Steep, private road and Ford Bronco and Pontiac Sunfire

We live in Helena, MT. The road to our house is not county or city maintained, only by Homeowners Association which does mostly nothing when it is iced up or full of snow. A couple weeks ago I came down the hill and chained up my daughter’s Pontiac Sunfire. She tried getting up but the tires with the cables on just spun. I had to use my Bronco in 4WD to push her up the hill basically. She is now considering getting studded tires hoping that works better. The all season tires she has now have about 5,000 miles on them. My 4WD Bronco is okay but it scares me going downhill when it is -12 outside and the road is coated with ice and snow. It is a dirt road and horribly steep. I’ve traveled all over and lived in some snowy climates. Never had any trouble until now. We rent, thankfully and are trying to get out of our lease because of this crazy road. Montana residents are funky, when bad weather strikes, they just sit at home (at least the Montana transplants). We cannot afford not to go to work and this road is the only one in and out to our house. So what is the ultimate set up for our cars? Studded tires on the Pontiac? I have MT tires on my Bronco and the 4WD works well. Should it be in the lowest 4WD or 4 wheel high? I doubt I can afford studded tires for the Bronco at this time. Should I get some tires chains and use them with the 4WD? Any help would be great. We really get scared to deal with this road.

We live on exactly the same type road in Maine ! If chains on the Sunbird didn’t work, snow tires won’t either. Leave the car at the bottom of the hill if you can. As far as 4 wd is concerned, just4wd hi works in most snow conditions you should encounter. It’s the hills with the snow that are the problem, not just the snow and ice under the snow from the frost.

Fwd does poorly in very deep snow or ice going up…and if it’s real bad, snow tires with studs won’t help. One trick that does help,in snow in fwd, is to back up the hill. You will have more traction. I don 't like pushing one car with another. It would be better next time if you towed from the front…only if you can find the tie downs on the front. If your Sunbird had traction control, it would have a fighting chance. Without it, it’s no go in snow.

You live in 4 wd only territory. Snow tires with studs won’t be enough for the Sunbird. . Your MT tires ( mud ?) and AT( all terrain) should both be good in snow but only fair on ice with your 4 wd. You could benefit from studded snow tires on you 4 wd on ice. We have studded snows on both our 4 wd vehicles and they are awesome on ice ! You won’t regret it. You could live there with no fear then ! To live in places like this, you need the right vehicles with the right tires. Then you can enjoy the solitude.

I would say that your Sunfire is never going to get up the hill. You can still check it for stuck brakes or tight calipers. If it checks out OK you may have to use it in summer or trade it.

If you have a Road Assoiation and pay dues, then you might consider going to your road commissioner and setting up a winter fund for a little sanding now and then. You can also keep sand in buckets and just sand down the middle of the road for 4 wd. Get a cheap pair of hiking boots and screw 3/8 hex head screws in the bottom or get ice grippers so you can walk on the ice to sand the hill. We do a lot of little things like this and still are able to live comfortably where we are. But, you must be prepared ! The big problem…is the ice ! Btw, chains could be a good back up. Cables work well. Put then on the rear of your 4 wd if you only use one pair.

I’ll bet my trailblazer would have no problem, but as suggested previously leave the cars at the bottom of the drive. Remembering, the cars with probs at my inlaws and I cleared trails for them, just sayin, and I only used auto setting (only kicks into 4wd as needed), went backwards up hills they could not go down forwards. Regular michelen cross terrain tires.

We have gotten an earful from locals about what to do. Some say buy the snow tires. But none of them live up this darn road. The tricky part is a blind, sharp turn. There are tons of cars in town that just have front wheel drive. Not everyone has 4WD. But obviously that is okay for sticking to the flat roads. Since I am a renter, I can’t put in any word with the association. The road was full of nice ruts and washboard, which seemed to give traction last year. But now they re-graded it or smoothed it out and it’s miserable when covered with ice. Plus the sun doesn’t hit it even when we warm up to 40’s. Would leave both cars at the bottom but it’s a bit more than a mile walk and in sub zero temps, and my asthma, that’s a no-go. Plus, no way to plug in the engine heater cord thing.

As a trustee of our HOA (homeowners association) I can suggest you contact your landlord and complain. Keep doing so and requesting him/her to pressure the trustees of the HOA to do something about the road. Document in writing each and every contact you have with the landlord, complete with date, time, method of contact (mail, email, phone call, etc.) and the specifics of the conversation. It will provide you with needed legal documentation if trying to break the lease.

Also, read the fine print of your lease agreement for any mention of the landlord’s responsibility in this issue. And get your hands on a copy of the HOA’s Articles of Indenture which will detail all the restrictions, requirements, and other covenants of homeowners and of the HOA itself and exactly what services the HOA is responsible for providing.

Keep in mind that the HOA is unlikely to respond to any requests and complaints directly from you. Typically, trustees will refer tenants to contact their landlord because trustees have no authority to intervene in a tenant/landlord dispute. But if you can get your landlord to complain to the trustees then they have to respond in some fashion to that property owner, even if it is to say no to whatever request/complaint has been lodged.

