What is the safest winter driving car?

I just rolled our 92 4-Runner after hitting black ice & survived unscathed (relatively). What do you think is the safest, AWD, wagon for winter (Michigan) driving? We would like to purchase a used, lower mileage car. Are the Audi 4 or 6’s actually reliable?? I hear many horror stories about them always being in the shop. . .subarus?? All specific suggestions would be great! Please help, we are currently car-less & were planning on purchasing a 2010 Prius in June, but may not have the cash for 2 vehicle purchases. .

The Subaru Forester has a high crash test rating and along with any Subaru they are excellent cars to drive, particularly in the winter. It’s the way they are designed that makes them so good. I suggest you test drive one on the winter roads to feel the difference if you haven’t done that.

If you just need a car to tide you over four months, a rental would probably be the way to go. Realistically, any front or AWD vehicle is going to seem a lot better in the snow than your 4runner did and getting a set of winter tires will be more important that what vehicle you choose.

But if you do really want the best winter on-road driving car out there, Subaru and Audi have the best AWD systems and Subarus are much lower priced and reliable.

Any vehicle equipped with 4 quality winter tires(Michelin, Bridgesone, Nokian). The 2nd feature that is essential is stability control.

The last is icing on the cake AWD. I concur on Subaru and Audi (full time) AWD as best in cars. The majority of other AWD cars are part time/too late AWD the mercy of overcomplicated and not always right traction control systems.

AWD does help with lateral stability and significantly easier recovery if you happen to slide. However AWD no help stopping or turning.

With regard to Audi 4’s and 6’s. The 4’s are more reliable and I would steer clear of 6’s. The key to owning one is not using dealer unless under certified warranty. A good independent makes ownership a pleasure or at least less painful. Subaru’s are great however not until 2008 did they include stability control (VDC in Subaru terms) across all models. They were in the dark years before that offering only on top end models.

I generally agree with Andrew but I would put #1 on my list the one thing Andrew did not include in his list, a [b] safe driver. [/b] 

No matter what else you do the driver is most important. BTW dmarie, I am not suggesting you are not.  I have hit black ice twice, nasty stuff.

#1 on my list is also four real WiNTER tyres, not all season.  They really are different and better than the old snow tyres or all season tyres.  

#2 Stability control seems to be a great feature as well, but I don't have any personal experience with it yet.  It will likely be on my next car. 

AWD or 4WD also has it's place.  However it does NOT help you stop faster, nor does it keep you on the road.  It does help get you out of the ditch once you slide in there.  For some people it can make a car less safe as it encourages some people to feel over confident and when when and how they should not under snow and ice conditions.

I concur first thing is safe driver.

I think on #2 and #3(AWD) you need to drive one to actually understand the benefits especially during a forced slide on a snow/ice covered empty parking lot. #3(AWD) especially, it helps a bit keeping you on the road as the vehicle is simply much more stable and easily recoverable.

Driving On Black Ice Is A Way Of Life For 6 Months Of The Year, Here.

I’m sure this won’t be controversial.

Most cars here that hit black black ice and lose control and/or roll here are SUVs, 4WDs, AWDs, vehicles with high centers of gravity, short wheel bases, sometimes narrow tracks, coupled with driver inexperience, poor driver techniques, and drivers going too fast for conditions. My observations are based on news stories, news articles, my police scanner that runs 24 hours per day, having acquaintances in both law enforcement, EMS, and wrecker services. I worked with a lady who drove crrent model large SUVs. She rolled two of them, totalled them both, and missed the point both times. She credited them with keeping the family from sustaining serious injuries, rather than their contributing to the too fast for conditions roll-overs.

My suggestion:
Based on decades of safe black ice driving I will tell you what works for me. I purhcase FWD cars that are large in size (1 1/2 to 2 tons), have a long wheel base, wide track, and low center of gravity. The last thing you want when encountering unexpected black ice is a car that tends to yaw easily.

Here’s the important bit.
Now after you get a fairly safe machine, the next or possibly the most important part of choosing the “safest winter driving car” is to get one that has a driver who knows how to adjust speed to conditions, either obviously poor (heavy snowfall, fog, heavy rain, freezing rain), or “possibly poor” (freezing conditions, road salt)as is the situation with encountering black ice. The conditions for it exist. Sometimes the use of road salt and fall temperatures will do it. Our DOT has issued warnings about road salt use below 20F in creating black ice.

Our law enforcement officers at all levels, local, County, and State try to get people to understand that posted legal safe speed limits are maximums for optimum driving conditions. They stress that sometimes the legal safe speed is sometimes subsantially below the posted limit. The legal “safe speed” limit falls with any detrimental elements including, rain, fog, sleet, snow, wind (blowing objects, reduced visibility), freezing temperatures (black ice possible), etcetera, etcetera. They will ticket drivers who don’t wish to adjust their speed because of ignorance or lack of judgment. I wish they would do even more of this. Sometimes they have to wait for the inevitable crash.

I know that expressways (freeways, interstates) are said to be safer because everybody travels in one direction and there are no intersections. I agree with this with one exception. During severly inclement weather I refuse to travel on these roads. Years of experience has taught me that these roads become very dangerous when weather conditions deterioate because so many drivers don’t regulate their speed to the lower “safe for conditions” limit. I can’t because a mis-match between my legal safe speed and the drivers who go 70 - 75 mph, no matter what the conditions, makes for an even more dangerous situation. I either have to go with the flow or get out of there. I choose to get out of there and navigate suface roads at a reasonable speed with the help of “Ma Gellan” as she talks me home by GPS (by voice, no eye contact necessary). We have places near here that regularly have multiple car crashes on the interstate whenever weather conditions degrade just a little. I listen on the scanner as they start to multiply. Unbelievable.

