Which car for snow?

My 19-year-old son is planning to drive from Missouri to Colorado to snowboard in January. He’s wondering whether to drive the family’s 2004 Honda Pilot, or his own car, a 2002 Mercury Sable. What do you advise?

They are both at least front wheel drive, so they have good traction. If the Pilot has All Wheel Drive, I would take that one. What is more important are the tires. If both have good winter tires, there should be no problem. Careful driving is a must, of course in mountain country. If the tires on either car are well worn all season radials, I would invest in a good set of 4 winter tires. For skiing and snowboarding, I personally would prefer the Pilot, since it will hold more snow boards. Happy Holidays!

I would recommend the Pilot, with the addition of 4 winter tires. Besides the obvious advantage in terms of being able to get going in bad winter conditions, the other benefit of a good winter tire is the ability to stop in a significantly shorter distance and to stay on course while turning that sets winter tires apart from all-season tires.

Just be sure that he doesn’t become overly confident. Even with AWD and winter tires, one still needs to allow much longer following distances and to drive much slower than usual.

Every time that it snows heavily around here, the vast majority of vehicles in ditches are Jeeps, Blazers, and Explorers whose drivers mistakenly thought that they could drive at ridiculously high speeds because of their AWD.

Both will do quite well however the key component is the vehicle with the least amount of tire wear(newest tires).

FWD’s even with all-seasons do fine in the snow, I had great luck getting about in a $38/day Hyundai Elantra to 9 ski area’s while visit CO. Some driving although short distances was in heavy snow. They have plows/sanders, its not like MO and other parts of the country if a flake falls and the world comes to a halt.

Definitely the Sable. The AWD system on the Pilot (if so equipped) will only help it accellerate as well as a FWD sedan, and the Pilot’s weight and high center of gravity will make it harder to stop and control. And, of course, there’s a much higer rollover risk with the Pilot. Winter tires would be nice, but decent all-seasons will do. Also, a set of chains may be necessary for crawling up to some of the ski areas, but make sure he knows how to put them on before he goes!

Not only will he be safer in an AWD Pilot, but what a party animal with all that room he’ll be. I wish I had such a vehical to party in at 19 !!!

That’s “vehicle”… and I didn’t mean to spoil his plans…

I would not take the Sable. I have seen their front-end setup and I don’t like it. If the alignment is as bad as it could be, you could stay stuck.

How do you mean? Is the front end on an '02 Sable significantly different than the front end on practically any other FWD sedan?

I also forgot to mention in my reply the gas mileage issue, which the Sable would do a lot better on and is nothing to sneeze at these days.

I’d also like to know, as it’s just a standard Macpherson strut with lower control arm.

The Taurus/Sable front end is no different than anything else out there; strut, lower control arm w/ ball joint, sway bar, and strut/torsion/torque rod, whichever you prefer to call it.

I don’t see any great difference in cars, but I would suggest real winter tyres not just all season (really three season). They make a big difference.

Thanks for all your responses. There seems to be no definitive answer here. Some recommend the Sable and some the Pilot. I can tell I’ll just worry the whole time he’s on the road. How much would winter tires cost, and it is worth it for a one-time use? Would tire chains be a better investment?

The definitive answer is the Pilot…it’s by far the safest, and not the usual SUV. It’s very wide with a low center of gravity and as you know already, corners as well as the Sable. We live in Maine on a mountain road and my neighbor has a Pilot. NO ONE lives here in the winter with just FWD. That’s the driving he may face. It’s an excellent snow/travel vehicle with the diff. lock feature. Just good all weather tires with good tread depth which is most important and he’ll be fine.

The most important safety feature you can have is his winter driving experience. No car can compensate for that. Your call there.

"How much would winter tires cost, and it is worth it for a one-time use? "

How much is your son’s life/health/safety worth?

If spending $500.–$700. for tires and steel wheels is too much for you to consider–even if it was for a one-time use–then I think that you have to re-evaluate your priorites. The life, health and safety of a loved one is worth far more than a few hundred $$, not to mention the probability of helping to prevent damage to an expensive vehicle with the use of winter tires. Of course, if he is not a cautious, careful driver, winter tires will not help to prevent an accident, but hopefully he has the maturity to drive at a reduced speed, even with winter tires.

However, only you can decide if his life/health/safety is worth a few hundred $$.

If they’re still using the sway bar to position the lower control arm, it’s a problem. I haven’t looked in a few years, but the ones I’ve seen and owned were not meant for handling or great tire wear. The lower arm should be held onto the car in two places at the frame and not just one. Then when the rubber bushings get old…

I think judgment will take you much further than a set of winter tires. Winter tires are much better no question, however the chances of hitting a significant winter event AND having to be on the road are likely nill. Staying the night in a motel room or very close on or on a ski area is money better spent. Just because you have winter tires not all the rest of the driving public does.

I have been fine including during snow events in rental FWD cars equipped with OEM factory tires.

I drove from San Francisco to Montana during winter a couple of years ago. My car at the time was a ford taurus. Before I left I bought chains for the tires and made sure I knew how to use them. Out west there are many mountain passes that require chains or 4WD when it is snowing to get through (the roads even have lanes along the side specifically for putting chains on and taking chains off). I was lucky and never had to use the chains, but I am sure your son would be disappointed if he drove to Colorado and then couldn’t get to the slopes for some great snowboarding because it was snowing in the pass (and on the slopes). I would also recommend he look at the map to determine which mountain passes he will be driving through so he can plan accordingly. As for which car, some things to consider: bottom clearance, ABS brakes, newer tire tread, fuel efficiency, comfort for long drives, space for equipment. Besides chains, make sure he has extra warm clothes in the car, a shovel, and kitty litter in case he gets stuck.

Buy him an airline ticket and rent a car for him in Colorado. The several days he’ll spend on the road may be fun, but what do you think of when a 19 year old says “Road trip”? Fly him there and back, rent a car if you have to at the ski resort. Good luck! Rocketman

Do car rental firms allow 19 year olds to drive their cars? I know that I would not allow it, and I would be very surprised if most rental firms allowed 19 year olds to operate their vehicles.