Will that extra weight in the trunk of Frank's Buick Roadmaster help him navigate through the late winter snows? Find out.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

I wanted to bring forth the expertise of the Solomons of the Sedan to the following: I drive a '92 Buick Roadmaster. I don't care; it was my dad's, and he loved it above all the vehicles that he owned. Anyway, the snows of a Michigan winter find me again putting an extra 100 pounds of "something" in the trunk to help keep this boat focused on the road. I also put an extra 100 pounds in my wife's front-wheel-drive '99 Chrysler Concorde, thinking that perhaps it is doing something positive in the realm of traction as well. My wife is sure that I am nuts and demanded that I remove the load from her car immediately, listing all sorts of very negative consequences both to the handling of the car and possibly to myself. And if I do not comply, I may very well be the extra 100 pounds of "something" in the trunk. Personally, I think she just wants more trunk space to store her shoes, but maybe she's right, and adding additional weight to either a front-wheel-drive car/truck/van or rear-wheel-drive car/truck/van is really a myth without substance. Could you please add something by way of your expertise? Your answer may well determine if I wind up in a ditch or trunk. -- Frank

TOM: Well, in general, Frank, the heavier the car, the better it does in the snow. The more weight you have pushing down on the tires, the more likely the tires are to cut through the snow and give you some traction.

RAY: But there are lots of good reasons why they don't just make cars as heavy as possible. For one thing, weight kills fuel economy. You don't want to get 14 miles per gallon year-round just so you can get around a little better on the few days it snows.

TOM: Actually, with a Roadmaster, you might be thrilled to get 14 mpg year-round!

RAY: But if you want to add weight on a temporary basis, the most helpful place to add it is directly over the driven wheels. So, in a rear-wheel-drive car, you want weight over the rear wheels -- which usually means putting it at the forwardmost wall of the trunk. So for your car, Frank, you're doing the right thing. Although 100 pounds is probably not enough weight to make a difference.

TOM: Right. You might need several hundred pounds to actually improve your traction. You might need to drive around with your mother-in-law in the trunk. See how that goes over with your wife, Frank.

RAY: Now, in a front-wheel-drive car, like your wife's, there's already a huge weight directly over the driven wheels. It's called the engine and transmission. That's why, all things being equal, front-wheel-drive cars do better in the snow than rear-wheel-drive cars. So she has far less need for extra weight in her trunk.

TOM: If her car is having trouble stopping in the snow, or the rear end is sliding out easily, some weight in the trunk might help. But too much weight actually can be counterproductive. If you weigh down the trunk too much, the result is that you begin to lift the front wheels off the ground. Then you can't go, turn OR stop.

RAY: So I'd say go ahead and put a few hundred pounds of sandbags in your trunk, Frank, but leave your wife's car alone. And if either of you are still having trouble getting around in the snow, four good snow tires make a much bigger difference than a little bit of weight.

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