Pickup Truck - Hard to Stop on Snow

I have a 1987 2WD automatic Nissan Pickup, and moved to Colo. 3 winters ago from California, and was pretty surprised at how difficult it is to stop the truck with even a minimal amount of snow. I grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota driving 2WD cars in snow and don’t recall ever having this much trouble, so it’s not an issue of my winter driving knowledge. Basically the issue is that even if I come creeping to a stop, when I finally fully engage the brakes the truck just skates away - have put 200 lbs. of sand over the rear axle, bought studs for the rear, have had the brakes fully checked out and replaced where needed. The only thing I’ve figured out that works is to drop it into neutral before braking, then it stops dead - not a great solution. What’s going on here? Is this common? Normal? Just a bad combination of 2wd, light truck, AND automatic. I’d love to dump it and get something else, but can’t really afford to now, so I’m kinda stuck with it.

Any experience with or ideas about this?

Brad in Denver

My experience is most 2wd pickups and vans are really bad in the snow, especially lighter weight ones. I had this same truck once, except with 4x4. It was real tough to drive in 2wd in the snow. That is a great truck though, don’t dump it. Mine ran forever until the body rusted out.

It may your tires on it are particularly poor in winter conditions. Not all tires are created equal and all all-seasons are compromised.

If it stops in neutral but not in drive, I’d bet your rear brakes are out of adjustment and not making contact with the drums. The 200 lbs of sand is probably making your problem greater since the normal creep at idle now has some traction in the snow, pushing your locked front wheels forward. You wouldn’t notice this in dry weather since your fronts are doing all the stopping.

I suggest putting the best tyres on the back and if the budget will take it get four winter tyres (ideally on their own steel rims).

Good Luck and drive safely.

I drive a 95 Nissan pickup 2WD here in Minnesota. And here’s what I did to mine to run in the snow.

New snow tires all the way around.
200 lbs of weight directly over the rear axle.

So far, I’ve had no problem getting around in the recent snows we’ve gotten.

The brake bias for your truck is the front brakes. If the front tires can’t grip as well as the rears, the fronts will lock up before the rear brakes engage. And this will push the truck on a slippery surface.


i second the emotion about the rear brakes needing TLC.

your comment about putting it in neutral makes all the other issues moot.

it may be the proportioning valve out of adjustment too. if all the brake power is going to the front, then the rear brakes are useless, making the same situation.

you mention having studded tires on the rear. have you checked the air, make sure ther’e not overinflated.

back to the breaks, as in the brakes braking ability.

when were the rear brakes done last? who did them? an inspection by a competent mechanic as to the condition of the calipers, slides, and rotor surfaces (to see how much contact has been happening) would help decipher the rear brakes as being broken (or at least an issue)

and testers comment about snow tires all around is true too. not necessarily studded in front ( i think thats illegal in most states) but real snow tires (not all season)

You need snows just as much on the front as the rear. Snows on the back will help you track straight when stopping, but most of the weight bias is to the front. That’s why front brakes tend to wear faster. You’ve adressed the balance problem, though I pushed close to 300 lb in the back of my Toyotas in deep snow and took a little out otherwise. It’s OK to vary the weight with need. I really think you need more traction on front.
You are also tempting fate with snows only on the rear if you drive in heavy rain and the fronts have BETTER rain traction…a skid waiting to happen.

Thanks everyone for your comments. They second my long standing feeling that it must be brake issue (esp. given the neutral stopping), but I’ve tried to get this problem across to mechanics, and had the brakes worked on several times the past few winters, including a pretty extensive brake job late last winter, and yet it’s still been doing it (part of the problem is that it only manifests on ice or snow, so I can’t always tell when I get it back if the problem’s been solved). Anyway, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure if it could be something else or just an inherent quality of a light, automatic pickup. After reading your comments, I’m back to feeling pretty sure it’s an inherent quality of the mechanics I’ve been to!

Got a good recommendation from a co-worker on a competent mechanic, so I think I’m going to try this one more time.

You’re right, ChevyBlues - they are great trucks, bought mine seven years ago with 82,000 on it, today it’s about to turn 180,000 and still running strong. I was just starting to think that they’re naturally bad on snow, and living in Denver and doing a lot of winter mountain driving, that’s not a good mix. Funny thing is that getting going in snow has never been a problem with it - with the studded snows on the back, I’ve never once gotten stuck, and it handles fine if I’m moving. I’ve made it up and over the Eisenhower Tunnel on nights when I-70 is ice, making my way around 4WDs that were spinning. It’s when I get to the other side and start going downhill that my knuckles go white and I leave a LOT of following distance.

Thanks again! Hopefully I can get this sorted out.

Oh, and I’m going to get some snows for the front, as well. What’s the story with steel wheels for snow tires? I’ve seen that referred to, but I don’t know what the advantage is. Is it just that they’re cheaper?

Pre mounting 4 snows on steel rims make putting them on for winter easier and a DIY job. Alloys are much too expensive and have their own corrosion issues which are more serious in salt areas than steel, if that’s what you meant. Steel winter wheels pay for themselves over time with the money saved on mounting and balancing every year. Most Maine-iacs do here…aaa yah.

…and it gives you an excuse to heat the garage, but a compressor and a decent floor jack and hide when it’s time to dry the dishes and take out the laundry and …maybe it isn’t cheaper.

Okay…I see. Yeah…I wouldn’t tend to buy alloys anyway (I drive a 20 year-old truck! ;> ). The place I bought my snow tires offers free re-mounting and just charges for the balancing, so I just go back there twice a year and get an oil change while I’m at it.

A Mainer, eh? Right on…my favorite uncle lives outside of Belfast.

Can’t believe no one has asked you what size of tire/wheel combination you’re using right now. With that said, what size of tire/wheel combination are you using right now?

Usually it’s the rear brakes not working, and it’s good to hear about the problem being solved.

Now if you move to Maine and move in with your favorite uncle…you’d never have to dump the truck. It would be considered a new car in that neck of the woods.

It would be a long drive back to have those tires rotated for free twice a year.

You’re well armed now with all this forum has to offer, good luck.