Dear Car Talk:
I wanted to follow up on a call I heard recently on your NPR radio show. A caller getting ready to replace a Honda Civic wanted to know if she needed all-wheel drive for driving in the snow. You guys suggested a Subaru. I had a Honda Civic (that I loved!), but just sold it and purchased a Subaru Forester because my husband and I just moved to Montana and are afraid to drive in the snow.
My question is this: Do we also need to buy snow tires? And do you have a recommendation in terms of the type (e.g., studded)? My last question is this: My husband is trying to convince me that it is worth the financial investment to purchase an extra set of wheels so he can change the snow tires himself each year. Thoughts?
Yes, Kelly, in Montana you will need snow tires.
And you'll need four of them. Actually, you might want to put six of them on your Subaru, just to further appease the snow gods.
And it does make sense to buy four inexpensive steel wheels for the snow tires. Otherwise, you have to mount and balance a different set of tires every fall and spring, which runs into money.
Whether you need studs is a trickier question. It depends on exactly where you live and what kind of driving you'll be doing. If you live in a city or suburban area where streets are cleared pretty quickly, and you mostly drive around town, you might not need studs.
Studs have a couple of disadvantages: They chew up roadways, so they're not even allowed on a lot of highways outside of emergency conditions. And they make your traction worse on wet roads, because the metal studs that stick out of the tires have less traction than the rubber does. And we're not even addressing the constant thrumming noise. So you don't want those unless you absolutely need them.
I'd suggest that you talk to some neighbors and ask them what they do in the winter. A better option, for peace of mind, might be to buy a set of temporary chains. You can leave those in the trunk, and if you ever find yourself in a dire situation and your snow tires aren't cutting it, you can put on the chains by the side of the road, and at least get home. That's assuming they don't find you the next day, frozen in the "chain-affixing position."
And most importantly, remember this: If you know there's a blizzard coming, you always have the option of staying home -- unless you provide an essential service, like making doughnuts.