Winter Driving



Hi, I am moving to upstate NY (snow capital of the US) and am a first-time car buyer and brand-new driver. I am concerned about winter driving safety and am comparing a used Subaru Impreza AWD to either a Hyundai Sonata or Ford Focus (both with traction control and ABS, and of course with warranties that used cars don’t come with). Thoughts?


Personally, I’d go with noe of the new cars. I’ve been driving on snow & ice, including the ice of North Dakota and the snow of Buffalo, for 40 years without problems. While AWD will help you start from a stop, the keys to safe winter driving transcend just starting.

Always start the winter with plenty of tread on the tires. Snows or All season radials. If you can see the wear bars the tires are way, way, way too worn. Driving around with traction that will suddenly become poor if it snows in order to get the last $100 worth of rubber out of the tires just doesn’t make sense.

Make all moves slowly. Starting stopping, turning, even (especially) changing lanes. In a storm, lanes will have really super greasy areas between the tire tracks, and I’ve seen more than one car suddenly lose traction when the tires get on those and spin down off the side of the road. Leave lots of room and plan well in advance to make these moves.

Leave plenty of room (and then some) between you and the guy in front of you. And if possible between you and those around you.

Don’t hesitate to stay the night in a hotel. It’s cheaper than an accident. And far cheaper than a funeral.

Keep all your windows as clean as possible at all times. And drive with your lights on.

These techniques have kept me out of trouble for 40 years. They’ll work for you too.

  • mountainbike


If you go with a front-wheel-drive car, you need proper snow tires. All-season tires are not adequate. Bridgestone Blizzaks are one choice, but there are several others that are at least as good.

With all wheel drive, you can probably get away with all-season tires although proper snow tires will do even better.

No matter how well equipped you are, there will come a time when the snow is just too deep. Then, stay home.


In that locale I would suggest equipping any Front wheel drive with winter tires. A Subaru Impreza is better and will get you moving better on these deeper snow days however you will get a bit less MPG(~5MPG).


Born and raised and learned how to drive in Upstate NY…here are a few tips.

FWD will be fine…unless you live inbetween Syracuse and Watertown. Some of those areas average OVER 300" of snow a year. Then I’d highly recommend 4wd.

You also didn’t metion WHERE in upstate NY. Get away from the Lake Onterio and snow fall drops drastically. Example…Syracuse averages about 120"/yr…While Utica (50 miles East of Syracuse) only averages about 70". Pulaski which is 20 miles North of Syracuse averages OVERA 250".

I’d also get 4 snow tires…even on fwd.

Here’s the BEST thing you can do to safely drive through snow…

SLOW DOWN…let me repeat…SLOW DOWN…

You CANNOT drive in snow like you can on dry or even wet pavement. It’s also easier to start the car moving if you start slowly. Once the tires start to slip you loose traction. Slow and steady is the trick for getting around in snow.

Did I mention…SLOW DOWN…


All good advice above. Two things to add. First, when you consider AWD note that if one tire goes bad part way thru its life, you might have to replace all four tires or have the new one shaved down to match the other three. As I recall, experts here say that having all four tires the same diameter is important for AWD. (Does that mean that you have to be diligent about 5-wheel rotation to keep the spare matching the other four?)

Second, carry a bit of survival gear in snow season. E.g., when my brother was stationed at KI Sawyer AFB in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, they were required to carry blankets and water during snow season.


Remember that the real problem with snow and ice is the ability to stop and to go in the intended direction. 4WD or AWD does nothing for either of those. In fact it may get you into trouble because you may get over confident.

The real challenge with snow is not getting out of the ditch, but avoid going in!

A good set of real winter/snow tyres not All Weather tyres would be a good idea. They make a great deal of difference.

Also remember that those parts of the world where snow is common just happen to have the proper equipment to keep the roads clear. The most dangerous place in the US in snow and ice is Miami Florida.

ABS and stability control are two great features for snow and ice.


There is lots of good advice here. I would like to add that, until I moved in more Southerly directions, I liked studded snow tires. Sure they make a little noise, but it sounds like security to me. I don’t care what the tire companies say, their tires do not grab ice as well as metal studs.

Second, practice sliding around in a safe place like a big, empty parking lot. If you learn how to slide, you will also learn how not to slide and how to stop sliding.


Remember to slow down before you turn, not while you are turning. Don’t drive along the side of a road if it isn’t level. Don’t park on the roadside unless you know that it isn’t a snow filled ditch that a wing plow levelled out. Don’t be like Mike.


… First, when you consider AWD note that if one tire goes bad part way thru its life, you might have to replace all four tires or have the new one shaved down to match the other three. As I recall, experts here say that having all four tires the same diameter is important for AWD. (Does that mean that you have to be diligent about 5-wheel rotation to keep the spare matching the other four?)

Yes, or plan on that spare for short distance emergency only and rotate often.


