CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Snow tires

So I just moved from Charlotte, NC to Worcester, MA. Back in 2004 I got a great deal on a Ford Mustang Coupe (V6). Good car for Charlotte, NC but I’m told “not so much” when it comes to Worcester, MA. The problem? The snow. Charlotte gets 5" a year, Worcester gets 60". The advice I have gotten from the locals regarding putting snow tires on the car has fallen into 3 categories (paraphrasing):



1) “Don’t bother. A Mustang is the single worst vehicle to own in snow. Rear wheel drive, too light and too much engine. You can put any tire you want on the car and it won’t make any difference. You have two options, sell the car and buy a Subaru Outback or put the number of several good tow companies in your cell phone because you’re going to spend all your time in a ditch.”



2) “Just put all season tires on the car and drive slow. You’ll slide a bit more than people with front wheel drive cars but you’ll be fine. Snow tires are a waste around here. The streets are plowed and salted pretty much continuously around here.”



3)“The above two people are crazy. This whole ‘rear wheel drive is bad in the snow’ thing is a myth IF you put REAL snow tires on your car. Studs aren’t necessary but get REAL snow tires for the car and you’ll be just fine in the snow. As good as any front wheel drive vehicle.”



For the record, I currently have “summer” tires on the car. Handles great in warm, dry weather (i.e. Charlotte’s weather) and not too bad in wet.



My question to all of you is which one of the three above is correct?





Thanks,

Adrian.

You’ll be better able to decide once you have (carefully) got some experience there. I expect you’ll be a lot safer and more confident if you save the summer tires for summer only. If you like the car and intend to keep it, buy a set of 4 steel wheels with all-season or, better, winter tires. Make the switch every spring and fall. A rear wheel drive car can do fine in snow, especially going up hills, compared to front wheel drive, especially if you put some weight like sand bags in the trunk over the rear wheels.

What is right for you depends. If you don’t have a need to drive every day, then you can just stay home during the bad stuff.

#1 I would not consider that Mustang ad being the best possible choice, but if you have a car that is not too good on snow,  and if you get some serious snow experience (I suggest an empty parking lot) and are careful, you should be OK.

#2 FWD or RWD I suggest real Winter tyres if you live in any part of the world where it snows.  They will make life a lot safer and make it less likely to get stuck. 

#3 Either FWD or RWD can have problems on snow and ice.  I have done a lot of snow driving and I had done it with FWD and RWD and I have done it in front engine and rear engine cars.  Each set up has its advantages and disadvantages and disadvantages.  

My personal choice would be FWD first and RWD with rear engine second.  But any of those combinations is only as good as the driver.  I would also strongly recommend winter tyres.  

[b]  In the end the most important factor is the driver's ability and experience. [/b]

I agree most with #3, you’ll do fine with a set of 4 winter tires. It’ll be easier if you get them mounted on a separate set of rims, tirerack.com can do this and send you a set mounted, balanced, and ready to put on. You might want to put some weight in your trunk to improve traction. You definitely need to do something because ‘summer’ tires are typically terrible on the snow, regardless of vehicle.

I go with #3 as the opinion I agree with the most. The Mustang isn’t a great winter car, but you don’t have the high power V8 Mustang that are the most difficult to control. Your car should have ABS brakes, and possibly traction control which would help in winter driving.

Get 4 winter tires. You don’t have to get the same size tires on the car now IF those tires are very wide summer performance tires. Winter tires are actually better if they are narrow rather than overly wide. This means you might be best with the basic steel wheels that came on the Mustang and the proper sized tires for those basic steel wheels. If you have fancy wheels and tires on the car now, they can be stored for the winter and put back on in the spring.

You may want to shop tirerack.com for winter tires packages where they ship you the tires mounted on the wheels as part of the package.

I drove RWD cars for years in very snowy northern Michigan and didn’t have any real problems with winter tires on the cars. A little practice session in a big open snow covered parking lot will help you learn how to handle the car once the snow season starts.

