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Subaru doesn't like snow

I have a 2003 Subaru Outback with about 145,000 miles on it and live in Virginia. Last winter, it started to have issues braking whenever there was snow on the ground. At first, it couldn’t turn right. When I would brake, it would act like the wheels had all locked and then slide in a direction. Throughout the winter, the problem got progressively worse until I refused to drive it if there was snow on the ground. By the time I stopped driving it, I had difficulty braking for even a stop light without having to go off the road to avoid hitting the car in front of me. I have taken it to a Subaru dealer three times with the same complaint. They changed the brakes (needed anyway) but that made no difference. It has NO problem braking any other time of the year. I have tried to take it to other Subaru dealers but they cannot replicate the problem unless there is snow on the ground. Can you make a suggestion?

ABS brakes should do just the opposite of what you describe. There is a problem with the ABS system. The system includes a sensor at each wheel, all kinds of solenoids and a computer to gather all the data and control the actions of the system. First, start with checking that each sensor is working properly. If the problem is in the main computer it can get expensive.

Do you have any ABS, and/or other warning lights illuminated on the dashboard? What kind of tires are on the car? How deep is the tread is on the tires, like new, 1/2 worn, only a little?

Uncle Turbo. Thanks! No other warning lights come on the dashboard. I thought it might be an ABS problem but that light only comes on when I start up the car. The tires were new last year. I had them replaced before the winter started.

Did it have the problem with the old tires? Which brand/model are they?

Hmmm…no problem with the old tires. And they were VERY old … original, I think. I can’t remember the brand of tires that are on now but I got them at Merchant’s.

Just because the tires are relatively new, that does not mean they can be ruled out as the source of the problem. I am assuming that the tires are so-called “all-season” tires, which is–in many cases–a misnomer. All-season tires in many cases are really three-season tires.

Because there are no government or industry-wide standards for what constitutes an all-season tire, any manufacturer can label any of their tires as all-season no matter how bogus this claim might be. A perfect example of this is the OEM tires that Subaru used back in that era, namely the Bridgestone Potenza RE-92. While they are labeled “all-season”, they are actually downright hazardous in winter driving conditions.

After I went into the first slide with my '02 Outback (despite ABS, traction control, AWD, and an anti-skid system), I decided to research those Potenzas on the Tire Rack website, and guess what I found? A large percentage of owners had the same impression of them that I did. In a comparison chart of all-season tires, those Potenza RE-92s ranked almost at the bottom of a list of perhaps 50 tires. Obviously there were other tires that were also listed as being very poor in terms of winter traction.

After that initial research, I bought a set of REAL winter tires (Michelin X-Ice) and found that all of the winter slip-and-slide problems were gone, gone, gone. I continued to use those crappy Potenzas only in spring, summer, and fall, and was happy when they finally wore out.

Putting REAL winter tires on your car will make a world of difference.

Take a friend to a gravel road and have them watch while you slam on the brakes from a decent speed. None of the wheels should be locking up (until maybe right at the end). If any of them are, then you have a problem with the ABS system.

Well, it’s either tires or brakes, and some tires are terrible in snow. Does your '03 have ABS? I don’t know when that was added.

Righto … just checked the tires. They are Touring LST, Summitomo, 225/60R16 98T.

Texases. Yes, it has ABS.

Yes, it sounds like the ABS isn’t kicking in, need to confirm it works before considering changing the tires.

I’m betting the problem is the tires. You said the problem started after the new tires were installed.

If there’s no traction the ABS won’t work. It can only function as an anti-lock if there’s a potential for the wheels to lock, and if there’s no traction there’s no potential for lock.

I suggest a set of four winter tires for winter driving. Winter tires make all the difference.

Sounds to me like you just need to adjust your driving technique.
You should be coming to a gradual stop, ABS shouldn’t be an issue. Also, while turning, you should not be braking-- typically the car would still go straight if you are braking while turning the steering wheel.

Ah … perhaps … but I definitely had changed my driving techniques before I stopped driving it altogether in the snow. I was doing the gradual stop stuff and not braking when turning … all to no avail. I think I’ll do the gravel bit to see if the tires lock up and then consider some winter tires as well.

Take the tires back to the place you bought them and tell them they are dangerous in snow on your car, and have them give you credits towards a better tire.

I recommend the Goodyear Assurance Triple Tread tires.


Yeah, i think i am just echoing someone else’s comment, but i think it’s those tires…touring tires are for long highway life…they grip best on a smooth dry surface, where they are “performance” tested. Do you get enough snow there to worry about snow tires? If so, get some on their own rims and put them on in the winter, you will notice a world of difference.

Did you get these at NTB? The best I can find is that it’s a proprietary model only sold there. As such reviews are limited but it’s theorized they’re fairly close to the HTR’s, which have crappy reviews as far as non-dry handling.

No–NOT snow tires.
The OP needs the newer technology WINTER tires.
There is a significant difference.

Even I, who am not a fan of ABS, agree that this problem is because of the Touring tires and not because of the ABS. Touring tires are for summer use only.

Your abs is likely overactive due to poor traction in the winter conditions.

Buying new tires will cure this. Just do some research on ones that work well. I think the Gooyear Triple Treads are decent for all-seasons if you have nothing to go on.

The ones I recommend and have used are the Nokian WR G2’s. They are one of the few all-seasons rated as a winter tire.