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Can an Outback handle a steep dirt road in winter?

My husband and I are thinking of moving into an off-grid house in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. The house is 2.5 miles up a dirt road, and the last half mile is quite steep, with a steep drop-off to boot. The area gets lots of snow in winter, although the community pays a road user fee to plow the road, and the road is graded yearly by the forest service. We currently own a Subaru Outback and a Toyota Prius, both of which can handle this road in summer. Do you think the Outback will be able to make it up the road in winter conditions? If not, what kind of monster truck / snowmobile options should we be considering? I really don’t want to fall off the cliff into the canyon below.

If you want to have the maximum ability to get up that snow-covered hill, you should get a set of 4 high-quality winter tires for the Outback.

My parents lived on a private drive with a 30% grade and a 90 degree turn just before the peak of the grade. The other folks who lived along that private roadway used to leave their cars on the level street below when there was a heavy snowfall, rather than try to deal with the condition of that extremely steep, unplowed surface. But–with winter tires, my Outback went up that roadway with no wheel-slip whatsoever.

I strongly recommend the Michelin X-Ice winter tires. In addition to having incredible traction on ice as well as on snow, they handle better on dry roads than other winter tires, and they have longer tread life than the competition. Get your winter tires mounted on their own set of steel wheels, and this way they can be mounted rapidly when the first snow forecast of the season is broadcast. At the end of the season, just remember to switch back to your regular tires as soon as all threat of snow is gone, as winter tires wear rapidly in higher temperatures, on dry roads.

VDC is right. Mud, deep snow and ice are your real concerns on a mountain dirt road. The grade makes each much more difficult. A Subaru will handle better on inclines then trucks and usually have better traction with studded snows as well. Unless your road has deep spring mud or isn’t plowed, the Subaru is the ideal vehicle. Not to worry… An awd with low center of gravity helps handling and traction on mountain roads. As VDC suggests…a separate set of winter tires and the Subaru will go anywhere a plow truck will…as long as it’s behind and not doing the plowing.

The only thing I would add to dedicated winter tires on steep inclines and winter conditions where dirt roads are perpetually frozen…is studs. They are absolutey worth the added inconvenience.

Add 4 winter tires to your Outback and essentially you have a mountain goat. If it can’t handle it; then you need nothing short of a snowtrack type vehicle, the kind used at ski resorts to groom the slopes.

Living in a location like this, you will just stay at home during the winter storms…Off-grid living at high elevation with poorly designed and maintained roads, the bloom wears off that rose rather quickly regardless of how great the view is…The Subaru will do fine until the snow depth is over 20" …

I live off-grid too…On a beach in Mexico…We did the 8500’ elevation, dirt road, snowmobiles, snow blower, heat with wood thing for 17 years in Colorado…Think Twice!

An Outback with good winter tires is an excellent winter car. However, if the roads are often unplowed, you could conceivably need more ground clearance.

Caddyman…we live in just such an area. Our neighbors have plow trucks excavators, loaders, bulldozers and our own sander. I have a tractor with a 6 foot wide cast iron PTO driven blower to get us out when plowing the hills or narrow areas are too much. We all have multiple chain saws and generators as part of our standard equipment. OP seems to have considered everything and the learning curve on everything else will be as steep as the road. With our preparation, we can drive when people in their Camrys in local suburbs and towns can’t. OP will be fine and with a few adjustments, will not feel that any storm will moroon them. Tough living areas like mine and OP are often plowed, long before the town at the end of the road does theirs.

What do the folks who live in the area drive? They have first-hand experience with this particular road, we don’t.

Assuming the road is plowed decently, you won’t have a problem. We used to get up a very similar road to what you’re describing with a 69 Corolla and an 81 Dodge van with no problem.

The caveat is that where we lived, and it might be similar to where you live, sometimes the grader didn’t come to plow the road right away, and in the mountains snowfall is sometimes measured in feet. When that happened, you just called work and said you were taking a snow day, and played outside with the kids. Wasn’t ever a problem because in such conditions nothing but a dog sled is getting down the mountain until the snow is plowed.

“What do the folks who live in the area drive?”


The other issue is ground clearance. The Outback has an 8.7-in ground clearance. See how that matches up to whatever the year-around neighbors have.

It can probably handle that. Get a car that can handle in my dreams and you will find a winner. Usually I can’t steer or stop. I wish some of my dreams would be recalled and fixed.

Consider snow days,after awhile the pioneer spirit will dissapate to a large degree,actually the Outback will handle this rather well until you have enough snow to actually make the car break contact with Terra Firma.These situations remind of a guy around here who moved into a remote area were the grid didnt reach.He kept on untill the power company brought him a drop in(to the tune of 50K) not saying that this is your situation at all-but “Caveat Emptor” a persons fancy will cost them dearly at times.Also brings to mind the the people that move out here in the sticks and keep the road hot to the nearest town, but good luck in your endeavours, may you never get stuck and enjoy the solitude,the crazys may try to move you out of there some day(it happened on the “Skyline Drive”-Kevin

A couple of points.

First, be realistic. Subarus are supposed to have legendary capabilities but we have a friend with an Outback who got stuck several times in the winter on a long curvy steep road. Any car can get stuck. Consider an off-road driving school or something similar if you want to get the most from your car (your area should have several, and you can customize a plan with your instructor). Carry sand, a shovel, chains, emergency blankets, etc. for when the going gets really tough.

Second, make sure the car can handle the steep road … going downhill. If you can’t stop, it won’t matter very much whether your car can make it up the hill. Try the car in an empty parking lot a few times when it first snows or ices to make sure you can modulate the brakes. Subies don’t have granny low, so the four wheel drive feature won’t help you much going downhill.

Just a few follow up comments about Subaru’s ground clearance. First, it’s an independently sprung car and like all of them, load it up or drive too fast over rough roads and you loose that ground clearance real fast. A solid axle has more legitimate clearance.

. Secondly, what clearance there is, still it’s just a raised car and the exposed areas are much more vulnerable then the pumpkin on a truck or something designed with better protection.

Lastly, the renowned flat four in front of the front wells makes for a low center of gravity but at the expense of horrendous approach angles. Even in the Outback, it is suseptable to bottoming out in ruts more so then a “normal” vehicle with less ground learamce.

8.7 inches sounds like a lot compared to Camry, but compared to a dedicated 4 by 4 with less
Clearance, it’s still a wannabee without real capabilitIes off road other then being a little better then the average fwd sedan. It’s really the drive train that makes the car on slippery going and it’s not to be confused with say a 4by 4 Tacoma which may on paper have similar clearance numbers.

We had two of them…and when the going got real tough, they stayed at home like the passenger car they were and we used the truck…But, a real climbing animal they are on slippery roads especially with winter tires. Just don’t expect miracles in deep mud and snow. 8.7 inches on a Subaru is wishful thinking compared to the same on a solid axle vehicle or one with legit off road capabilities like an independently sprung Jeep, Mercedes or other real SUVs. Even a RAV is much better in practice.