Moving to Area With Snow -- Advice

I’m a city boy, who has spent his entire life at <1000 feet, potentially moving to a location >8000 feet. I’ve got a 2004 v6 Saturn Vue AWD.

1) How will the car hold up, and what do I need to do to equip it for the snow (e.g. different oil, different maintainance, different tires?)

2) How do I learn to drive in the snow & ice?


You didn’t say where you’re moving to, other than higher. An AWD Vue should do pretty well in snow as it comes equipped from the factory. You might want to think about a set of winter tires if you’re moving somewhere that gets a LOT of snow. For occasional snow just about any decent tires will do.

You don’t need a different oil, but you may need to change it more often if the climate is severely cold. Your owner’s manual will explain the maintenance requirements. If you haven’t already read the owner’s manual, now is a good time to do so.

Learning to drive in snow is something that takes PATIENCE and PRACTICE. You might be able to find a winter driving school, which is always a good idea. Otherwise, you need a big, empty parking lot so you can’t hit anything when the vehicle loses traction and slides.

The key to winter driving is speed, or the lack of it. Drive SLOWLY and you will probably be OK. Don’t get the idea that AWD makes you in vincible, because it doesn’t. AWD vehicles will slide off the road just as quickly as 2WD vehicles if they are driven too fast for conditions.

Braking on snow-covered roads takes a LOT longer, so stay back from the vehicle in front of you and plan ahead. AWD will get you moving, but it won’t help you stop.

One more thing. If there’s ICE on the roads, stay home. You can drive on snow, but ice trying to drive on ice is not a good idea.

It is best to buy a set of winter tyres and best yet to buy a set of steel wheels to put them on to make change over easy. You might also want the steel wheels because you may be able to purchase a different size tyre (a little thinner) which are better on snow. You will want to try and get the same outside diameter. On mine that meant getting a difference size rim.

The extra set of rims makes changing over much easier.

At the first snow, head out to a vacant parking lot without obstructions and play. Learn what sliding and skidding fell like on your cars and how to handle it. Learn the limits and say well below them.

Note: AWD will help you get out of a ditch you slide into, but it will not help you avoid sliding into it. Also if there is a difference make sure that the best tyres on either car are on the back. The back has less to do about traction, but it has a lot to do about keeping you from spinning around looking where you have been and not where your car is going.

Previous two posts said it all. Good winter tires and making sure you have the right winter oil in the engine, as well as maybe installing a block heater. At that elevation in the winter, leaving your car outside may make it hard to start the next morning if you have heavy oil in the crankcase. You have a good vehicle for this location, so don’t worry too much. Improving your driving skills to the location is your most important priority.

I never buy winter tires since radial tires replaced bias ply tires. Right now I am running an older compact front drive car in the winter with 3 (radial of course) tires worn almost to the wearout indicator bars and one newer tire. It’s my rust-it-away-in-the-winter-road-salt car. I live in the upper midwest in an area with mostly flat terrain and get around fine. If you have hills where you will be, then what I do may not work unless the road people are diligent about plowing and salting. My car with it’s worn tires can go in snow at least a few inches deep. With good radial but not winter tires I have gone in snow up to the rocker panels. If your vehicle has antilock brakes, that will occasionally help you out of trouble at a slippery stop sign or stoplight when you might drive a little too briskly.

Starting in the cold with the correct oil per your owner’s manual since fuel injection became common is not a problem.

In case you did not know this, what you are doing is very unsafe :frowning:

Stick around. You’ll read about a lot more of them.

Well, it is an illustration that the most important piece of winter driving equipment is the one behind the wheel (not the horn). I have also over the years driven in winter conditions in 2wd cars with mostly worn out summer tires and never had any significant problems (actually, the only winter-related crash I ever had was a fender-bender on ice in a 4wd truck with snowtires), but so I think the idea of such anecdotes is to refute the urgent tone in which people claim that you “need” AWD or snow tires to drive in snowy conditions. It makes life a LOT easier, but there’s lots of things that make your life easier that you don’t need.

I’m at 8,868 ft. above sea level in the middle of the Colorado Rocky Mountains (Bailey, CO), raised in Southern NH. Wherever I’ve lived, it’s snowed–sometimes BIG TIME! Oil: Your Owner’s Manual probably suggests going to 5W-30 motor oil in temperatures below a certain point. That’s for about early November through March. If you presently use 10W-30, no need to panic. Just go to 5W-30 and a new oil filter the next time it’s due for changing. All season radials will get you through most times, but a set of cable-type chains for all 4 wheels will get you through the really deep stuff. Otherwise, get yourself some decent snow tires for all 4 wheels. A commonly-used habit is to have all 4 wheels stripped of your all-season radials (about early Nov.), and put snow tires on (until about the end of March). Reverse procedure in late March. It gets to be a chore and costs money every time you swap tires. Srip the snows and re-mount (and balance) the all-season radials. Another way is to purchase another set of stock wheels from an auto wrecking yard. Then get your snows mounted and balanced on those 4 extra wheels. Just swap wheels and tires. Of course, you’ll need someplace to store the other set while you have the appropriate tires for that season on the vehicle. It becomes a proposition of setting an appointment for either re-mounting tires (and balanced!) on the same wheels or laying out some money one time for 4 extra wheels, getting snows mounted and balnced, and then swapping wheels with the appropriate tires for the season. If you have a shop do this swap-out, it’ll still cost a few bucks but it’ll be less than the complete swap-out of tires on the same 4 rims. With snow tires, it eliminates the need (and the inherent hassle) of cable chains. Though there have been many discussions concerning running 4 snow tires instead of just 2, whether it be just two on the front versus the rear, I highly recommend snow tires on all 4 wheels. It has to do with the exact same tire sizes on all 4 wheels. The laws of physics suggest that the same size all around, whether all-season or snows, will not disrupt any of the physics in engineering your car from the “git-go”. A set of snows on one axle with a set of all-seasons on the other axle will cause the all-season tires axle to tend to want to fishtail, etc. It also messes with the braking system in that the two different types of tires don’t “grab” at the same rate. I have personally noticed front-wheel drive vehicles with the snows on the front slide off into ditches or into snow banks for the reasons stated above–but not very often with AWD. My S.O. has a '89 Toyota All-Trac wagon w/ 265K on it. She rarely has had to use 4-wheel drive as the AWD function works in most cases. Just keep your Saturn AWD well maintained and it’ll run a long time. Let us know where you are moving to. If it’s in Colorado, name the town, city or County. I can give you mush more specific advice about your “mini-climate”. As for learning to drive on snow/ice, I’ll add that using your transmission to slow you down along with pumping the brakes EASY (unless you have ABS) gives you a lot more control than slamming the brakes. Slamming will only put you into an uncontrolled skid. But, as previously stated, practice-practice-practice. Empty, or near empty lots work really well. Sometimes, I’ll pull into such a place just to fool around on the ice and snow! (Keeps my concentration and skills sharp–plus it’s just plain FUN!). And this 60-year old man gotta keep his skills sharp and enjoy life a little once in a while.

