pedals. No sudden moves, leave yourself gaps, and slow down before you need to.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    Snow tires, snow tires, snow tires.

    I’ve had AWD and FWD over my 30 years of driving and without a doubt, if you are in a climate that gets regular snow then a dedicated set of snow shoes makes all the difference in the world. It definitely makes me feel more confident about the vehicle.

    I’ve run Blizzaks, WinterSports, General Altimaxes and now I’ve got a set of Michelin Pilot Alpins. The Michelins are by far and away the best I’ve owned overall (and the most expensive): quiet, great grip, good handling, don’t go to junk when the weather hits 45-50.

    We’ve had a heavy winter in Northeast Ohio and without a doubt, best purchase I’ve made to ensure safety and peace of mind. I have two colleagues running Michelin Ice-X, which is designed for heavier snow and better grip (trading some road additional road noise and being less friendly when the weather gets warmer), but to the n’th degree: get snow tires!

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    In my non stability and traction control vehicles experiences, RWD has two Achille’s heels in the slick & and snow, and they are primarily about stability of the vehicle.

    First the tail end of the vehicle is prone to coming around, particularly when powering up grades and/or on curves.

    Second, when encountering slush, loose snow or standing water, the non driven front wheels lose their steering ability and hydroplane more readily than a FWD’s wheels that are being forcibly turned in sync with the motion of the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      Agreed on RWD fishtailing. My 97 Crown Vic with all season Altimaxes and no nannies is all too willing to do it on 90 degree turns form a stop. It is also no bueno in the snow. My solution is just to not drive it in the winter snow. I work seasonally and am off for the winter so there’s that. I just use a FWD car with all seasons since I’m too cheap to buy a set of wheels and winter tires for it.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        I once drove a 1969 big block Coronet convertible home in several inches of snow. That is one time I wished it did NOT have a Sure Grip rear end as the rear end would not let just one tire spin and the other just track along in the snow. This made for a very exciting drive that I wish to never duplicate.

        • 0 avatar
          SPPPP

          Interesting, so you are saying the car got more sideways around corners because it forced the outside wheel to slide? Conversely, I think an open differential would have resulted in your Coronet getting stuck because you would have lacked all forward propulsion. Overall, I would say LSD wins in the snow.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            No, I am saying it slid because BOTH tires would spin instead of one staying at road speed allowing the car to track down the road properly. This was a sure grip, not a limited slip. With a limited slip it would have been OK.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          I’ve never had much of an issue with limited slip differentials in pickups, vans and even 60’s era V8’s in relation to rear end control (Pre-nannies).
          You manage it with smooth throttle control and often by “coasting” corners i.e. the old rule of thumb – you don’t apply throttle or brakes when your steering wheels are turned.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            The only time I’ve ever heard of limited slips and lockers causing issues for drivers is in very short wheelbase vehicles.

            Your square Suburban with 4×4 and Detroit Locker? No problem.

            Your CJ-6 with the same set up?
            A little hairy in the blizzard.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @PrincipalDan – any short wheel based vehicle is going to be more of a handful. My regular cab Ranger was a pain in the ass since it was short, light and narrow. 4×4 was a necessity. My reg cab F250 with a heavy canopy shell was excellent. My F150 supercrew is stellar.
            Ironically, all of the typical complaints of big pickups i.e. width, length, turning radius, and lack of maneuverability all make them a great winter and gravel road vehicle. You only get sideways or out of shape if you are truly stupid.

          • 0 avatar
            TR4

            Ditto on the wheel base length. My 80″ MG Midget was very quick to fishtail while my 125″ Chevy pickup was quite docile.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        I commuted Vail Pass in the snowiest winter by far, in a FWD Chevy Citation with all season tires. Like kefkafloyd says driving technique is vital. Experience on the slick, and knowing one’s own limits as well as those of the vehicle one is driving is vital too.

        Back in high school in Denver, we loved going to deserted parking lots after snowstorms and “doing donuts”, sliding and skiding just for the fun of it. I had no idea at the time, but that was teaching me vehicular handling dynamics and control recovery when one exceeds 10/10ths of the available traction.

