Car for Chicago?

I am about to move to Chicago for school and would like advice on the type of car I should take with me. I am worried about rust from salt on the roads and being from California I wonder if it is necessary to have a AWD/4WD car or if snow tires needed. My budget is roughly $15,000 max. I have been looking at Subarus (imprezas and foresters), Honda CRVs, Hyundai Tuscon, Ford Fusion, and Kia Optima. Any advice is appreciated!

Depending on what part of Chicago, I’d recommend something smaller for ease of parking. Otherwise FWD is all that is necessary for winter driving with good all season tires. Nothing wrong with AWD or 4WD but its not necessary and will cost in fuel mileage. In bad weather roads will be cleared very quickly except on rare occasions where you should stay home anyway. You really want to get it washed regularly with the underbody spray to get the salt off is about all you can do. But watch out for frozen door locks and doors if you don’t dry it off good and assume you won’t have a garage. So just buy what you like and fits you.

A Corolla or Civic. If you feel you must need awd, an Impreza. In places, city streets can have a greater need for awd then country driving. If you are confident in civil service by the local govt. to take care of you in storms, a 2wd will suffice. If not, CYA with a small awd car like the Impreza.

All you really need is a good set of winter tires. I would forget about AWD, and get a compact size vehicle. Parking and preventing the car from being stolen will be your biggest challenge in Chicago.

Like most big city driving, it’s about trade off. With fwd, you will have to accept that for a few days total ( nearly a week this last year once) you won’t be able to drive at all… If that’s an inconvenience you can live with and fwd is fine, even without snow tires. Just plan you routs carefully if it’s anything like Boston until all the roads are clear. If you have awd, you will be dragging it around with little for it to do about 345 driving days out of the year. The choice is yours.

Chicago is flat. FWD will be fine for any driving situation. BTW, Chicago has a good commuter train system. If school is near the CTA line, you might move first and decide if you need a car after you’ve been there for a month or two.

If you need a car, consider a new car, like a Chevy Spark or Sonic. The Spark MSRP is $12,185 and the Sonic MSRP is $14,185. They are bare bones cars, and maybe that’s a good thing for a grad student. The Ford Fiesta Sedan starts at $13,200, Kia Rio starts at $13,600, Nissan Versa sedan at $11,990, and Toyota Yaris at $14,370. You never have to worry about how the previous owner cared for a new car.

Chicago is not like Boston or New York. They have real snow plows not combo garbage trucks, sanding and salt trucks, and drivers. Not many storms shut the place down, plus a good mass transit system-just be careful where you go alone. Myself though, I avoid the place.

"just be careful where you go alone. "
That makes it pretty much like Boston ! And don’t make fun of the DUCKs either of you’re treading on thin harbor ice.
The real difference between NY and Chicago vs Boston…is that streets in NY and Chicago are actually organized.

I am from the upper midwest, about 120 miles northward of Chicago. If you live on a side street that might be plowed or salted later after the main routes are done, AWD or 4WD might be useful but with good tires I have gone through fresh snow up to the rocker panels with front wheel drive. I have never owned an AWD or 4WD vehicle and see no reason to own one. Chicago and most Midwest roads are typically very near to being flat.

Rust from road salt is a fact of life but if you do nothing to prevent rust, you can still keep a car for at least 12 years before it shows much rust damage. This past winter, for a change, I have brought my car after the roads have dried after each snowfall to a car wash that uses fresh, not recycled water. Time will tell how much good this will do.

If you lived in SoCal, you might see some relief from crowded traffic in Chicago but for real relief, you need to get away from the Chicago area.

Jtsanders pretty much hit the nail on the head…Chicago is flat. If you have deal with both hills and snow frequently, you certainly can use awd4wd. If you don’ t, like I said earlier, you’re just dragging it around for nothing, 345 days out of up the year. If it is flat terrain and lower city speeds, even anything but all season tires for most is debatable.

I have seen every make and model of car in chicago and they all make it through, though jaguars and Mercedes seem to have more trouble than most. I had snowtires in the 70’s but with the advent of radial tires have been nothing but all season. Sure you need to learn to drive in the snow, but it is not how fast you can go, but how well you can steer and stop.