It is very likely that the HOA has limited funds that cover certain basic services (examples are maintenance of common ground and dawn to dusk streetlights) and may not have sufficient reserves to address the road problem. In that case, you might not be able to obtain satisfactory results, but it is worth trying to get the landlord to pressure the HOA trustees.

If you are unable to financially commit to 4 wd drives and studded tires, then I think you should seek legal advice on getting out of your lease and move. The owner who rented your property could have been more up front. We have similar properties on our road that turns over renters it seems every year shortly after the first snow. If the road is unpaved, steep, narrow with curves and at the end of the line in snow country, it’s apparent that there will be winter driving problems.

The owner should have warned you but, forgive me for saying this, it’s pretty apparent on the first drive in by you as well. Cheaper rentals are cheap for a reason. Plow trucks just can’t push snow up hill very well over the ice/ frost that forms on unplowed roads. The curves become a huge problem making plowing and sanding very difficult.

On our road, it was actually cheaper for all of us to buy our own equipment then to hire it done. It’s apparent they are only doing summer time maintenance and then only occasionally and a little plowing. Hireing Sanding is really expensive !

If you can’t commit to something like this, it is definitely time to move. The key is, how much your land lord is paying for dues. You are legally entitled to equal service that everyone gets for an equal amount payed. If no one gets anymore service then you in plowing and sanding, you are on your own.

Commitment may mean your own plow truck and sander or studded snow tires for both you and your daughter’s new Subaru.

Thanks for all the suggestions. We have lived here over a year. We were new to Montana when we first moved up to this house. Everyone - the neighbors, the prop manager and even the owners (I met them a couple times because they live up here 3 months out of the year and then are in Mexico for the rest), said “it hardly snows anymore…”. Lots of comments even from locals that this part of MT doesn’t get the big storms anymore and we would be fine with the road. Wish I had documentation on that. We managed okay last year, and when it came time to buy my daughter a car, I asked our mechanic if I should buy something with AWD. They said NO. We’d be fine with the front wheel drive car. So stupid that I listened to any of this. We lived in rural Nevada for a long time and never had any snow removal at all, but we managed fine. I had an old GMC truck, no 4WD and got around great. Difference was, no steep hill. Last year we didn’t get a lot of cold temps so early in the season, which I have to assume is freezing up the ground now. I’m willing to do what is necessary to our cars, but after paying cash for the Sunfire I can’t go buy another car right now. Trying to make a decision today whether or not to buy snow tires. At least it would help her around town, I would think? Well we’re going to buy them anyway. Yes, I am trying to get out of the lease but the owners are holding me to the rent, they said go ahead and move but I still have to pay rent for this place. I can’t pay rent on two houses. I also needed the ER a couple weeks ago, now I fear if I have to get to the ER again, and the road is bad, I will be in trouble. These owners have investment homes all over Montana and have a huge mansion up the hill from me. I just feel taken advantage of. I even said I could help in anyway possible trying to re-rent the house. They didn’t care. So I will do whatever is necessary (within financial ability) to set up our cars to deal with the hill until we can move. Wondering if 4WD low is better than 4WD high for going down the hill? Well I guess I have to experiment.

Just to answer your question, don’t experiment and DONOT use 4wd low range for slippery going down hill. Stay in high range and down shift in snow and ice so you have the option of shifting into neutral and pumping your brakes on ice, which you may need to do if you start loosing steerage. If you have an auto, L in high range is fine.

If you keep both cars, studded snows will definitely help…lot’s on either vehicle. If you must choose, yes, the Sunfire needs it first. Chain (cable) up your vehicle on real hard ice…back wheels if only two, all 4 preferred.

You might get someone saying otherwise about low range and where to put the chains…I can only remind you, I live in exactly the same environment you do and have for nearly twenty years. We get significant snow (6 to 18 inch storms) and ice every year. We are on our own and we are within shouting distance of seventy and have no major health problems but we aren’t young and strong anymore. We know what works, and what doesn’t. Be safe !

One last thought. "What doesn’t break you will make you stronger " aptly applies to where you and I live.

Okay, no experimenting. I have these crazy visions of losing control and flying off the cliff. I have to reverse that thinking, obviously. I guess creeping down at the slowest speed possible is the way to go. Or maybe not too slow. I will take your recommendations, thanks. Okay will remember the last thought.

@PeaksViewBronc–What kind of tire chains did you use? The reason I ask is that in your post, you refer to them as “cables”. I had a pair of true tire chains that I used on the driving wheels of my 1955 Pontiac. They were a pain to install, but the traction with the tire chains was excellent. My dad had the chains in an earlier time period that he used on his 1949 Dodge. Before he bought the chains, he had a set of what were called “emergency strap on lugs”. These devices helped, but weren’t nearly as effective as the tire chains.