  • avatar
    gtem

    If the Corolla is working out well and you’re happy driving it and saving money, a set of snow tires on a separate set of steel wheels is probably the most straight forward and economical solution for safer winter driving. If you’re a real penny-pincher like me, you should be able to hunt down a set of steel wheels at a junkyard for $50 or less for the set, and then I’ve had good luck with deals on tires with Wal-mart’s ship-to-store option. Whether you want them to install the tires or not on your junkyard steelies is up to you, I find that they’re actually not that cheap labor wise. Surprisingly, my local Toyota dealer is very affordable and they pay close attention to balancing (correct lug centric adapter for Toyota truck alloy wheels, for example). A used set of already mounted snow tires on craigslist or facebook is another way to go, but I’d caution that snow tires even with a decent amount of tread (say 50-60%) are not anywhere as high performing as a fresh set with 100% tread.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      A U-pull-it place (if you have the time, tools, means) is an excellent source for used wheels.

      I got 16″ Chrysler “snowflake” alloys at one for $40! It helps if you’re willing to haggle somewhat.

  • avatar
    Doug

    Everything else (tires) being equal, FWD is superior as it places the weight over the drive wheels. This is a big advantage over RWD when you need it most…accelerating from a stop. As mentioned, steep hills will negate FWR’s advantage but what’s more fun than driving backwards on a public road? The worst in snow were the old nose heavy RWD V-8’s that ran open differentials. A balanced RWD is fine. I once owned an old Mercedes 190C (W110). With a 4 cylinder and snow tires the car was very capable and would spin donuts all day long.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I’ll add my Michigander voice to the choir: winter tires!

    My first experience with winter tires was an old T100 I bought from my co-worker. With the 4X4 and the winter tires, it was a beast here on the west coast of Michigan which gets plenty of lake effect of snow. The steering and stopping part, along with the super grip, was just great. Only slick ice on an overpasses would catch the rear sliding out a bit. This was a vehicle without ABS or any other electric helpers.

    My second experience: 2004 BMW 325i – no Xdrive here – RWD with all season tires. An early November blizzard left me stranded. I couldn’t drive anywhere in the BMW without getting stuck. A set of Blizzaks and the car was transformed. I never got stuck, and even drove it up north, where I got hammered by a major blizzard. There was me and a few 4X4s out on these unplowed county roads. My traction and stability control was kept busy but the BMW tracked straight and got me home.

    Same car, different time: 32 degree day with rain. Ice is forming on the highway. Car, AWD CUVs, and trucks were spinning out left and right; going into the ditch. A lot of drivers had a false sense of security and were going too fast for conditions. Me? I was more afraid of the other drivers than my car’s ability to get through. I eventually got off the highway and stuck to the country roads to get to my destination. Again the ESC and TC kept me going straight, strongly assisted by the extra grip of the Blizzaks.

    Now, between December and April, I always run winter tires on my cars.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Never have purchased snow tires, always all season or all terrain tires.

    1982 Celebrity – (obviously no “nannies” in that one) great in the snow, especially on the old Firestone Supreme tires. That was largely due to the strong front weight bias. I did avoid sudden stops due to the lack of proportioning valve in the braking system.

    1987 Cutlass Supreme (RWD 307) – (no nannies either) tolerable in the snow once you got moving, but even with a posi-trac it wasn’t easy to get started at a slick intersection, but at least you could spin both the rear tires instead of just one.

    Mid 80s B-body wagons (RWD – Dad had a string of them assigned by his employer, I got to drive them a fairly decent amount) – (no nannies) better in the snow than any RWD vehicle has a right to be. Truly had to be a ham fisted idiot to get in trouble with them.

    1997 Escort wagon (FWD – 2.0 SOHC, automatic) – (no nannies) better weight balance, snow performance only really limited by ground clearance.

