Is my pickup fit for snow driving?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I live in Florida, and I am planning to visit a friend in Minnesota for the holidays. I understand it tends to snow there. I have a 4-by-4 pickup with "Bubba tires" (big and fat), which I figured would be great in snow because they're great in Florida mud and sand. My friend told me that this is actually the worst possible vehicle for the snow. What gives? Is he correct, and why? -- Jon

RAY: No, he's got his headlight in his taillight socket. This is certainly not the worst vehicle in the snow, Jon.

TOM: No. That would be the Volvo 240.

RAY: Actually, any 4-by-4 truck should be pretty good in the snow. Although your friend is right that wide tires are less desirable than narrow tires in the snow.

TOM: That's because wide tires can tend to ride up on top of the snow, whereas narrow tires are more likely to dig down through the snow. The wide-tire phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the "snowshoe effect."

RAY: But even with the wider tires, the truck should still do fine in the snow with four-wheel drive. But that doesn't mean YOU'RE going to do fine in the snow.

TOM: Right. You're an inexperienced snow-driver, Jon. And, often times, people in 4-by-4s get overconfident. Because they have good traction and can get the vehicle moving easily, they sometimes drive a lot faster than they really should in the snow. They forget that "going" in the snow is only part of the battle. "Turning" and "stopping" are even harder.

RAY: You also might not realize that you shouldn't even be "in" four-wheel drive unless there's actually snow on the road or unless you're already stuck. I assume this truck (like most pickups) does not have a center differential, so using the four-wheel-drive mode on dry pavement can be dangerous and can cause you to lose control of the truck. So you're not just going to put it into four-wheel drive when you cross the Mason-Dixon line and leave it there.

TOM: Our best advice is that, even with four-wheel drive, if you do have to drive in the snow, go very, very slowly. Go even more slowly than you think you have to.

RAY: And if you want to do one more thing to improve your traction, before you leave, go to the beach and throw a bunch of Florida beach sand into the bed of the truck. That'll give you some additional weight over the rear wheels. Plus, you'll be able to build sand castles while you're waiting for a wrecker to tow you out of a snowbank.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One