2WD in occasional snow

I have a 2WD Pontiac Vibe and would like to outfit my car to do occasional driving in the snow. I currently have highway tires and cable chains, which I know will not cut it.

It very rarely freezes where I live- I basically want to be able to drive to the ski hill, cabin, and make it home. If a big storm passes though, I’m happy to stay put and call in sick, but I want to be prepared for ice and unexpected snow. I?d like to find the cheapest solution without sacrificing safety. Snow tires are excessive the other 95% of the time (and too pricey).

As I see it, my options are:

a) All weather tires

b) Better chains (with chain links NOT cable)

c) All weather tires and better chains

d) Not drive my car in snow

I?d appeciate any advice on the best solution before I head to the tire store this weekend.

Thanks in advance,


There have been a number of posts on this subject since winter is here. The least troublesome solution is to equip your car with a good set of winter tires. These used to be called snow tires, but the new generation has a much better rubber compound that is both good in snow and on ice. We recommend a separate set of rims, so you just switch wheels when the weather turns warm. We don’t recommend keeping them on in the summer since they wear very fast on dry, hot pavement. A typical outlay for tires and rims is about $600 total including installation, balancing and free rotation. Michelin X-ICE comes highly recommended, but every major manufacturer has them now. Since you are only using one set at the time, you won’t have to buy tires for some time afterwards.

I agree 100% with docnick, but if you still want to buy a set of so-called “all-season” tires, you should shop very carefully. For instance, Bridgestone makes an “all-season” tire (the RE-92) that is absolutely USELESS on snow or ice.

Any manufacturer can claim that his tire is suitable for all seasons, but the reality is that an “all-season” tire is an inherently compromised design. You can design a tire to excel at dry road adhesion, or wet road adhesion, or good adhesion in winter conditions, but it is impossible to design a tire that will be better than average in all three categories. This is due to both tread design, and the rubber compound that is used in the tire’s construction.

All-season tires become hard when exposed to low temperatures, and…guess what? When they become hard, their traction decreases drastically. A winter tire, on the other hand, has a rubber compound that is compatible with low temperatures, thus giving you an incredible traction advantage. Of course, that special winter rubber compound tends to wear the tread quickly once temperatures rise, so winter tires are best de-mounted once average temperatures rise above the freezing mark. (Incidentally, if someone giving you tire advice refers to the “thread” (sic) on the tire, RUN away, as someone who doesn’t know the difference between tread and thread is not much of an authority.)

While I strongly recommend the purchase of a set of 4 winter tires for anyone who has to drive in snow–even occasionally–if you still are intent on buying those compromised “all-season” tires, at least go to:
www.tirerack.com and look at the comments and customer reviews on the tires listed for your car. If you see an all-season tire that is listed as being particularly good on snow, then that is the one that you should aim for–no matter from whom you buy it.

Thanks for the advice, will do more research before buying all-weather tires. I considered a set of winter tires with their own rims, but this would mean changing the tires everytime I want to drive to the mountains (Sierras). I live on the central California coast, which almost never goes below freezing, so winter tires really don’t make sense near home. The first set of all-season tires I had handled well on light snow and ice (w/o chains) provided I drove slowly and avoided heavy snow conditions.

First of all how do you know that FWD will not get you to where you are going? I had FWD Toyotas for years and with a good set of all-season tires… check out tirerack… I had no problem with up to 6" of snow. Look for an all season tire that has a high traction rating in snow … their ratings are very good.

a) All weather tires

Bad idea. Winter tyres good idea.

b) Better chains (with chain links NOT cable)

Good idea to have them and be ready to put them on if needed, likely will not be needed and you really don’t want to run with them on dry pavement. With winter tyres you will likely never need them.

c) All weather tires and better chains

Same as above.

d) Not drive my car in snow

Your choice.

I’m from Pennsy, but I know that some mountainous parts of Cal. have close to world record snowfalls; maybe not where you’re going, but still, if I was going through any mountainous areas out west w/fwd, I’d use snows (winter tires); and chains if necessary. If you don’t want snows, go with your c) option at the very least.

Look at the Nokian website for Nokian WR or Nokian WR G2’s and closest dealers(call around for pricing). They are the only all weather tire that is also severe rated as a winter tire. They are not quite as good as a pure winter tire but very close. My wife & I had them on two FWD Civic’s and never an issue in deep snow(8"+ on roads) or other winter muck. The nice thing is no switch overs as you can run over the summer(year round) and they last about 50k with regular rotations.

Given your driving conditions of warms temps typically, true/pure winter tires will wear out rather quickly at temps >50F.

The cable chains seem like a great idea. Keep an extra set in case one of them breaks. Your snow/winter tires will cost less than ski equipment. Tires for your car aren’t that expensive. Snow King tires seem good. Sam’s Club has some great looking snow tires right now and you get extended road hazard coverage for as long as you are a member. Other perks come with the deal too. Used tires are for sale everywhere and some come with wheels. Nothing is expensive if you want it badly enough.

Personally, I think you already have what you need. Maybe you want to upgrade to “better” chains, but what you have will work just fine for getting caught in a sudden storm and just getting you down the mountain to better road conditions. Unless you plan to go into heavy snow every weekend, in which case I’d recommend good snow tires, you really only need some chains for the few cases where the FWD isn’t enough. If conditions are too harsh for the cable chains they’ll probably close the roads anyway.

The last time I crossed the Donner Pass in winter, the Highways Dept required chains during heavy snow fall. So I would carry a set of chains in the trunk and only use them when required. As you say, a GOOD set of allseason radials may be the most economic solution, since your trips into the mountains are only occasional. Where most of us live winter tires go on in November and come off in April.

Thanks all. My question was prompted after being caught in a light (unpredicted) snowfall. With 2" snow on the road, the current tires handled horribly (actually low-end all season). Even with the cable chains, I did a spin-out at 15mph and had trouble controlling the car at speeds above 10-15mph. I also could not get up the plowed, salted driveway.

If I lived in the snow or had to drive in heavy snow, I’d go with a set of snow tires. As it is, I’m going to replace the tires with a winter-rated all season and buy real chains (no more cables). I’ll save the current tires for summer. If the snow is heavy, I’ll stay home.