    2004 F150 Heritage (RWD 4.6 V8, automatic) – (only electronic aide was ABS) really determined by tires. Cheap PepBoys generic all terrain tires? No bueno. The thing wanted to swap ends every time I’d hit a bump on a snowy highway, almost regardless of speed. Once I got the M&S rated all terrain tires it was nice and solid, could even climb hills as long as you had a small amount of momentum.

    2010 Highlander 4wd – good on all seasons, unstoppable on M&S rated all terrains with a high silica compound. Haven’t even found a place where I could even think I was starting to get stuck.

    • 0 avatar
      PM300

      Regarding your experience with the RWD F-150, I recently had a similar experience with a good set of all terrains on a 2005 F-150 RWD with the 4.2 (pre-stability control/ESC days). It is one of our company work horses (160k miles and counting) and sits on a fresh set of Hankook all terrains (Cant remember the model). The thing was darn near unstoppable on 6 inches of fresh snow here in Michigan back in mid-December. It was impressive enough to make me re-think the need for 4×4 if I end up in a truck some day (other than the better residual values of a 4×4 course).

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      People who run all seasons here are what we like to call “stuck”. Too many steep hills and lake-effect snow doesn’t require low barometric pressure, these storms occur when it’s “too cold to snow” and road salt is ineffective. The top of many hilly streets don’t even have stop signs, but that doesn’t help if someone’s in front of you. They are trying some ice mitigation formula that employs beet juice (yes it’s purple) that supposedly works below 15 degrees F.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ve been in Detroit, MI when 14 in was dumped on it – I’ve been in Gallup, NM when parts of the county got 2 ft and school was closed for a week (that cabin fever helped accelerate the divorce from my first wife) – I’ve prayed that a 14 year old Celebrity would start in -52 degree F weather with snow on the ground in NW Ohio. I did tend to scare my college compatriots with my ability to steer a RWD vehicle in the snow using only the throttle.

        I’m familiar with severe conditions. I stand by my assertions

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          -52 doesn’t happen at this altitude, fortunately. Power steering must be negatively affected, not to mention tire pressure. Diesels are nice at those temps.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            It doesn’t happen in Ohio, either. From Wikipedia:

            “The lowest recorded temperature was −39 °F (−39 °C), at Milligan on February 10, 1899,[37] during the Great Blizzard of 1899.”

            Must have been the windchill value.

            Some all-season tires work well in snow, while some are absolutely useless. But they’re never as good as winter tires.

            You’re missing out on the fun if you’re driving in snow without winter tires, PrincipalDan!

        • 0 avatar
          Lee Wilcox

          You guys make me happy to live near Houston. Had less than 1/2 inch of snow last month. Shut down most of the independent school districts for 2 days. Somehow I made it through with my 4Runner with all season tires. On a more serious note the icy bridges have claimed some victims who just didn’t understand despite the signs.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “Never have purchased snow tires, always all season or all terrain tires.”

      Snow tires can be different than winter rated tires.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    15 Ontario winters..

    1) Snow tires. If you don’t, you’re gambling with your safety
    2) FWD vs RWD CAN make a difference. Our ’79 Aspen even with snow tires and a big bag of sand in the trunk was nowhere near as good as our ’82 Civic wagon with snows. Sure, tires have gotten better since then, but the point stands – similar to the video, except that the car that could NOT get up the hill was the Dodge (I was driving, gave up after 5-7 attempts and took a longer way home), and our Civic could, AND
    3) ABS/stability. The Aspen was our only RWD car in Canada, and we all said “never again”, so we generally always had FWD. However, we STILL spun out at times with non-ABS cars – ABS was a real revelation for me. I would NEVER again drive a car in the snow without ABS (assuming I wasn’t racing or hooning), PERIOD.

  • avatar
    relton

    Back in the early 80s, I was working on the Chevrolet cop car program. The tire guy on the program, from Bridgestone, told me that they sold special winter tires for cops. Since I was driving a Caprice myself, I pestered him for a set of Blizzaks that were supposedly cop-only tires. I’ve never been without winter tires since.

