Which car is safer?

My daughter has a 2005 Subaru Legacy sedan. I have a 2005 Subaru Forester Utility vehicle. Both have 4 wheel drive. She is moving to Rochester, NY which has lots more snow than where we live (Cape Cod, Ma.) She wants to trade cars because she says ours is safer in the heavy snow, but my husband thinks they are equally safe and we should keep the wagon. Is it safer, or are they the same because they both have 4 wheel drive?

They are equally as …eh,hem…SAFE.
The differences between them in different conditions are…
and these are steadfast major differences…
the TIRES…

I think the Forester may be marginally better in the snow because it has a little more ground clearance, shouldn’t be as likely to get swamped in snow. Other than that, assuming they are both AWD, the biggest safety factor is the driver and the tires. Exactly what @ken green said above.

These two vehicles have an AWD system (not 4WD) that is identical, so I hope that your daughter is not basing her opinion on the AWD system.

What does differ, however, is the amount of ground clearance, with the Forester having a bit more ground clearance than the Legacy sedan. More ground clearance can help when driving on unplowed snow.

However, the factor that has the most potential to make a difference in winter traction is the type/brand/condition of the tires. Many, if not most, Legacy and Outback models came equipped from the factory with Bridgestone Potenza RE-92 or RE-92A tires that are essentially worthless on a slippery winter road. My 2002 Outback had these tires, and after my first drive on a slippery winter road, I ordered a set of Michelin X-Ice winter tires, which made for a totally superior and safer winter driving experience.

If the Legacy is shod with those crappy Bridgestone Potenza Re-92 tires, I would strongly recommend that your daughter either buy new tires for it, or that she drive the Forester–assuming that the Forester has good-quality tires with a good amount of tread left.

The bottom line is that AWD is very useful in the winter, but it can’t give you the added traction of which it is capable unless you are using the right tires, preferably winter tires.

I’d echo these comments, and add that her familiarity with here car might outweigh and additional inch (or whatever) of ground clearance. Just have her get a set of good winter tires on separate rims (I’ve used tirerack.com for this) and she’ll be ready to go when the snow flies.

The Legacy has AWD and I’d still put winter tires on the car. With winter tires the Legacy will be safer than the Forester with all season tires. Rochester does get good amount of snow, but just south of Rochester (were the NY Thurway) is located is a “snow belt” that gets even more snow. Western and upstate NY has areas with huge snowfall areas and other areas are more average. I’d say Syracuse and the area north and west of Syracuse get the really heavy stuff.

I like Michelin X-Ice winter tires. Put those on the Legacy and she’ll be fine. Rochester and all areas nearby do a great job of clearing the snow quickly.

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the Forester has a much lower personal injury payout rate than the Legacy: 66 vs. 90. Average is 100 and lower is better. The data is for all 2005-2007 vehicles insured in the US.

We are really splitting hairs here! Both cars are safe and capable with good winter tires and a competent driver behind the wheel. I grew up around the Great Lakes Snow Belt and never had a 4WD or AWD. We put good snows on the rear driving wheels and learned to drive in snow.

If the daughter has never driven in heavy snow I advise an AAA winter driving course or equivalent.

@KenGreen makes an excellent point here. Without the proper tires and the driver’s experience in the snow…the make and model of a vehicle does not matter all that much. @Docnick…I also grew up without 4WD or AWD and made it through many snowy winters without them. I lived through 5 Maine winters (FWD Subaru) and 2 Alaska winters (RWD Jeep pickup) without a problem. I’m sure that 4WD and AWD vehicles are nice but hardly necessary in all instances.

Safety is more about the driver than the equipment, sure I drive an SUV, sure I grew up with 2wd and navigated any storm, but in my book driver skill trumps mechanical ability 7 days a week. (re the laugh alots seeing the suv stuck in a ditch because driver is an idiot)

Get a set of snow/ice tires from either the local tire store or www.tirerack.com on a separate set of wheels. Check the ratings online and buy the best set you can. No need to switch vehicles, both will do well with the right tires

A little more ground clearance in one, but a somewhat stouter basic vehicle in the other. I suppose the Forester might be slightly less likely (very slightly) to have trouble in deep snow, but I’d rather be in the Legacy if I did have an accident.