You already have the most important thing correct. That is, you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

How much snow will you be driving in day after day? If it’s several inches, you need dedicated winter tires on an extra set of wheels. Tire Rack’s web site is a good place to research tires. If snow removal is prompt and thorough, you can get by with all-season tires. However, you may have to stay home until the roads are plowed.

The correct oil viscosity depends on temperatures. If you don’t know how cold it may get, find climate data on an internet weather site. Then, see what your owner’s manual recommends for those temperatures. I suspect it will be either 5W30 or 0W30. Otherwise, just keep up with the maintenance schedule given in the manual.

One way to learn to drive on ice and snow is to go to school. Search the internet for “winter driving school”. Most of the places in the United States above 8,000 feet are located in the Rocky Mountains. If that’s your new home, consider the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Umm, well, on top of making your life easier, using proper tires actually decreases the odds of you being killed or suffering serious health or monetary problems… Then it is your choice - to rely on luck, or to take care of your own fate…

There’s only one thing I will add to the advice you have been given. Learn to ignore the locals who will run up on your bumper and drive like idiots no matter the conditions.
I’ve been to Colorado quite a few times and could not even count the number of people who tailgate and pass at freeway speeds on a snow and ice pack. My speed remains subdued due to conditions and if they want to kill themselves then have at it.

I think the previous posts have more than adequately explained all that is needed for the car, and had excellent advice for you as the driver. I would like to add one thing a Canadian friend of mine said to me about driving in any less than ideal condition, though snow and ice were what he was addressing specifically:

“You can drive as fast as you want to. Just don’t do anything sudden.”

It’s really amusing if you read it in a French accent.

Agree; you have a good vehicle and with decent tires you will have no problems. Having lived both in the East, where the snow is heavy and sticky, and now near the Rocky Mountains, the driving here is actually EASIER, as long as you plan for those long uphill drives, and take it easy going down a mountain. Ice and sleet are very common in the East, whereas in the rockies the snow is cold and dry, and much easier to drive through. Winter is winter there. I spend 15 weekends a year in the Rockies in the winter and have a 2 wheel drive car with all season radials. My wife has 2WD as well and has Michelin X-ICE winter tires. We have never needed chains and have never been stuck, but we see many 4WD SUVs in the ditch since these owners constantly underestimate their stopping distances.

Mais oui! Your friend is right. Momentum is the important part of winter driving. Get up to the speed you feel good at, and stay there. Its fun to blast through the odd snow drift across the road, but you don’t slow down for one. The only thing that really scares me is having a deer or moose jump in front of my car. I survived a deer collision and my wife hit and killed a young grizzly bear.

I love the internet & NPR. Most of the time I give programming advice…this is the first time I’ve received it, and I love it. I’m moving to Colorado Springs, Co. About 1.5 miles high. I’m all about keeping a good following distance & proper car maintainence…but still, I’m going to find an empty parking lot in the local mountains & keep looking for a winter driving school…reading is great, but you just can’t beat the knowledge gained from a good teacher & good training.

Help me! How do I do that? I need a place to go near Colorado Springs, CO.

Okay…my only experience with ice is the stuff in my fridge…and what I’ve seen on TV. How do you identify ice before you’re crashing into somebody?

The AWD is a major advantage for you in snowy conditions. It helps significantly with getting your vehicle moving and stability. Its is also a major help in very slippery conditions(ice) when using engine compression (eg releasing accelerator and sometimes downshifting) as it distributes the power evenly instead of to a pair of wheels that can send the vehicle into a spin. I have seen other comments to the contrary by other posters but ask how many AWD cars they have owned(me all my driving life 20 years).

Just make sure you have at least 4/32" of tread on your tires and they all-season rated. One thing to note is that not all all-seasons tires are not created equal and vary in winter ability. Research is key as some are standouts in the winter.

Someone mentioned it, the best advice is never do anything suddenly like braking, accelerating and steering . Lastly always slow first (brake lightly!) then turn, never turn and slow down.

If it makes you nervous take a winter driving course as you will learn many new things under safe conditions.

Winter tires make a huge difference but you may be okay with all-seasons. I would simply lurk out very carefully and get a feel.

Don’t get to worried about driving on CO Springs, it’s not exactly the wilderness (or the mountains). Most folks have normal cars with all season tires (OK about 99% of the time). If you need to drive on secondary roads in unplowed snow frequently, consider four snow tires on separate wheels.