    I think the enthusiastic reception of these tires by cops encouraged Bridgestone to start selling them to the public in the US.

  • avatar
    musicalmcs8706

    I cannot recommend winter tires enough, having lived my entire life in the midwest! My mom first got them on her Volvo V70 in 2006 when we bought the car and they came with a set from the previous owner. That was a revelation to all of us, and she’s had them on her cars for the last 12 years. I just replaced the Dunlop winter tires on my Acura that they came with with a set of Blizzaks as the old ones were worn out. The Blizzaks make a world of difference. Even on my 2005 Impala winter tires helped out a lot, and made that car unstoppable. If you’re going to keep the Corolla, then get a set. Otherwise, wait until you replace the car, and then get the winter tires.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Front wheel drive is better in the winter because it will pull you up a hill, and if you start sliding sideways, it will pull you to a side if you turn the wheel. RWD won’t do that and will try to overrun you uphill.

    Get a set of Blizzaks on steelies and enjoy the winter – the difference is amazing.

    Sometimes it’s better to turn the traction control off to allow you to modulate the tire spin.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    I’d rather be caught in a blizzard in a FWD (or AWD) than RWD.

    The main reason is weight distribution. FWD cars tend to be nose-heavy, and therefore tend to stay straight during those cautious 40ish mph drives. You can always back up that occasional hill if you are struggling for traction. Done it twice.

    I do not think my argument holds in top-notch conditions, i.e. rested, experienced driver, new-ish winter tires, car in terrific condition. But it would be my preference in typical driving conditions.

    I am currently considering adding a 2nd gen Prius to the stable for running around town (they’re gotten down to the 3-4k range now). I would plan to put winter tires on OEM rims and just never change them. We have long winters. The nice car can stay on all seasons.

  • avatar
    George B

    Sanjeev, get a set of steel wheels and winter tires for your Corolla. It’s a good winter car for you or a future buyer if it has winter tires.

    My first car was a classic iron V8 in front RWD car and I managed to get the back end to pass the front end many times. It was replaced with a FWD car without anti-lock brakes which could still rotate a little if half the wheels were on slick pavement, but never spun around. A later car with anti-lock brakes allowed drama-free winter driving except for the one time when understeer on ice was so bad that I missed my turn and ended up with front wheels wedged against the curb. A little embarrassing, but nobody got hurt. FWD with anti-lock brakes, decent crash scores, and good winter tires would be my recommendation for the Minimum Viable Product winter car.

  • avatar
    Bowlandmonkey

    I live in Chicago with a RWD jaguar XL (5.0l v8) and a set of blizzacks and cheap alloys.

    When the snow comes down i chuck a couple of 25lb bags of aggregate in the trunk over the back wheels and it handles just as well as either of my former AWD SUV’s.

    I just need to remember to take the aggregates out after because it really slows down those fast starts!

  • avatar

    this N. Texan has found over the course of 25 years of driving, that power makes a big difference, than which wheel is driven. a relatively powerful FWD car is a miserable slick surface vehicle if it has no nannies (1986 Pontiac 6000-STE with a ~140ish hp all-iron V6) Even gearing makes a difference. I had a 76 Chevelle (RWD with a 305 V8 and a 3.08 axle ratio) which was pretty good on ice with all-seasons, my identical 77 Chevelle with a 2.56 axle ratio is crap. Both had/have the same 145hp V8. same size tires, only difference was one year and the axle ratio. I had to dial out a ton of ignition timing on the 77 to get it home one day after a nice ice storm passed through to keep from spinning the RR for days.

    My RWD 95 Ford Explorer was damn near perfect on ice, with ABS and just dropping the transmission into 2nd and leaving it there. my 00 Ford Contour wasn’t as good as the Explorer, it tended to spin out where the Explorer just went.

