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Rear wheel drive in snow country

So I’m moving from Phoenix, AZ to Rochester, NY and am wondering about my rear wheel drive car and it’s abilities in the snow. I love my 96 BMW 318ti but I don’t want to be slipping all over the road. Not having lived in the snow before, I may be overreacting. Should I get something with all wheel or front wheel drive, or should I keep the rear wheel Bimmer?

Rochester, NY is not in the Arctic circle. We drove rear wheel drive vehicles, and still drive them in the Northern States. You may want to get some winter tires, but I am certain that there are others in Rochester, NY that drive BMW automobiles all year long.

Put Blizzaks on all fours, make every move (turns, stops, starts, etc.) slowly, leav plenty of room between you and everyone around you, and you’ll be fine. A bit of added weight in the trunk, perhaps a few concrete patio blocks, will also help.

There are planty of Bimmers in Rochester. You’ll not be alone.

People do it all the time, nothing wrong with the beemer.

Now the TIRES, on the other hand, will be key in winter drivability.

Also practice, practice, practice, as they say, to get the feel of winter driving. When the time comes find parking lots etc. and put it through some maneuvers ( accelerating, braking, cornering ). We can talk till we’re blue in the face about “how to” and it won’t do you much good until you get the feel for it. Ask around when you get to NY and I’m sure you’ll find lots of local experience to advize you.

But about those tires. Whether you have a seperate set of snows for the rear or get a fresh set of four with a suitable tread , you must analize your tires now in the off season. Being a beemer I could guess it to have some sort of speed rated or touring tires where the channels are strait and the tread is fine. You’d want some zig-zag in the channels and space within the tread for good bite.

Tell us your tire size, brand name, and miles on this set.

I also recommend that you get winter tires and have them mounted on separate rims. This makes changing back and forth from summer to winter tires easy, but you don’t have to break the bead to mount and remount tires on the same rims.

I will disagree. While those with experience have no trouble with a RWD car (as long as it has 4 winter tires), your inexperience combined with the extended snow season in Rochester would have me getting a FWD or AWD car. I lived in Anchorage 12 years, had no problems with my GTI, had separate winter tires for it. My Cherokee? I’d put it in 4WD when the bad weather hit, in RWD it was not nearly as good as the GTI (and it had winter tires). The IRS on your BMW is also worse in snow than a solid-axle car like the Cherokee.

RWD prepared for winter with winter tires in experienced hands can be quite capable. The old tradition of carrying a extra weight in the trunk between the wheel wells definitely helps and can make a huge difference. There are occasions when RWD is superior to FWD, like going up hills. But driving experience, weight balance and winter tires are all a must for that superiority.
I’d have to differ with the Cherokee remark. 4wd vehicles in 2wd are very poor because of their usual large engines, front diffs and lack of added weight in the rear resulting in poor overall balance. Your BMW will be better…w/o the ground clearance which is another factor.

Cherokee had a 150cid 4cyl…reasonable balance, not great.

If your BMW has traction control and stability control (which I am willing to bet it does), I would just put some winter tires on it and adjust your speed to the conditions.

The old tradition of carrying a extra weight in the trunk between the wheel wells definitely helps and can make a huge difference.

Just to reiterate that point. If you put the weight towards the opening of the trunk(front?), then the weight will be counter productive and you’ll be more likely to spin out than if you didn’t have anything in the trunk.

and for winter tires:

I’ve been living in Colorado for 33 years and driving RWD BMWs for many of those years. I run four good winter tires (Blizzaks, etc.) on my car when it snows and have never gotten stuck. We’ve had maybe four or five real blizzards where a 4WD was a must – all total about 20 days in 33 years when I could not drive the BMW. Everyone else was stuck home (or on the highway) too so it did not matter too much.

Tires are 95% of winter driving. Only exception is if you live in the mountains and have to drive up some very steep un-plowed slopes. Then 4WD is the way to go.


You will be fine driving in Rochester, NY. They have snow plows and use them heavily to clear the snow, and then dump on the road sand and salt. If you don’t want to expose your Beemer to the salt you could consider buying an old “beater” car for the winter.

If you drive the Beemer, snow tires are definately recommended. When the first snow comes try to avoid driving until the plows are out. It seems like the 1st snow has a disproportionate accident rate. Find a vacant parking lot that is snow covered and practice starting, stopping, and slidding. You need to get used to the feeling of the back end breaking loose a bit and how to turn with the skid to maintain control. It is really simple once you get used to it.

People drove all winter for years before FWD, AWD, even front wheel drive cars were sold. Snow tires and some practice are all you will need.

Just to reiterate that point. If you put the weight towards the opening of the trunk(front?), then the weight will be counter productive and you’ll be more likely to spin out than if you didn’t have anything in the trunk.

For sure…I usually recommend the weight be slid as far forward as possible behind the rear seat. If an “appropriate” amount is placed and in the right place, than a spin out is indeed less likely.

Just to add to that.
Driving a police car for years with good snows and a trunk weighted with equipment, traction and handling was never a problem until ground clearance became the main problem. The FWD cars we chased in slippery conditions, often were at a disadvantage, especially when violators rode summer tires.

In years past as now, a well prepared RWD car or truck in experienced hands was always superior to a FWD car. People have been duped into thinking that FWD is better which just isn’t true in all but for the more “severely” compromised cases (Corvettes and the like). When traction for acceleration, handling, load carrying and overall competency in slippery weather conditions is most important, FWD is NEVER used and nearly all the time commercially in any driving condition.

FWD is used for engineering expediency and cost effectiveness at the expense of what all here really like in a car…maximum performance for the money. This discussion does not include awd/4wd. RWD BMWs are fine in winter…excepting with too wide performance tires that float some even when they are snows.

You can back a FWD in snow,where it wont go forward-Yes I prefer RWD in snow-Kevin

Rochester has snow plows and knows how to use them.

I strongly recommend FOUR WINTER tyres. These are not the same as “all season” tyres as all season tyres are really only good for three seasons and winter is not one of them. I especially recommend the winter tyres because you may be new to winter driving.

You don’t need AWD or 4WD unless you live off the main roads. The really big problem with driving in the snow and ice is not the lack of traction to get your car though, it is the lack of traction to keep you car on the road. AWD and 4WD can help get you back on the road after you slide off, but it can’t keep you from sliding off, that is where winter tyres come into play.

The SALT they use on the roads will dissolve your Beemer before too many winters pass…

That’s a good point…you can do some self treatment to combat “the a-salt”, but and an older car is already a prime target for the salt “brine” they use now.

Probably the worst car in the world for snow (except other BMW’s). I worked in snow country (both Switzerland and WI. at Dealerships) the cars were simply miserable even with Blizzacks,a snow tube,limited slip.