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GTI unsafe in winter snow?

My college-age son has a used 2004 GTI that had been lowered. He says it’s not safe to drive in winter snow due to low clearance and sloppy handling (however, he’s added an anti-sway bar and has had it electronically “tuned”. I agree it’s relatively less safe than, say, an AWD (or a tank), but otherwise disagree. Thoughts?

If it is lowered, that definitely makes it less able to navigate snowy roads than if he had left it at a sane height, but that is not necessarily a safety issue as much as it is a mobility issue.

What ARE safety issues are:

The type of tires mounted on the car
The way that your son drives the car

Most of the “tuners” like to mount tires that are very good at dry road handling in summer weather. Unfortunately, those tires are extremely hazardous on a wintery road surface.

And, even though I do not know your son, if he is typical of the “tuners” that I have had the misfortune to encounter on the road, his driving style may be too “sporting” for safety on a slippery surface. Throw those aforementioned tires into the mix and you have the formula for sliding, skidding, and an inability to stop in time in order to avoid a collision.

It’s all in the tires. If he has low profile summer tires, it, and any other car so equipped, would be unsafe on snow. I drove an '83 GTI for 12 years in Anchorage, no problem, but I had studded 70 series tires for winter driving on a separate set of wheels.

Even with “summer tires” It’s possible (though not all that smart) to get around in the snow. Last winter I got around in Mustang GT with summer tires on it when we got some snow. Unfortunately my Bronco was in the shop at the time getting new front hubs. My Mustang is lowered as well and I added a Mach 1 chin spoiler to boot. It wasn’t pretty, but I never got stuck (which I attribute to my “keep applying power until forward movement is achieved theory” :slight_smile: In a FWD GTI he should be fine.

Do GTs have Trac-loc? That is a big help too.

Check out tirerack for a set of hopefully steel rims in smallest size (that fit) with real winter tires.

The low profile wide tires especially summer or even “all-season” in this size are pretty poor in winter conditions.

It does not matter much about getting going in snow or winter conditions. The important thing and the poster’s sons complaint is handling. Summer tires and ultra high performance all-seasons are horrid at stopping and lateral grip(turning) in winter conditions which is far more important than “going”.

yes, they have LSDs. From the late 90’s on they have traction control too. Mine does but I have set to default to “Off” when you start the car. When I added the supercharger the traction control had a hissy fit.

It depends how high the snow usually is. If some of it touches the bottom of the car, then that specific condition is less safe.

It’s rather light and front wheel drive, if it has decent tires I would say it’s fine. Living in Alaska for 3 years I’ve seen many low vehicles make it through winter, from an eclipse to a celica, evan a gti. Though I wouldn’t want to turn it into a snow plow. Common sense would tell you it’s not going to like pushing around in 6" of snow. Depends on where you live really and how the well the roads are maintained. If it’s not going to work out, garage the gti and get a 4wd beater with a heater. Jeep cherokees are rather cheap, reliable.

Thanks, all, for your very helpful information.

It wasn’t pretty, but I never got stuck (which I attribute to my “keep applying power until forward movement is achieved theory” :slight_smile: In a FWD GTI he should be fine.

I hate to tell you this…but that is NOT a good way to drive in snow…Applying power is the LAST thing you want to do in snow. It may have worked for you so far…but it is NOT the best way to drive in snow.

Ir really depends on where you live…and how much snow you get (if any). How many times a year do you get that much snow that will push the car up enough to decrease traction?? Lowering a car is NOT good…But it may not mean anything if you live in West Virgina.

I had a Rabbit in the late 70’s early 80’s and fitted it with decent snow tires all the way around. It was a tank, never got stuck, drove great in the snow. I wouldn’t know about the lowering part, that never made sense to me on a stree car. Rocketman

FoDaddy–
You are definitely more skilled than one of my neighbors, who drives a Mustang (circa 2006).
About 3 years ago, right after a significant snow storm, he got himself bogged down in about 6 inches of snow on the turn into our development.

Most people would learn something (like the importance of buying winter tires, or learning how to drive in the snow, or placing some ballast over the rear axle) from this experience, but apparently this guy does not. Fast forward to last year, and in the aftermath of a snow storm, I observed that he got himself bogged down in the exact same place!

That’s why I said it probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to do. Normally I drive my Bronco in inclimate weather, but it wasn’t available at the time. And my job dictated that I had to be there despite the weather. Most of the roads had been plowed somewhat, the most difficult part was getting in and out of unplowed parking lots. I just kept the wheels spinning until they finally dug into the pavement; it was slow going for sure. But I didn’t get stuck. I’ve had experience in driving RWD vehicles in the snow before though. Back during the blizzard of 1996 My 74 F-100 (2WD, 390 4bbl, 4.11 gears, 3 on the tree, open diff) Got me to school, 22 miles each way, without incident, other than some weird carb icing. And yes, the schools were closed, but my mom had me leaving the house at 6:30 AM before they announced that the schools were officially closed, so that in the 1 in a million chance that the schools were open, I wouldn’t be late. This happened for 5 straight days, I would traverse the unplowed roads, get to school, notice nobody else was there and just turn around and come back home.

I use to own a 67 Firebird…It was the WORSE car to drive in snow.

To my mind the biggest problem is the lowered chassis.

Suspension does not maintain the tire vertical to the ground as it moves up and down in its travels. It tilts the wheel ina controlled manner. This is intentional, as maintaining the tire vertical to the ground causes “scrubbing”, travel back and forth of the wheel’s track, which causes the distance between the tracks of the two opposing wheels to constantly vary. That adversely affects the tracking and handling of the vehicle.

When vehicles are lowered, it places the wheels in a differnt spot in the suspension travel. The tires then ride sitting at an angle. Tires are designed to produce optimum traction when kept perpendicular to the pavement. You cannot compensate for the tilt. Traction is decreased.

On dry roads the car may feel more in control in corners with the wheels leaning, race cars even control this camber to their advantage. But on bad roads, snow and ice, it presents a problem. Reduced traction in winter is always bad, never good.

Those are my thoughts. If your son were to ask I’d suggest he go to a hydraulic suspension, which would allow the chassis height to be increase to a normal height in bad weather. I’d also suggest a spare set of steel wheels with winter treads.

You can use camber plates to compensate for the wheels tilting.

College kids generally just cut a coil or two out. Or buy precut springs. Based on the son’s comment that the handling is now too “sloppy”, I’d bet lunch that that’s all he did.