    Dunno what my 04 Buick Rendezvous will do yet, if it’s anything like it is when it rains, it’s staying parked. 185hp v6 driving the front wheels in a 4200 pound -tail heavy SUV leads to smoke shows on dry pavement, and rain makes it worse. can’t imagine it on ice.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Dunno what my 04 Buick Rendezvous will do yet, if it’s anything like it is when it rains, it’s staying parked. 185hp v6 driving the front wheels in a 4200 pound -tail heavy SUV leads to smoke shows on dry pavement, and rain makes it worse. can’t imagine it on ice.”

      Sounds like bad tires on the Rendezvous. It actually sounds like a good platform for snow driving. FWD in a heavier car with small-ish wheels and tires. Cuts through the slush.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Check your struts too. My uncle had a Rendezvous with blown struts and that thing couldn’t even stay in its own lane.

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          Not ideal for braking either. It’s funny watching a car with blown struts going down the road, I don’t get too close though.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Very true, and quite an unexpected (for me) factor. When I first bought my ’00 Maxima beater, it had fairly fresh Bridgestone Ecopia tires in a 225 width. Well it seemed like the engine would all-too easily overwhelm the available grip, anything more than a light start from a light would have me lighting up tires. Initially I thought “wow, behold the power of the mighty VQ30!” But once I put fresh strut assemblies on, the front tires were much less prone to peeling out from a light (to a bit of my dismay). I could still chirp them quite easily if I really wanted too, thankfully :p

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Toronto-area here, and in a former part time job, I was doing deliveries in a RWD Chevy Express, on the road before the snow plows were out. My boss made sure to spec the absolute best snow tires that he could get approval for, and I’d have about 100lbs worth of boxes over the rear wheels. Never had a problem with that setup (granted, the solid rear axle meant it’d get a little squirrely going over the small curb lip leaving a parking lot).

  • avatar
    JimC2

    RWD has one advantage over FWD and that is in deep, unplowed snow. The drive wheels get to roll on packed snow (packed by the front wheels, of course). The front wheels will tend to ride up a bit on the fresh snow as they’re packing it down.

    Other than that, FWD is almost always better all around.

    Snow rookies have trouble when they spin their wheels and don’t understand the sound they are hearing… it’s pretty obvious if you listen for it. Some people turn up the radio to drown out the sound of their car breaking down, but I digress. Another snow rookie mistake is pushing down too hard on the gas pedal- you barely need to push it at all to break traction, and when you do break traction then you’ve usually pushed it too far. Best is when you’ve barely broken traction, but we’re not talking about snow rally racing; best for the street is to either not break traction or to immediately let up on the gas pedal, just a touch, the moment you hear any wheelspin.

    Computerized nannies do what they do- help the driver keep the car under control in the immediate sense but make the driver a worse drive in the long run.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I have two words for Sanjeev:

    Nokian Hakkapeliitta

    I used them religiously when I lived in Michigan. I don’t want to hear about any other brand of snow tire, because nobody knows more about driving in snow than the Finns.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      ” I don’t want to hear about any other brand of snow tire”

      Way to snob it up buddy. I’d rather have a cheap set of snow tires than no snow tires at all. My ES300 rolled $58-a-pop Firestone Winterforces on junkyard Camry wheels. A very loud tire, but man that car was an absolute tank. Likewise my dad ran fairly cheap Kelly snow tires on his Fit, another fairly unrefined but very effective tire for climbing their snowy hills.

      • 0 avatar
        eggsalad

        Snob? Hardly. I happily put $400 worth of snow tires on my $400 car. It was my only car, and I couldn’t afford for it to be in the ditch, or worse.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Oh so unless someone buys Happas as their snow tire of choice, their car will end up in a ditch? That certainly seems to be what you’re implying.

          • 0 avatar
            eggsalad

            Nope. Y’all can buy whatever you want. I moved to the desert, so I don’t care who goes into the snowy ditch anymore.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            I won’t say anything bad about the Nokians. They are the best winter tire. They are however very expensive and I don’t think the difference is that drastic between them, Michelin X-Ice 3, Bridgestone Blizzak, or Continental Winter Contact that I would recommend them.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I didn’t perceive that statement as snobby. It’s not unreasonable to just stick with a reputable brand that you know and trust based on your own experience.

