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A Car for Colorado

I am moving to Denver, CO soon and I’m looking to buy a car that will get me to the mountains through snow. I’ve done some research and one thing that stuck out was that snow tires are the thing that help the most. Does this ring true to you experts? I have read that road clearance and some of the extras like heated windshield makes a difference; on the other hand, I’ve read that lighter and lower center of gravity cars are safer. I also cannot find consistent answers about the need for 4WD/AWD. Anyone want to comment on whether SUVs and crossovers are a must in the mountains?

They aren’t a must. I used to live in the southern Rockies and never had 4wd, awd, or even dedicated snow tires (though I did have a set of chains that we used from time to time). It really depends on where you will be going (pavement? Asphalt? the Pikes Peak hill climb road?) and the depth of snow you insist on traveling through. Some people aren’t happy unless they can blast out of a 5 foot snowfall 3 minutes after the last flake hits. Others are content to wait for the grader to plow the road to wherever they’re going. If you want to be able to get anywhere at any time, you need a Sno-cat. I actually had a neighbor who had one. It was pretty pointless- he used it maybe once every 3 years. If you’re OK with not getting to the mountains right after a large snowfall, then any car will be fine - get whatever you like driving.

Where in Colorado, and how important is it for you to actually be on the road in the middle of a snow storm?

If you are a First Responder, buy the biggest 4WD vehicle you can find, slap some super aggressive winter tires on it, carry chains in your truck, and deal with the snow as best as you can.

If you have to make it to court, or visit your parole officer once a week, buy a slightly smaller vehicle than the one described above.

If you are retired, just buy a Miata, and have King Soopers deliver food to you.

If all you really care about is getting up to the mountains from Denver so that you can ski, we’re all full up. Move to New Hampshire. Their snow is nicer, too.


Thanks people for responding so quickly! Very helpful. Moving from DC where no one knows how to drive in the snow (that’s me!), and in any case, even if they do know, the city is never prepared. To clarify, I just want to make sure I can get up and down a mountain (Aspen, Vail, A Basin, Steamboat, etc) during ski season.

I’ve been living in Colorado for 35 years and love RWD BMW’s. Four real winter tires and I can drive pretty much anywhere in Denver I’m not pushing snow with my front bumper. My RWD 328i sedan with four winter tires does much better than the Audi A4 with all (read three) season tires. If I skied every weekend or drove off road, I’d consider a Subaru Outback, Hyundai Santa Fe or Tuscon. They will still require four real winter tires.

If you currently have a car, bring it here, put winter tires on in October and see how it does. If you do not have a car, wait till you get here and buy one in Colorado.

Pretty much any car with 4 winter tires will go and stop. Traction control and ABS brakes help, and only a few very cheap cars don’t have these features.

Rather than a heated windshield put winter wiper blades on the car and treat the windshield with Rain-X. That should give you all the visibility you’ll need. Pack some water, a few snack bars, and keep the fuel tank 1/2 full and more when in the mountains in case a storm hits. Some foil blankets and some other cold weather camping gear can come in handy if you find yourself stuck until helps arrives.

I just moved out to Denver from Pa a year ago and ending up buying an older 4wd ranger when i got here. The only bit of advice I can lend is don’t bother with the heated windshield - they lay a sand/gravel mix down out here instead of just salt and your windshield will probably see some of that. I prefer four wheel drive for the bad stuff but the it seems like Subaru is Colorado’s state car, so that’s something to consider. Although I will say that Toyotas and Suburas go for more out here than I’ve ever seen in my life… and since there’s not body inspection even rusted to death 200+ milers will command quite the premium.

from what I understand, Subaru is very popular out there. Just make sure you’re ready to hear that you need 4 new tires when one gets damaged, and, depending on how many miles on the car, you WILL.

Reasonable ground clearance is as important as awd. Unfortunately you only get the clearance with awd/4wd vehicles. Outbacks are a good default choice as well as car based SUVs like RAVs and CRVs. It really depends upon how much mountain travel you plan and whether it’s worth the expense of awd/4wd. That’s why you see so many Subarus. Even w/o snow, they are good reliable and fairly economical transportation.

I lived in Colorado at 8200’ elevation for 17 years in an area I can only describe as a “snow trap” (Conifer)…I owned mostly 2wd, RWD vehicles. But a FWD Subaru never failed me when equipped with snow tires. I mean, they DO plow the roads…In Denver, a Crown Vic and a Toyota 2wd pickup with snows on the rear and a couple bags of sand in the back got through this years bad winter without any problems, including trips into the mountains…When it’s REALLY bad, they close the roads and you’re staying home anyway…Don’t worry about it…

If I had to recommend a vehicle for mountain roads as well as in town where the snow and slush can be six inches high until the plow can get there, it would be the Chevy Suburban or the Tahoe or something that size. By that size, I mean twelve feet between front and rear axle, give or take a few inches.

That vehicle combines the highway stability of a long pickup truck with the in-town 2WD capability of a SUV. Pickups with enough weight in the back are loaded kind of heavily. Without the weight it would have to be in 4WD to get through town in slush up hills. Make lots of money to pay for fuel.

Anyone wanna stand behind an American car? Ford Escape or Edge? I’m hoping to buy American if I can.

The Escape is American, but the Edge is built in Canada. . .

We have Escapes at work. I find them to be horrid little trucks when it snows.


Don’t worry, you will fit right in with all the people here who don’t know how to drive in the snow, either!

And I knew it, you’re a snow bunny.
You will be fine with whatever vehicle you choose, as long as you install actual winter tires on it. Doesn’t matter much if its FWD, RWD, AWD, 4WD, or something else. The snow isn’t that bad in Denver most of the time. Only ever couple of years do we get pummeled to the point where its a bad idea to drive around in the snow.

The biggest problem you will face are the people out in the snow driving like idiots.
And there’s a whole lot of them, as you will learn.


I had many 2wd trucks too, out fit exactly as you say and never felt I couldn’t travel well. But, after 25 years of officiating and getting caught in storms, I can only say that those who were caught unexpectedly sometimes stayed somewhere for the night. Those of us with 4wd, just got home a little later than usual. 2wd is no where near as good in snow with the same tires. It’s always a question of, how much am I willing to pay for security I may seldom need. I’m at a stage I can afford it where I feel it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Ground clearance is enhanced by a shorter wheel base, not a longer one. For extreme conditions, taken in relative comfort, nothing compares with shorter intermediate truck based off road SUVs, of which the 4Runner, FJ and Xterra are just a few of the remaining. When these “fat boy” monsters (Tahoes and Suburbans) loose traction with their long wheel base and weight, they are very difficult to recover. They are both very poor off roaders and make very poor severe driving condition vehicles. The Expedition is another “fat boy” with the manners and the off road capabilities of a sedan as well. When the snow and slush reach 6 plus inches, it begins to approach off road conditions.

What constitutes American? The Ford built in Mexico, the Chevy built in Canada, or the Honda built in Ohio?