Is it worth putting snow tires on a rear-wheel-drive car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife said she heard you say that snow tires are useless on rear-wheel-drive cars. Your Web site seems to say the opposite, but it isn't specific enough about rear-wheel-drive cars to satisfy her. I need an answer fast, since we've just moved to Cleveland and have a very heavy rear-wheel-drive car (BMW 7 series). Should I get snow tires, or rely on the snow-driving skills I honed as a Boston driver some 20-plus years ago? Help! -- Chris

TOM: Nah, it must have been one of her boyfriends who told her that, Chris. We never said that.

RAY: Snow tires are useful on all cars. Some cars are inherently better than others in the snow -- heavier cars, all-wheel-drive cars, front-wheel-drive cars -- but every single car can benefit from snow tires. And we recommend that you get four of them.

TOM: In your case, you have a rear-wheel-drive car, so the two snow tires you put on the rear wheels will help you go. They'll give you starting traction and accelerating traction, so you'll be less likely to stop moving and spin your wheels. But snow tires on your front wheels will help you do other important things, like ... stop. And turn. These are often underrated functions, but we're very much in favor of them.

RAY: The same is true for front-wheel-drive cars. Two snow tires on the front wheels will help you go and stop, but won't keep the rear end from sliding out on turns.

TOM: In addition, having four similar tires on your car makes the car's handling more predictable in non-snowy conditions. So your best bet -- if you really have to drive in the snow -- is four good snow tires.

RAY: So, first decide whether you really need to drive before your local roads are cleared. If you're a doctor or a loan shark, the answer is obviously yes. But if you're like most of us, you can consider saving the $400 on snow tires and take the bus, or stay home and catch up on "Judge Judy." That's by far the safest thing to do.

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