        All the premium studless winter tire brands – Continental, Goodyear, Nokian, Hankook, Michelin, Bridgestone – offer similar performance in winter conditions. The Nokians are typically the most expensive, followed by the Michelins. The best value is probably the Hankook I-Cept IZ2. But over the past few years, the Nokian Hakka R2 has been the best studless winter tire overall.

        http://www.skstuds.ca/2017/10/11/enter-hakka-9-the-2017-naf-winter-tire-test/

        There are eight sets of Nokian Hakkas in use among my close friends: six studded and two studless. I’ve never heard a complaint, though the studded ones can get quite loud if you break them in with a combination of rally car city driving and sustained 90 mph highway drives. It’s one way to get them really spiky for ice racing, as long as you don’t break too many of the studs in the process.

    • 0 avatar
      dchturbo

      While they’re good tires, they aren’t the only option out there. There are plenty of decent tires that cost significantly less and will perform nearly as well. Michelin X-Ice3 and the latest Blizzaks are phenomenal products, but they can be pricey as well. Firestone WinterForce2 and the General Altimax Arctic tend to be good bang for the buck choices.

      Honestly, winter tires are pretty much ALL good in the snow. The biggest difference tends to be in noise.

      I’d take a cheap set of snows over good all-seasons any day of the week for winter driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I run X-Ice3’s on one vehicle and find that though good on ice and freezing rain, that good old Canadian Tire Motomaster winters tires actually have better performance in deep snow. The Motomasters are louder though. But they come with a no extra charge road hazard warranty, whereas I had to pay extra for that on the Michelins.

        Also am running a set of Goodyear Nordic’s and they are even louder and the difference in gas mileage with them is quite noticeable.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I am in western Canada, north central Alberta, so winter here can be a full 5-6 months. I started on RWD, owned a few FWD and now have a Lexus GS (RWD) and a Maxima (FWD). FWD is better, RWD is tolerable with good snow tires, I have Michelin Xice3. My Maxima has All-weather tires and they are definitely not as good as the snows on the Lexus, but the car moves from a stop better, and moves up hills better. With snows, the Maxima would be leagues ahead of my Lexus. On all-seasons, the Lexus is undriveable. Yes, you can hoon more easily with RWD, but with FWD just employ two-pedal technique and use the handbrake, also fun. Was going to get a 4×4 for next winter, but I think I’ll save the money and just get some top of the line snows for the Maxima.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Watch out, its really Mirror Universe Sajeev!

  • avatar
    Brumus

    To echo what others have said:

    Winter tires.

    Over the years I’ve driven various FWD vehicles shod with winter tires through all manner of appalling winter conditions in Vermont and Quebec. And yes, the difference between winter and no-season tires really is that significant.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    *Skinny* winter tires, if you can! The width of the tire makes a difference.

    Best winter car I ever had was a $2K ’94 Legacy turbo with 14″ wheels and fresh 165-series snows on all four corners. Five-speed, too!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Lived in South Dakota a lifetime ago and wife had an MN-12 Thunderbird as a daily. With snow tires (and limited slip from factory) it went almost everywhere our FWD minivan went. We just kept it out of the Loess Hills.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    1) Yes, definitely get snow tires if you live in Michigan.
    2) Note that – it was implied otherwise, perhaps just due to mentioning *with* ESC – an ’06 Corolla already has ABS.

    ESC ought to be helpful in snow, since it’s essentially a traction control system … but with proper rubber you shouldn’t need it so much, certainly not enough to justify replacing the car if you’re otherwise happy with it.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    Western New York here – almost always want to get steelies or takeoffs for your winter tires…because first, you want to go -1 or even -2 sizing (smaller wheel diameter/higher tire aspect ratio) – and also your regular tires are on your factory wheels already, so just leave them there.