Unless you do a lot of traveling on unplowed roads, the superior handling of the sedan might make it safer. That’s my vote. Real safety is in the hands of the driver both in proper preparation for driving conditions and judgement during. Handling and braking which the Legacy is noted for is a great adjunct. Now, overall utility, getting in and out of and practicality has me leaning towards the Forester.
@VDC makes great points that I will take even further. There is a greater need for snow tires on Awd cars then for fwd. As you WILL drive faster on them in snow and in conditions you would not take a fwd car and you need the added traction winter tires provide. You would not run crappy all seasons on a Corvette and expect it to handle up to it’s capabilities. Neither would you do the same with an Awd car. Winter tires give you the full benefits of Awd. Awd is not an excuse NOT to get winter tires. That is foolish IMHO.

Both of our kids had the same type accident when driving our cars. They were each rear ended while stopping on a slippery road as their cars had studded snow tires and the car behind did not. So, there is judgement too. Looking in your rear veiw mirror before you apply the brakes is very important and is one of the subtleties that an inexperienced winter driver will have to pick up…regardless of car, tires or lecturing on our part. So even ideal preparation is no CYA to a safe car and winter driving experience.

The Legacy probably has a lower center of gravity, and may be less likely to roll over.

Maybe a Legacy is a little lower, but the Forester is really just a station wagon with a little extra ground clearance and a tall roof. I don’t worry about the roll potential of ours.

Unfortunately, there are situations in which the driver doesn’t have any good choices to make

Years ago I was driving on city streets (down a hill, actually) when the light turned yellow.

Since my car was slow, I knew I would NEVER make it before it turned red.

I was a young man, red light cameras were in place, so tickets, points and a steep insurance increase were very real possibilities.

I applied the brakes and stopped.

The guy behind me had been following too closely and rear ended me.

So the choices were: Tickets, points, insurance increase versus getting rear ended

Not good choices

I often comment on safety of a car, but also comment on the safety of the driver. I suggest that we also should comment on the safety records of different manufacturer lines. Let’s remember that this or that line may have a better record, but is it due to better cars or are we seeing the effect of what kind of driver is buying which car.

A car with a good safety record is likely to attract safe drivers. It is a chicken or the egg issue.

I am not picking this or that car, only don’t take safety of this or that car based on the usual information because the results are bias because drivers tend to pick what the consumer feels is better.

Joseph Makes A Good Point.

Shopping for cars, I consider relative costs to insure different makes/models. When I look at insurance pay-outs for car makes/models and see one that is lower (better) than others, I don’t automatically take that to mean that the car is safer in a collision or that the car avoids accidents better due to handling or braking efficiency. There are many factors.

Take large Buicks for example. I have often noticed that they rate well in regard to insurance pay-outs and probably enjoy relatively lower insurance premiums than many makes/models, as a result. However, consider the demographic of the large Buick drivers.

Could it be that this group takes fewer risks, drives fewer miles, is more likely to be able to stay off the roads in poor weather conditions than drivers of some other popular makes/models that appeal more to the younger set ? I have no research to make theses claims, but I’m thinking it’s true.

I’ve noticed similar trends for mini-vans (Who drives these ?) and even new Corvettes (Folks who can afford new Corvettes are generally not your lead-foot teenagers and probably don’t even drive on snow and ice, etcetera).

Tell me if I’m off base, here.


No, you’re not off-base, CSA.

It is fine to look at the insurance pay-outs for a vehicle, but unless you also consider the demographic that tends to drive a particular vehicle, seeing that it has a low pay-out rate may be very deceiving.

VDC, I agree. Several years ago, the 4Runner ranked second behind a Mecedes in "a safe car " ratings. I can’t believe that drivers of these cars and the types of people who buy them did not play a significant part in the ratings…“deaths per so many miles”. I would like to think that cars with good power and outstanding handling characteristics played a big roll in safety. But, if this car is bought by crazies who drive fast and take corners to their limit, the results could be skewed.