Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Can my car survive harsh winters?

Okay, so there’s a large possibility that I will be moving to the state of Maine next year. Being from Arizona, I have no experience with real winter weather or driving in the snow.

I have heard that my car may not be up for Maine winters, which are some of the worst in the country. I have a small, 2006 Scion XA hatchback with front wheel drive.I’ve been told that my car is too light, too low, and too wimpy to be reliable in a Maine winter. But I have also been told that my car will be fine if I drive slowly and carry sandbags.

Should I trade in my car for an SUV with 4 or all wheel drive to be safe, or can my car survive winters? Being that I’ve never driven in the snow before, I would feel more comfortable in a bigger, stronger car. But whats the bottom line?

First it depends on where in Maine…big difference in weather between Fort Kent and Kittery. As long as the roads are plowed you should be fine. You could get 4 winter tires if necessary.

I’ll be in Bridgton, Maine.

Perhaps you start by better describing what you mean when you ask “can my car survive” this makes no sense as your car is not alive.

Of course you know not to try and drive into the teeth of a fierce storm? Think of a Manine winter like a AZ monsoon season, you don’t drive during extreme conditions.

I have heard that my car may not be up for Maine winters BS . How is your car different than any other Scion? Surly there are lots of Scions in Maine.

[i] I would feel more comfortable in a bigger, stronger car.[/i]  That may be and if it is worth any difference in cost, I would suggest going for it.  However with today's cars the difference is not nearly as great as it once was.  Back in the mid 60's I was hit on I-70 by a Greyhound bus.  It was the drivers first and last trip.  I was not hurt.  About five years later I sold that car to a co-worker and a few days later he walked in with a bandaid on his forehead.  He had fallen asleep in that same 1,200cc rear engine Sunbeam IMP.  In both I have been saved a couple of times by my seat belt. I highly recommend them.  

SNOW: I suggest you get a set of winter tyres. Modern Winter tyres are really a big improvement over the old snow tyres.

I think it’s obvious what I mean when I say that. I’m clearly ignorant on this subject and simply trying to get a feel for what to expect/what to do. Snarky comments are unnecessary. Will my car break down, will it rust, will it have trouble starting, etc. I have no clue what to expect and have probably been told numerous things that may not be true.

As for not driving, thats not an option. Arizona Monsoons rarely affect my car unless there is flooding, in which case I’m screwed because my car is too small. I may have no choice but to drive through a storm, as I will be delivering babies and need to try my best to get to where I am going.

That’s what someone told me. It’s possible they didn’t really think that one through, and neither did I. It’s a drastic change so I’m just trying to prepare. If I keep my car, snow tires are probably a must.

Make sure you check antifreeze to -20, remember to raise wipers before snow/sleet storm to prevent blades from freezing to glass, use silicone spray to wipe down gaskets around doors to prevent freeze up, change wiper fluid to winter formula, have bucket of salted sand and small shovel in car as well as a blanket, flashlight, cell phone of course. After the first snow fall go to a large parking area, eg. Walmart. and practice driving in snow, turning and stopping- practice first before you need to do it. Otherwise enjoy.

The toughest place to be a car in North America is Montreal, Canada. Winters are very cold, lots of snow and vast quantities of salt used. Yet this city is full of small cars and winter tires are LEGISLATED by the local government. They really make a difference.

Your Scion will be fine as long as you get good winter tires, have the cooling system checked out to make sure it’s good for -40F or so, and you may need a new battery. If you have to park outside overnight, it will take a good battery to start you up in the morning. The 5W30 oil recommended will do fine as well. Make sure to empty the windshield washers of any summer fluid, since it will freeze at low temperatures. The good stuff (blue)is rated for -40F.

People in Maine did just fine before there were AWD vehicles and SUVs.

So, ignore the alarmists; we live near the Rocky Mountains at high altitude and our two “small” cars do just fine, even going to the ski slopes. Our normal winter temperatures are -35F.

If somebody told you that your car would not be reliable in Maine, I have to say that this person is either ignorant of reality or is simply badly misinformed. When those Scions are going down the Toyota assemblyline, nobody says, “Whoa–this one is going to Maine, so we better make it extra sturdy”. All of their cars are built to the same standards, and as was already stated, there are undoubtedly lots of Scions (and Toyotas, which in many cases are their mechanical twin) in Maine.

As was also said already, you need to get a set of 4 WINTER tires (the term “snow tire” is now archaic and refers to an older type of tire technology), and have them mounted on their own set of steel wheels. That way, you can swap from your 3-season tires to your winter tires (and vice-versa) very rapidly. A front wheel drive car–even one that is relatively light–will be able to deal with almost all winter conditions as long as it is shod with winter tires and as long as it is driven in a sane, sensible, and cautious manner. One of the biggest advantages of those winter tires is that they will enable you to stop the car in a far shorter distance on a slick surface, as compared to your present tires.