I am not a slow driver who holds up traffic. I try to stay out of people’s way if they want to go faster than I want to go. I move right along at posted limits to 5 over when conditions are good. I adapt the pilot’s saying to car driving. " There are bold drivers and old drivers, but there are no old, bold drivers."

These are my opinons.

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common sense, long response I could not fully read past full paragraph except of SUV, AWD, 4wd and high center of gravity…

The OP asked about AWD AND longer/normal wheelbase(station wagons) with low center of gravity.

In my winter experience driving I don’t recall ever seeing an Audi or Subaru off the road. Subaru drivers tend to be slow in these conditions and Audi drivers spend the money on winter tires typically.

I think you should check out Volvo wagons. Many of Volvo’s models have a special setting for driving on snow and ice. Add a good set of winter tires, and in my opinion, you will have the safest car on the road for those conditions.


[list]Keep it simple. Buy a larger FWD car or wagon/van with long wheel-base and wide track. You need AWD, 4X4, SUV, ATV, WD40, etcetera, like you need tap dance lessons.[/list]
[list]Learn how to adjust your speed to and anticipate conditions. Learn how to drive legally.[/list]
[list]Stay off the Interstates in inclement conditions unless you enjoy driving into a black ice or white-out induced multi-car pile-up. Carry a “spoken street names” GPS.[/list]
[list]Know that “There are old drivers and bold drivers, but there are no old, bold drivers.”[/list]
[list]“Single car accidents” or any “at fault accidents” are Mother Nature’s way of saying “you ain’t doin something right Mister/Madam!”[/list]

Keep it simple. Buy a larger FWD car or wagon/van with long wheel-base and wide track. You need AWD, 4X4, SUV, ATV, WD40, etcetera, like you need tap dance lessons.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to upper Michigan, but some areas there see well over 200" of snow annually. If you lived in one of those areas AWD or 4wd is pretty much essential.

Been There? I Live There, All Year Every Year, With Well Over 200" Of Snow!

I have for thirty years. My wife and I both drive our cars between 25 to 30 thousand miles per year. The closest store is ten miles from here. My daughter’s school is in town, twenty miles away. My wife works 50 miles from here and I work 37 miles from here. I don’t need tap dance lessons, either.

The special Volvo setting also availble on Saab is simply that the winter mode on the automatic starts out in 2nd or 3rd gear instead of 1st. Similar to the trick of using 2nd gear on a manual transmission to start out on really slippery conditions to limit torque to the wheels.

Then your area of Michigan must not see that much lake effect snow.

Are You Kidding? Unless The Great Lakes Freeze Over, Which Rarely Ever Happens, We Get Lots Of Lake Effect!

As I have stated, we get dumped on regularly, a foot or two at a storm. It’s a way of life. We just keep on digging out and coping the best we can. This has been a bad winter. I have had to shovel my house roof off three times so far because it has built up over 2’ of snow each time. Usually the wind helps take some off or we get thaws, but this winter has not been friendly and has been unusually cold. Eighteen towns around me have had their residents run water continually to keep the water mains from breaking. The cold weather has put frost deeper into the ground than what they were designed to handle.

It’s just a shame that more cars don’t have automatics that enable you to start up in 2nd gear. That was a God-send in my Accord and in my Taurus, and I even used that one time in my AWD Outback when starting up on glare ice. It makes a significant difference, but too few auto makers bother to offer that feature.

Why do these winter driving/saftey posts always turn into “my area gets more snow/bad weather than your area so you should listen to me”?

With black ice its almost a roll of the dice whether you will lose control. Best driver,best car,best tires, you can still lose it on black ice.

Now if you want to know what car protects the occupants better in the event of a impact with say a tree,wall,animal or what car protects the occupants better in the event of a roll over,that would be benefical.

Best winter safety device, good judgement from driver.

Lake Erie freezes over every year which effects Buffalo and Rochester NY. They get dumped until Mid January when Erie freezes. Syracuse up to Watertown gets their snow lake effect from Onterio which DOESN’T freeze. Lake effect is also very very spotty. My in-laws receive about 100" of lake effect snow every year…yet 15 miles north they receive 200" of lake effect annually. As I said before…200"+ annually AWD and 4wd is essential for getting around. Been there done that…

Thank you for the interesting read and yes, safe driving, judgement are key as are winter snow tires, but the question was views on the actual reliability of Audis. . .thank you Andrew & Cougar for your direct response (and the Volvo suggestion). I drive slowly & have avoided numerous accidents in my commute this year, up until last week. . . What I can glean is: Audi’s are a better drive, more expensive to repair, have electrical issues, Subarus may not be as fun, but are better priced, and more reliable. If I go toward an Audi, A4 wagon would be the choice. But 2008 Subarus have stability control & not prior, Foresters over the Outback & Legacy. Please comment on these issues is anyone has a another view / experience. safe driving everyone.

You can get a Forester with the WRX engine if you are into performance somewhat. Any of the Soobs would be a good choice though in my opinion. I have been a Soob owner since 1983 and currently own a '01 LL Bean Outback.