  1. is absolutely correct if you put quality winter not snow tires on the vehicle. You will have superior stopping and cornering vehicle vs any AWD, FWD or RWD vehicle equipped with all-seasons.

When getting moving RWD can be a little more tricky even with winter tires. However you should be fine.

Another vote for number 3. The Subaru people are just jealous. Also agree with 4 steel wheels if you are in MA permanently and plan to keep the car.

There isn’t a “correct”, there is only a “best answer for the situation”.

I would suggest you park the Mustang and buy a “beater” - a car you drive in the winter for the sole purpose of saving your good car. After all, the greatest risk is from other drivers!

Go back to Charlotte and buy an older FWD, buy a set of winter tires, and you’ll be good to go!

Since it’s already 11/28 you’re probably experiencing the white knuckle effect of summer tires in the cold. Hopefully you’ve already sprung for 4 new tires. Don’t make the mistake I did years ago of just putting 2 snows on the drive wheels… If you’re too busy to change tires on time and don’t like to play “pit crew” by yourself, you should get a set of good all seasons ASAP (tirerack.com). I would personally get 4 full-time winter tires on a separate set of rims and just drive SLOWLY. For your sake I hope you have a manual transmission. With practice, you’ll manage much better in the snow than with an automatic on that pony car. I am guessing that a Subaru will start looking a whole lot better after you experience your first New England winter. I’d recommend the Impreza WRX since that would be the closest Subaru to your Mustang. It’s AWD, faster, and handles a whole lot better than that old Fairmont/Fox platform :slight_smile: Good Luck!

I put 4 Dunlop Winter Sports tires on my 2004 Mustang GT.All I can say is these tires are awsome.They make this car stop and go in the snow.I have had them for 5 years and never got stuck.

I vote for # 1, I live near buffalo NY and the first cars we see up on top of thr guardrails are Mustangs, Camaros, and Firebirds. (only because our Corvette owners aren’t crazy enough to drive them in the winter). These cars are all wrong for the winter, the weight is at the opposite end from the driven wheels, the ground clearance is too low,the tires are way too wide for winter and the suspensions are too stiff to keep the tires on the ground on bumpy winter roads. Also the throttle tip in is way too abrupt for the winter,you need to apply power very gently.

My vote is closest to number 3, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say “just fine”. With four good winter tires (in a narrower width if allowed) and weight in the trunk, you should be able to get around decently, but you’ll still need to take it easy compared to the cars around you. Check if your car has a feature to start in second gear, which might be helpful at times.

If you’ll be driving on rural roads, you should probably keep some boots and a hat in the car just in case you do end up stuck somewhere.

Thanks for all the replies.

Unfortunately, replacing the car or adding another is not an option.

Shopping for snow tires now, the only downside is that tirerack.com doesn’t carry steel wheels in either 16" wheels (what’s on the car now) or 15" (what they recommend if you replace the tires and wheels). The $300 for alloy wheels is a bit of a tough call as I am only planning on being in the frozen north for 2 maybe 3 years. Up here it costs about $125 to have just the tires switched out.

You can price some wheels from auto parts stores. I got a set of wheels (American Racing Wheels) from a parts store for a Honda Civic. They were not a lot more than the steel wheels.

You can also see if some salvage yard wheels in the correct size can be located.

Hot Rod mustangs arent good on ice n snow…I enjoy blowing there doors off…

Put good tires on it and drive…dont sneeze you’ll bump the gas petal and break traction

I agree with Uncle Turbo on options to get a 2nd set of wheels. You can also try a local independent tire store (not a chain). They can often locate you a 2nd set of rims for a reasonable price.

What I would do is compare the delivered cost from tirerack to the price quotes you get from several local tire shops, see what makes the best sense to you. Just make sure you’re getting quotes for name brand snow tires, not oddball house brands.

I agree!!!

Gas Petal?
…flower power???

;-))