I think Dagosa is probably the expert on bad roads and how to handle them. But, seems to me that if a house becomes uninhabitable, that is justification for setting a lease aside. The landlord must maintain the property in a habitable condition regardless of what the lease itself says. If you cannot get to the house, I would think it would be the same as not inhabitable. I don’t think you should be required to own a bull dozer in order to drive up to your house. So maybe invest $50 in a letter from an attorney to either make the road passable or the lease is void. Now if you want to buy the place, thats a different story but as a renter, the landlord has certain obligations to earn your rent payments.

That would be good advice if the access to the house were restricted to the property the house sits on and no access was provided locally… But, the property is part of a home owners association that is incorporated. There has been good advice to talk to the administrator of the association. But the bottom line is this; either the owner or the rental fee in part pay the association for road upkeep. If it is amount equal to every one else, they are only entitled to a road of equal, not better

The locals don’t seem to be giving trust worthy advice.

But, we have great neighbors on our end. Everyone carries their own tow rope and everyone has either a 3/4 ton plow truck or tractor or both and would love to yank the bumpers off anyone who asked for help.

I dunno. The HOA represents the owners and acts in the interest of the owners. The OP really has no relationship with the HOA except to benefit by what they do. The landlord is the one that deals with and is part of the HOA. I still think that its up to the landlord to compel the HOA or whoever he wants to make the road passable so that the house is inhabitable. If the HOA is in the way, it really doesn’t affect the tenant. His beef is with the landlord and if the landlord can’t make the road passable and thereby make the house inhabitable, the lease should be void.

It would be no different than if there was a huge gully a mile from the house cutting off reasonable transport to the house. If the landlord couldn’t fix the road to make it passable, he couldn’t enforce the lease due to habitability. That would certainly be my stand and I would give him 30 days to fix it and then I’d be gone.

I don’t disagree that ethically, the land lord should bear some responsibility. But, it’s completely a Civil matter and walking out could bring a civil suit from the landlord.

The landlord has money and probably a retained attorney, OP does not. The landlord may just be exercising all his rights now by refusing to do anything more. We don’t know. Giving ultimatum’s and bailing out without research could cost you a lot more then winter tires…even a change in cars. It’s all about the terms of the lease. Legally, by paying the association, he ( the landlord) has lived up to his responsibility when the impass occurs off his property and is a manageable responsibility of the association. He has done what he has to in making it habitable. Btw, some associations bar the members from doing maintenance on their own because of liability conflicts with other travelers who have Right of Way. Snow and ice may not be considered encumberences to habitability as far as the landlaord is concerned. That responsibility is assumed by the association which is protected by corporate law for negligence as much from suit by the renter as it is from the landlord.

Look at your own home…if you rent in the city, is the landlord responsible for the road out side your house. HECK no ! The city is ! The land lord has done his job if the drive on the property allows access and the lease says nothing about snow removal specifically. . So habitability, only extends to the road and does not include the road off property when an association is involved, in the same manner as if it’s city street. If the landowner pays his taxes to the city, much like he pays his dues to the association, he has met his responsibility.

Does the Bronco have ABS brakes? The MT tires on the Bronco might be made of a hard rubber and not get great traction on ice. I would consider studded winter tires for the Bronco. Snow isn’t a real problem it is the ice that builds up under the snow that I’d be concerned with. If you don’t have ABS brakes I’d want the best traction on the Bronco I could get, and that is studded winter tires.

The advice on buying the Sunbird was bad advice given the road you live on. Apparently the mechanic didn’t understand your particular situation. I think studded winter tires on the Sunbird is worth a try.

Get the winter studded tires for the Sunbird first. If you see a big improvement then you might go for another set of studded winter tires for the Bronco just to feel safer.

Talk about breaking a lease, a new vehicle…how about buying a bucha cinders and rock salt? Even if you are forced to foot the bill, sounds like it’d still be cheaper.

Its just simple landlord/tenant law. It doesn’t matter what is in the lease language, there are certain responsibilities of a landlord and a tenant regardless of the language. Its a private road, not a public one, and the landlord is responsible through the HOA which is simply an extention of the landlord. Not the same as a city street. The landlord through the HOA is preventing the use of the leased property by failing to provide “reasonable” access. Sure anyone can sue anybody for anything, but would sure be interesting to see a guy try to collect the balance of the lease payments in court when you can’t get to the property without a four wheel drive. We’re not talking “act of God” weather that could temporarily cause a problem but a continual condition without proper maintenance.

The driveway is a mile long so there is no good way for an individual to sand or salt it without at least a pick up truck and a mounted broadcast spreader, plus the cost involved. That’s why the HOA doesn’t want to do it. Just because everone else has a Hummer to get to their properties in the winter doesn’t mean that you can rent a place out without providing “reasonable” access. We have a similar private road going to our cabin, but the association pays for grading, snow removal, and sanding to keep it passible for normal vehicles. And of course we all pay our share for the road work.
So bottom line is the landlord has a property that cannot be rented out while he’s sunning himself down south.