FWD will be fine. Wife has a nice fwd vehicle with all-season tires…and she worked at home a total of 2 days because of snow. And Chicago gets less snow then NH does.

You don’t need any “special” car for Chicago. If you must commute daily winter tires would be a good idea. If you can wait out the snowstorms it takes about 24-36 hours to clear the snow and then you can get around without even winter tires.

My feeling has always been, that the police have be out in all kinds of weather, so if you have even a decent rwd car with decent tires and a little weight in the back, you get by pretty darn well, just about anywhere.

From Barkydog Quote: “I have seen every make and model of car in chicago and they all make it through, though jaguars and Mercedes seem to have more trouble than most. I had snowtires in the 70’s but with the advent of radial tires have been nothing but all season.” UnQuote

Agreed, a Jaguar and a Mercedes have rear drive which does not work as well in snow. Front drive is far better due to more vehicle and engine weight over the driving wheel (front) tires. Bias ply tires which are thankfully now obsolete did not work nearly as well in snow as do radial ply tires which are universal now. All season radials would be better yet in snow than ordinary radials. If there is any remaining doubt, a person could take one step more and go to radial snow tires. I use ordinary radials, year around.

When You Start Needing A Special Vehicle Or Special Tires To Drive Somewhere Then You Shouldn’t Be Driving, Anyhow.

Like Wha Who? " I use ordinary radials, year around. "

I live where winter weather is worse than what Chicago has to deal with, I have for decades.
I’ve never been stuck in snow and have never needed AWD or snow tires for a 72 mile daily commute.

I monitor the weather and weather forecasts during our long winter season. When schools and businesses close it is time to really pay attention. I also have a police/emergency scanner that is on in house. I have learned that when emergency vehicles begin having trouble getting around then I probably will, too. I plan my travel accordingly.

When I monitor the scanner I find that people who venture out because they have special vehicles or special tires and feel secure enough (overly confident) to be on the roads, often become roadside obstacles. The plow drivers don’t appreciate these vehicles as much as their drivers do.

Don’t worry. Use All-Season tires and a conventional car, as the other drivers do and you’ll adjust to becoming aware of any threatening weather. You’ll be fine. When in Rome . . .

Oh, buy the best ice scraper(s) (for windows) that are available. Keep them in your car. That should probably take care of your biggest problem.


I live where winter weather is worse than what Chicago has to deal with, I have for decades. I've never been stuck in snow and have never needed AWD or snow tires for a 72 mile daily commute

That’s fine for New England or Chicago…But upper Michigan or Upstate NY…then fwd with all-season tires just won’t cut it. And you just can’t sit at home because Lake Effect snow is almost IMPOSSIBLE to predict.

Mike, is that an example of cross pollenization ?

I Live In The Upper Great Lakes Region Where “Unpredictable” Lake Effect Weather Is So Normal That One Can Predict That It Will Be Really Bad Every Winter And This One Was No Exception. We Had Lots Of It, At Times Almost Unrelenting, From Michigan, Huron, And Superior !

The Only Exception Is When The Great Lakes Freeze Over And That’s Only Happenened Very Rarely.

I Stopped At My Golf Course Yesterday To See If It Would Open Soon. People Were Cross-Country Skiing On Some Of My Favorite Fairways !

We use FWD and All-Season tires on 7 vehicles with four drivers driving 4 of them daily (unless everything closes and State Police ask drivers to stay off the roads) and going in all different directions, many, many miles. We are never late and the don’t get stuck. I guess we’ve been really lucky during the past several decades, eh ?

AWD and snow tires ? Don’t want them and don’t need them. Planning and common sense prevail.
Fog, snow fog, and blizzard white-out conditions are the big travel problems and AWD and snow tires won’t fix zero visibility.


Mike, is that an example of cross pollenization ?

I was wonder what the h*ll you were talking about. I kept rereading my comment I wrote…never looked at the text I had cut and paste that I was commenting on.