Oh, yes, it is not just slippery stuff that is a problem. Sometime you will find yourself driving along on a highway or interstate with tracks of semisolid slush, or packed snow between where the traffic?s tires are riding. It can be very hazardous to change lanes under these conditions especially with a light car. I have seen accidents happen because people do it wrong.

You may not want to attempt it. Eventually, you will probably want to develop the ability to do this. If so, practice this when there is no traffic and reduce your speed greatly until you get the hang of it. You need to cross two wheels at a time, either the left or right pair. You need to cross at just the right angle. If your turn is too shallow, you will just bounce off the ridge. If you turn too hard, you will start to slide because it is slippery to do that. Cross the second pair of wheels only after you are stabilized with the first two. Does this description scare you? I hope so.


definitely a GOOD IDEA to practice handling extremes in a big, empty parking lot.

  1. a good exercise is driving in a circle, and slowly increase your speed. you’ll learn the LIMIT of turning ability, and also how to correct slides.

  2. learn too, how to brake in the shortest distance. this will VARY a lot, depending on your tire and surface conditions; you can never have too much practice and experience under your belt.
    it’s important to be able to RECOGNIZE the instant your rear wheels lose traction, and when to back off immediately to avoid dangerous, unwanted oversteer.

C) in actual traffic however, learn to make MINIMUM use of brakes, adjusting your speed so you rarely NEED TO brake. (a good habit in ANY road and weather condition, which also boosts your mpg as a bonus.)

between 2 and C, you will become competent and confident to handle just about any situation.

–CC, 30 years in Alaska, and NEVER owned an awd or 4wd vehicle.


The situation you describe is exactly where AWD is just plain superior in winter driving. You still have to be prudent however I found my lighter WRX equipped with “all-seasons” that are really ultra high performance tires have excellent traction in that situation. I watch other cars perform the same move and do a bit of a dance that I always find disconcerting. My Subaru simply moves over slowly and confidently.

You definitely can get around with FWD with some driving skill on decent all-seasons. It can be painful in certain situations in people’s hilly driveways etc.

Don’t fret on winter driving, just do everything slowly and anticipate whether you own a Subaru or RWD BMW and all will be ok.


Take a hint from the old Professor. Grew up (? ??)(Hey! It’s debateable!) in NH, been in the central mountains of CO since 1979. CHAINS! Whether link-type or cable is dependent upon what the vehicle manufacturer recommends. My school of thought has always been: Rear wheel drive, chain the rear. If it’s a ‘true’ 4-wheel drive, chain up the front. If it’s front wheel drive, chain the front. I’m not exactly sure about AWD, but my guess would be to chain up all four. Remember: It doesn’t matter how fast you can go. It matters how quickly you can stop. Speed control is the key for any road conditions. The big determining factor for the type of chains is the clearance between the wheel wel and tire with the chains on.


This is a tip that no one has mentioned yet and is especially important for inexperienced or incompetent (experienced but stupid) drivers and those that never quite get the hang of winter driving. In a FWD vehicle you of course want all four tires to be in new condition; but if you have two tires that are worn more than the other but not worn enough to replace, you want the worn tires in the front and the new tires in the back for the simple reason that it is a heck of a lot easier to correct a front wheel skid than a rear wheel skid. YES it will reduce your traction for acceleration and stopping with the older tires on the front BUT these things can be compensated for by the driver. Often times especially for inexperienced drivers when the rear wheels break loose in a corner; its over. New tires on the front of a FWD vehicle gives the driver a false sense of the actual traction; so in turn they will drive faster, enter a corner, the rear wheels break loose and away they go into a skid that is very difficult to correct. Older tires in the front will let the driver know right out of the driveway that its slippery, so SLOW DOWN, and INCREASE YOUR STOPPING DISTANCE, two things that a driver “can” control. Nearly always a rear wheel skid is by surprise, you don’t know your skidding until the car is sideways and out of control. With practice and experience one can feel it occur and correct but the majority of people just don’t know how.(you have to keep the front wheels in the direction you want to go regardless of the direction of the car, by turning into the direction the rear of the car is going, but most people panic and over correct thus increasing the intensity of the thrill ride.) But what about if you find your self having to do a quick stop? First of you should have reduced speed and allowed more stopping distance; but when it does happen, as it does to everyone, you will have many more options available. Try to apply just enough pressure to the brakes for maximum stopping power but DO NOT lock up the tires, if they do lock up release and reattempt. Also look for an escape route (i.e. open lane, shoulder, ditch) that you can turn into to avoid an accident. Attempt to brake but if your not going to make it, leave room to maneuver and do not use the brakes when turning, make the turn gradual, do not wait till the last second and jerk the wheel. Basically it comes down to the fact that front wheel skids are easier to control than rear wheel skids and having less traction in the front will get the driver to drive safer to begin with. With practice and experience you can go back the other way but better yet, have new tires all around.


Chains are awful things to have in an emergency manuvuear. Your car is completely out of balance handling wise on clearer roads. In the deep stuff they work great but braking is not an issue since the deep stuff slows you down anyway.