Driving from mild to harsh winter climate

Hey guys,
I’m going to be moving from Houston, TX to Minot, ND. My first day on the new job there is February 27th. While I’m having movers haul all my junk to Minot, I’m going to have to drive my car there.

Here’s the big question:
I have a 2011 VW CC that is front wheel drive with all-season tires on it which is perfectly fine for living down south. The tires are in good condition (only 20K miles and rated for 60K) with plenty of tread depth. Will it be safe enough to make the trip up north? I’m planning one overnight stop in Kansas City, KS. Should I take advantage of my stop in Kansas City and switch to some Winter tires? Then what do I do with my old tires that are still good when I’m halfway to Minot?

P.S. I have driven in snow in Spokane, WA and Sand Point, ID; but the all the roads (even the rural main roads) were plowed and salted. I don’t have many issues with the snow, but in that line between where it rains and snows there is ice. I’ll be crossing it. Also, Minot has been having a mild winter with highs in the 20s and low 30s and very little snowfall. I will be bring a laptop with a mobile air card so I can pull the highway at gas station to continually check road and weather conditions ahead.

If you’re thinking of getting winter tires, I’d get them now, on an extra set of rims (tirerack will ship them mounted and balanced to your door). Put them one before you leave, have the summer tires/wheels shipped up with the other stuff.

Make sure you have winter washer fluid in your reservoir. Summer fluid will freeze up and possibly damage things.

Don’t forget that you’ll need to add air to your tires when you arrive or even along the way.

As for your original question, I’m not that familiar with that part of the country, but isn’t this mostly a nice flat drive? If so, my guess is that you’ll be fine unless you try to drive in the midst of a blizzard.

Yes, it’s fairly flat. The biggest hills will be in Texas and Oklahoma. Kansas has a few mild hills. Nothing anywhere near mountainous or San Francisco style. The biggest hills will be any bridges in urban areas or across rivers.

Thanks for the help. I’ll be following for others’ comments and suggestions.

I wholeheartedly agree with Texases. Having spent three years in North Dakota, I can tell you that you’ll be driving on a lot of very icy roads. Winter tires will literally be a lifesaver up there. They’re much better on ice than any other choice. It’ll be unlike the snow you’ve encountered so far. It’ll be more ice than snow.

Follow Lion’s advice also. And as soon as you get high enough, pick up some winter windshield wipers. Regular metal-framed wipers will immediately become ice ball sticks in a storm and be totally useless for driving.

Also, when you get there, put a “blzzard kit” in the trunk consisting of very warm clothing and emergency supplies. It may not be as necessary these days as it was when I was there (before cellphones), but I still think it’s a good idea. The safest way to drive in a blizzard is to the nearest hotel.

Thanks everybody. Good think I asked early enough. I can get tires put on in Houston just before I leave for the north.

I dunno, North Dakota is not exactly unsettled territory. They do have plows up there I’m told and even sanding trucks. It has been a mild winter and only a month left. I think you will be fine for the rest of this season and you can see what you will want to do for next year. Going to the expense of winter tires for a month doesn’t make much sense unless you’re going to be a rural mail carrier. Plus what are you going to do with the current tires, strap them on the top?

From Minnesota

Most important is driving skill. Your experience should help a lot. The really hard part about driving in snow and ice is stopping and controlling where you are going. The deeper snow will make it harder to get where you are going, but really, the important part is not being injured. Getting stuck on the side of the road is really a pain, but dead is a lot worse.

Use the skills you have and stay safe.

If you are really worried then pull off and find a motel until the weather clears.

Get winter tires now, and have the all season tires shipped north by the movers with the rest of your stuff. Having the winter tires mounted on their own wheels makes the 2X time a year changeover very easy. Driving on the winter tires for a few days in TX won’t harm them and you just never know what kind of weather you will encounter on your way north. Whatever happens you’ll be prepared.

You might want to consider new wiper blades or even winter blades (which likely are not sold much in TX). Also add winter temp rated washer fluid to top off the washers, you might use them a lot if there is sloppy stuff on the roads.

For anywhere, those new style wipers are worth the money. And in ice they make all the difference in the world. Drop a line here when you get homesick for Sea Wall Blvd.

If all goes well, only one major stop is planned in Kansas City, KS (hotels by the NASCAR track on the westside); but I’m leaving plenty enough time so I could make two more overnight stays if it appears to be rough weather ahead. I rather drive after a storm blows through and the crews have a chance to plow. I’ll only be on main roads. Once in Minot, I’ll only be driving in the city. Any trip into the rural areas for work will utilized larger company trucks (Ford F250 or 350) that have been setup for the conditions up there.

The total drive under ideal conditions is just over 24 hours. Two 12 hour driving days at the speed limit is the best case scenario. I won’t push it though. Luckily there are enough sizable cities and towns along the route which is all interstate except for the last leg to Minot off of I-94. My trip will be I-45 to Dallas, then I-35 all the way to Kansas City, KS. Then I’ll take the loop on the west side to I-29 all the way to Fargo. I’m hoping that sticking to interstates is the best method. Considering that I-35 and I-29 are major trucking corridors for moving goods from between Canada, USA, and Mexico; it should be in good condition.

HAHA, thanks Rod Knox. I lived in Houston the last 10 years. Big opportunities (and pay) in North Dakota in the energy industry is facilitating the move for the next several years until all the infrastructure is in place.

And low real estate prices.

It’s funny how things change over time. When I was in North Dakota ('71-'74), th ebiggest problem they had was keeping people. The population was dropping every year. The kids just did not want to stay there after school. There was nothing there but farmland and ice, and no opportunities for young people. Now it’s booming.

A reminder about all season tires and winter. When new, some all season tires can give you decent winter snow traction. Because of their narrow tread depth, it doesn’t take much wear for them to loose that ability. IMO, unless you have real aggressive tread to begin with, 20 k miles or about 2to 3 /32 inch loss of tread depth means you have poor winter traction compared to dedicated winter traction. Mileage rating is only an estimate as to when tires loose their legal status, , not their performance capabilities. You will loose that long before 60k miles and any decent winter traction may well be lost now.

Dag, I wholeheartedly agree, and have often made the point that wear bars are a poor indicator of the whether a tire will provide good performance, thay’re only indicator of legal compliance. Unless one does as I do, starts tire shopping when the bars become obvious, well before the tread reaches them.

As regards the all season tires and winter, you’re sbsolutely correct…however in North Dakota snow isn;t the problem…ice is. And on ice it’s all about having plenty of edges. Aggressive tread won’t help, siped tread will. Fortunately, winter tires nowaday come already siped.

Good advice on getting good winter tires on their own rims. Make sure also that your engine coolant is good for -40F. Have the battery testyed; if it is the original and can’t deliver the CCAs, you may need to replace it. get the biggest, meanest one that fits in the battery case.

Minot does not get a huge amount of snow but the temperatures can really plummet! As for oil, VW specifies 0W40 (synthetic) in many of their cars. That’s good for cold weather starting.

Thanks guys. Previous experience driving in winter conditions was always in a rental. This is the first time it’s my own car.

I drove through Houston in 2010 when the ice storm hit and it was quite apparent that neither the city nor the drivers there were up to the occasion.

I stayed home and watch the horror unfold on TV. In that storm the roads were perfectly fine except for where there were patches of water. The real problem were the bridges. And in Houston you don’t have to cross water to use a large bridge.

Oh, one more thing. You may want to consider getting an engine heater installed when you get there. I had a lower radiator hose heater and it worked great. Most folks have block heaters. If at all possible, you’ll want to plug your car in at night.