4-Wheel Drive

We just bought a vacation home in the North Carolina mountains. The house is up a very steep hill, and we could not get uphill last week in 2" of snow in my Honda Odyssey minivan. (We had to park at the bottom of the hill and walk uphill one mile to get home - yes, and back down with all our stuff!) We just purchased tire chains and will try that next weekend, but we may need a 4-wheel drive car if that doesn’t work. When not at this vacation home, we live in Charlotte, where there is little snow and few hills, so dedicated snow tires do not make sense for a trip we make only two times per month. Would like a car or SUV that can seat 5+ and has good mileage since most of the year I won’t need the 4-wheel drive. Hopefully the chains will do the trick, but any suggestions if we need another vehicle?

If snows or cables don’t work…Pilot would be my first and RAV4 second for room. But NEVER think though you can substitute awd for snow tires…they go together for max safety.
BTW, twice a month IS enough to warrant snow tires.
I would try tire cables on all 4 wheels first…not chains. Coming down would be hazardous with too much traction just on the front of Odessey

Winter tires make a huge difference. Hooking up the chains and unhooking them is a pain, and I don’t think they will work well anyway. Winter tires is a lot cheaper than the deductible if you have an accident on a weekend getaway to the vacation home.

I think I’d spring for the winter tires.

If you only do this a couple times per month, rent a 4WD vehicle when you need it. If you can afford a vacation then you can afford the right vehicle and tires.

Two inches of snow? Just how steep is this mile-long hill?

. When not at this vacation home, we live in Charlotte, where there is little snow and few hills, so dedicated snow tires do not make sense for a trip we make only two times per month.

That is like saying your life is not worth the bother.  

Winter tyres are not just for getting up hills or deep snow, they are for ice, and that little snow that you can drive though but not stop well.  Stopping is far more important than going.

Hooking up the chains and unhooking them is a pain, and I don’t think they will work well anyway.

I agree they can be a pain to hook up…but when properly installed…they make all the difference in the world…

You probably have just summer tires on this van. They are very good vehicles in snow with even decent all-season tires on them. Winters tires or good all season tires will make a huge difference.

If you only do this a couple times per month, rent a 4WD vehicle when you need it.

Not as easy as you think. I know…I tried…Very few places rent 4wd or awd vehicles (unless you live near an airport). And if a rental place near you does have any…they you better schedule it at least 2 months in advance (if a holiday weekend…5 months in advance).

Two inches of snow? Just how steep is this mile-long hill?

Good question. I feel the answer is in; summer tires are poor in any snow condition, fwd is poor in slippery conditions going up hill and lastly, the terrain is especially of concern as backing “down” when you can’t go “up” is a problem. Around here, in an emergency, backing up a steep hill with fwd is a last resort. That too is problematic.
Chains on all wheels do work, but the minimal clearance if not installed perfectly, may make it an expensive learning experience that goes well beyond cables and/or snow tires.
When we moved into the mountains, we accepted the fact that 4 wheel drives and snow tires were a part of our “mortgage payment”; you may too. But I’d do as suggested first.

I’ll wager a cup of coffee that all you need is a good set of all-season tires, and not even tires chains, unless you’re driving up a hill of solid ice. Well, you’ve aleady got the chains, but as you will find out, they’re a pain to put on and take off.

Go to www.tirerack.com and enter your tire size and look at the “surveys” section for “standard touring all-season.” The Hankook Optimo H727, for example, was recently rated #1 by Consumer Reports as having the best snow and ice traction of all the all-season tires they tested.

Once you select a particular tire from the list, you can also read reviews of the tire written by people who have bought/driven on that particular tire.

So invest $500 or so in a good set of tires, and you won’t need 4WD.

All tires have advantages and disadvantages. Winter/snow tires are the best in snow, no question. However, as your post points out, you will be driving the majority of the time in normal conditions where snow tires underperform all season tires. You seem like a likeable person so I’m sure your husband has equipped your Odyssey with a very good set of all season tires. Also, there a number of high quality tire chains (really cables) that are very easy to put on and off. In fact, I have a friend who was able to teach his teenage sons how to do this. I suspect you are a loyal NPR listener and would bias to a hybrid. You may consider a Toyota Highlander Hybrid. A slighter cooler car that will do better in the snow is the Audi Q7 TDI.

Vacation home in NC= you can afford a second suitable vehicle. As easy as it is putting on chains/cables it will get old fast. Just my 2 cents as who am I too decide what you can and should afford?

So how old are your tires, and how much tread is left on them, and what brand/model are they?

I’ll also point out that saying it’s better to buy a whole new car than to buy tires for the one you already have because you don’t drive up the hill very often doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on the surface - - does this mean you just want a new car? :wink:

Thanks to all for your great comments and suggestions - and even for the scoldings :slight_smile: I get it. I never cut corners on safety and am just looking at my alternatives.

The hill is incredibly steep, and it was 2" of snow covered in icy sleet. My brand-new all season tires are fine for normal conditions, and my Odyssey usually handles very well in the snow, but we could not manage this hill at all.

Renting is not a viable option since it’s hard to rent awd/fwd around here and would require a reservation well in advance.

The cables (I guess “chains” was probably not the right word) have arrived, so we will try them first, of course on a weekend when we have alternative transportation (second car heading there). My husband insists they are not that difficult to use - we shall see. I think it’s worth the trouble if it works, and it sounds as if some of you agree. If they don’t work, snow tires may be the next step.

Yes, “shadowfax”, perhaps deep down I want to trade in the Odyssey and am looking for an excuse. The kids are getting older and I’m not really driving carpool much anymore, so I will be looking down the road (this situation may just hasten that trade-in). I do want something that gets good mileage, though. I just don’t think I can have it all!

Again, thanks for the help!

It looks like it’s chains or 4WD. I say this after reading all of the previous posts. If the chains work, and they might, you’re in luck.

Your very welcome…If you are looking for an excuse to buy an awd new car that’s seldom used but necessary for snow, I would suggest later, a Subaru. You can rationalize the good handling and very good fuel economy even in southern climates. I think with one, you will look for excuses to go to the mountain and drive in the snow.

Ah, you didn’t say “ice” before. But still, two inches of snow? Get a pickup truck with an enclosed cargo area and put a plow on the front. Problem solved.

On a recent trip up, we tried the tire cables in 3" snow (no ice this time) on all season tires and still could not get up the very steep hill. Subsequently, I am having a problem (unrelated) with the Odyssey that the dealer cannot identify, so I am now thinking of trading in the Odyssey (yes, that’s my excuse/rationale) for a Subaru Outback 4-cyl which gets good mileage and seems to be a great option for the snow. We will also get snow tires if this one cannot get up the hill but may try first without them. Any thoughts or suggestions are appreciated. In particular, given the hill, is the 6-cyl a better option or would that not really affect the snow performance? The 6-cyl mileage is slightly lower and its price slightly higher, but if it will help me in the snow, I’d buy it. Thanks.

The 6 cyl would be more of an option for better performance on the road and towing or traveling with heavy loads. It’s not a traction concern so much either way.
You will sacrifice mileage for performance with the 6 cyl, but little difference in snow traction I feel. Snow tires for awd is more important than for fwd as you will be traveling at higher speeds and more difficult conditions with it that requires greater traction. If hills and slippery conditions are the norm, nothing beats an awd car with snow tires. Functionally, engine braking and traction control can be enhanced with awd as well when headed back down.