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Snow Driving Question

Hi - this is for anyone with some snow driving experience. We’re in Portland OR and supposed to drive up to Mt. Hood (1 hr) for Xmas Eve today and there’s a decent snowstorm here (for us) - chains are required in town and on parts of the highway, but the tire stores are sold out.

We have a 2005 Subaru Forester (Turbo) without chains and a 1989 Mercedes 190 with chains. Subaru weighs 3200# w 16" rims, Mercedes 2900# but is rear wheel drive w 15" rims.

Question: Are we safer with the Subaru without chains or the Mercedes with chains?

We have a 2 year old, so I’d kind of hate to get stuck.

Thanks in advance, John in Portland

IF the Subaru has winter tires, then I would go with the Subaru. If it does not have winter tires, then I guess that you have no alternative but to take the Mercedes. Hopefully the Merc has traction control, in addition to the tire chains.

I have driven for over 45 years in western Pennsylvania. I’ve driven rear wheel and front wheel drive vehicles. I’ve driven with old style snow tires with and without studs and with the new studless snow/ice tires. I’ve driven with chains and with cables. I have no experience with 4WD or AWD vehicles.

It’s always been my belief that nothing beats chains for really bad snow or mud driving. However, chains are so rough on smooth roads that they’ll vibrate your fillings and tear your car apart if you try to drive over 35 mph. If you break a link it’ll tear your fender apart in short order. Chains will not help your steering traction.

I used cables on the front of my Honda for a few days about 15 years ago. They didn’t damage the car because I drove only on snowy roads. I got hung up in deep snow because snow packed under the car and raised the wheels. Had to depend on helpful onlookers to shovel snow out from under the car so I could continue my trek.

If you have modern winter tires on all 4 corners of the Subaru it’ll probably be the most comfortable compromise. Just don’t get over confident and drive yourself into a ditch or another car. Braking is not helped by AWD. If you don’t have winter tires on the Subaru, take the Merc with chains. Just be prepared to drive slowly.

It’s better to wait out the storm and give the road crews time to clear the roads.

Why risk wrecking your car?? Postpone the trip…OR…Call ahead a see what the ACTUAL weather conditions REALLY are. Don’t base your decisions on TV weather reports. Chains limit speed to 20-25 mph. You don’t “take trips” with chains installed…If you MUST go, take the Subaru…The moment it starts to get dicey, turn around and go home…

The Subaru is far and away the safest vehicle being newer. It’s also the best vehicle traction wise…but without winter tires you’ll struggle with control, steering and braking. If I were to invest in an all wheel drive for traction; I’d get the snow tires ( I have and do). AWD without proper tires can get you “into” trouble because of the extra acceleration traction they can generate with out the control of proper tires.
For that reason, I have always felt that awd in snow is in more need of winter tires than 2 wd. If you don’t properly “at- tire” an awd, I wouldn’t be tempted to go in snow.