As to sandbags–NO!
This is a good idea with a rear-wheel drive car, in which case they are placed in the trunk, directly over the drive wheels. With a front wheel drive car, placing the sandbags in the trunk or even in the rear of the passenger compartment will negatively affect the car’s weight distribution and–in effect–will result in less traction for those front wheels.

Would you be more safely mobile with AWD? Yes, I do believe that you would be. As evidence of that, observe the large number of Subarus in Maine. However, you can definitely get by adequately with a set of 4 winter tires on your FWD car.

And, now to the last point, namely maintenance.
Has the car been maintained at least as well as Toyota specifies? If so, the car will survive very nicely. On the other hand, if you are a person who skimps on car maintenance, harsh winter conditions will take a toll on your car much more rapidly than if it is well-maintained. If you need to bring the car up to date with Toyota’s specified maintenance, be sure that you do so.

If the battery is the original, I would suggest that you have a load test performed on it. You don’t want to find out that your 4 year old battery is weak by not being able to start the engine on a really cold night in a remote location.

Also–be sure that the motor oil is of the correct viscosity. Check your Owner’s Manual to be sure, but I believe that you should be using 5W-20 motor oil in Maine. It is possible that your mechanic may have been using a “heavier” oil in Arizona, and this “heavier” oil will impede starting in cold weather.

You also need to put low-temperature washer fluid in the reservoir, and I would suggest installing winter wiper blades, as this will make a big difference in being able to see where you are going in harsh winter conditions.

Buy a good-quality windshield scraper and a snow brush once you get to Maine. You will need them.

Long before the SUV became popular, people drove cars in Maine and many other northern states in the winter and these cars were rear wheel drive cars. I would bet that even today, not every vehicle on the road in Maine is a 4 wheel drive SUV. In fact, the mix of vehicles on the road is probably not much different than in other states. I am certain that there are other Maine residents who own Scion XA hatchbacks.

Do as others have suggested: 1) buy a set of winter tires; 2) make certain that the coolant in the radiator will protect to at least 20 degrees below zero and be certain that the windshield washer contains a winter mix; 3) go out and practice driving in an empty parking lot after a snow storm.

You are moving to a state with beautiful scenery from a state with beautiful scenery. I love the visits I have made to Arizona from the midwest and the beauty and quietness of the desert. I’ve also loved the trips I have made to the New England states. I’ve enjoyed meeting people in the desert southwest and the northeast.

My wife made many recruiting trips for graduate students from a midsestern univiersity. I went with her on some of these trips. We often encountered students from southern states that were really concerned about the winter weather in the midwest. We assured them that they wouldn’t freeze.

Your car will be fine. Scion has dealers in Maine and they sell the XA hatchback to Maine residents. Winter tires are very useful, especially if you aren’t used to driving on snow covered roads. Front wheel drive cars do very well in snow especially with winter tires. Your car might be “low” but you will be driving mostly on plowed roads. They even plow roads in the mountains and at the ski areas, so you can go skiiing if you like.

SUV’s, and AWD Subaru’s are not a Maine winter necessity. There are lots of cars that “survive” Maine winters just fine, and yours is one of them.

Your Scion will be fine…The big question will be whether YOU can survive the winters of interior Maine…To an Arizona boy, you will think you are on a different planet. And that’s just the weather…After you interface with the PEOPLE of interior Maine, you will be SURE you are on a different planet…But if you can adapt to radical change, you might like it!!

Emergency employees either have their own 4WD trucks or get rides from volunteers with 4WD trucks. You should take your Scion with you and see for yourself. At worst, you can sell an Arizona car i Maine, and there might be a little extra in it because of the 4 years it spent in a dry, relatively warm place.

I’m sure I can adapt to the weather… But what are the people like??

On the whole, they are far less politically reactionary than the folks in Arizona, based on my experience in both states.

Most anti-freezes should be good to atleast 40 below. I know many parts of the northern US(not counting Alaska) see windchills colder than 20 below. A bag/box of kitty litter will do just as good as the sand/salt.
However, I disagree with you telling him to go to a Walmart parking lot, since they’re open 24 hours, the lot will most likely be full of cars all day. An EMPTY parking lot is what you want.
As for the them buying an SUV with 4/AWD, they should get settled into their home/apartment first before incurring the expense of a different vehicle. The ones telling him his car is inadequate is spouting stuff that might have been true 40 years ago, but not today. Any car can handle the snow, it’s the driver that tends to make errors and cause accident because they don’t know how to handle the car properly.

That’s a big plus.

I drove a VW Rabbit GTI in Alaska for 12 years, I doubt Maine would be much worse. Just get a set of 4 winter tires pre-mounted on wheels, is an excellent source. They’ll ship them to your Maine address, and either you just put them on or load up the car and have a shop put them on. You’ll do fine.