    Get the smallest diameter wheels that will fit over your brake calipers and have the correct offset for their width – the width will be determined by the -1 or -2 sizing you choose. Don’t freelance it unless you know what you’re doing…let Tire Rack or Discount Tire sell you a package they designed for your car…upside of that is all you do is jack the car up and bolt them on…also the probably ~$125 worth of mounting and balancing is free – but you pay for shipping.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    I will agree with RWD FTW except for sudden icy conditions on the highway. I have run into many and the first cars off the road are RWD, snows or not.. As soon as they hit the ice, the rears push the fronts out and at 50-60 plus mph, you are not corralling it back in.. Just a thought.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    I can’t seem to make it work for any of my cars right now, but discount tire is running a 75 dollar off 4 winter tire clearance. Plus there’s a 50 dollars off if you use their credit card plus a 70 dollar rebate on michelins. Sounds like a way to get some cheap X-ICE3’s if you can find a size that works for you.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    I’ve driven FWD, RWD, and AWD in all sorts of winter weather. Winter tires are your friend, plain and simple.

    Do I *HAVE* to have them? No. I have 20+ years of winter driving experience and can handle whatever winter throws at me. But winter tires give you a much bigger margin of error when the unexpected happens, and you are safer at any speed and in any winter condition on them.

    Fancy electronic driver aids can’t help you if your car lacks traction. Having all-wheel-drive doesn’t help you if your tires can’t grip the road. There’s a reason the first folks in the ditch are always driving trucks and SUVs – the illusion of superior traction that comes with all-wheel-drive.

  • avatar
    Roader

    September brings surprise blizzards up on Vail Pass and the approach to the Ike/Johnson Tunnels. Nobody has snows on that early. 20-year-old Accords and Camrys just drive by stuck late model RWD Caddies and Corvettes and Challengers and Mustangs. RWD just doesn’t cut it on iced up 7% grades.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    in the snow… i’d take a RWD with LSD over a FWD with an open diff.

    very few FWD cars have LSDs. Not many RWD cars have an LSD, either, unless it is a sporty coupe or high performance sedan (or truck w/off road package).

    shame. once you go limited slip it is frustrating to be in a car without one.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    As someone who has lived in Buffalo, NY all of my life I can safely say that for the ordinary driver FWD is better than RWD. That being said I can’t stress enough how important snow tires are. I drive a BMW X3…AWD and all the electronic nannies and I would not think about not having snow tires. I fit them to dedicated wheels and swap them myself in my driveway in fall and spring. In addition to the far superior traction, they save my nice OEM wheels from the ravages of salt and since snow tires are on the car almost half the year they prolong the life of the more expensive summer tires. Plus it frees you up to by better tires…No need for crappy “all season”…which are great at nothing.
    A friend of mine has a BMW 128 and last year we had an early snowfall before he got his snows on. I live on a street with a slight incline and his Goodyear all season tires were useless. The traction control limited so much power that the car just wouldn’t go…He ended up backing down the street…That afternoon he installed his snows and there were no other problems. At least a FWD car with regular tires would have made it up the hill.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    I’ve learned through lots of snow-driving in Yellowstone/Tetons area (like cows froze solid blown up against hurricane fences in 50mph blizzard gusts) having a manual transmission (like a real one where one can feather the clutch – flappy-paddle autos and DCT’s don’t count) matters much as which wheels are powered. Perfect cookies over and over is also a bonus.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    I just run snow tires all year round in my truck.(2wd) I add some sand bags about mid december

  • avatar
    HuskyHawk

    Every time it comes up people say the same things. I live in Mass and have never used winter tires (with a minor exception of sorts). I live up a hilly neighborhood, with a steep driveway. My AWD cars with All Seasons do fine.

    Why no snows? (a) I literally have no place to store four large tires with modern large wheels and (b) they suck on dry pavement, which is what I drive on 98% of the time in the winter. It’s rare that I need to actually drive on measurable snow.

    The exception was a set of Nokian WRG2s (I think) that I put on my Volvo S60. Great compromise. Ran them all year. It really struggled with normal all seasons, but was amazing with those, although limited by ground clearance.
    Honestly, the Nokian WRG3s is what I would run on any FWD car in a snowly climate.


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