Driving in the Snow with Rear Wheel Drive

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My 2006 Cadillac CTS takes on Michigan Winter.

I get many questions asking what should be done about driving in the snow with a rear wheel drive car.
  As discussed in Benefits of RWD, there is one area where Front Wheel Drive is actually better.  And that is accelerating in very low traction conditions - such as snow and ice.

When accelerating in snow or ice, front drive cars have more weight over the front wheels. This gives more traction for acceleration in very slippery conditions. This is the biggest perceived advantage to a front drive car.   It is worth repeating that in all other situations (such as braking and handling) rear wheel drive is better.

But we still need to be able to drive in the snow!  Below are a couple of options for better snow driving.

Snow Tires should not be confused with "All Season" tires.   Snow tires are designed specifically for snow and ice, while all season tires are designed to be a compromise for all different conditions.  I use summer performance tires in the non snow season and snow tires in the winter.  Here in Michigan, I put my snow tires on in early November and take them off in March.  Your tires are the biggest factor in your cars ability to accelerate, brake and handle.  Investing in the appropriate tires will yield the best overall driving experience.

There are 2 kinds of snow tires.
  The major categories are "Performance Winter Tires" and "Winter Snow Tires."  Performance winter tires are constructed to work very good in snow and ice but also are able to sustain higher speeds and have good dry road traction.   "Winter Snow Tires" are designed for maximum snow and ice traction - they are not designed for high speeds (>100 MPH) or dry weather handling.

I have used both types and observed the following:

Winter Snow Tires

Example Winter Snow Tires from Bridgestone and Dunlop

I put Bridgestone Blizzak Winter Snow tires on a BMW 3 series.  The ice and snow performance was nothing short of incredible!  If the snow was not deeper than the car I could go anywhere - with ease.  After a 12 inch snow I was even able to plow snow with the front of the car.  Braking and handling in the snow was awesome.  You seriously feel like a super hero when using these in snow and ice.  However, on dry pavement they are a bit "mushy" and do not feel very good at high speeds.   In addition, they had a do not exceed speed of 99 MPH.  When you have these tires on, you actually HOPE for snowy roads.  If you live in mountain snow areas or where there are very harsh winters, these tires are the way to go.
Performance Snow Tires

Example Performance Snow Tires from Bridgestone and Dunlop

I use Bridgestone Blizzak LM25 performance snow tires on my Infinity G37.  They work much better than all season tires in the snow in Ice.   Over the last 8 years that I have been using Performance Winter Tires there has never been a time where I was unable to travel.   They are very confidence inspiring.   At the same time, these tires perform good on those sunny winter days also.  They are speed rated for higher speeds (up to 130 MPH) and had a better feel in dry conditions.  Here in the United States Midwest they are a great fit.

The two downsides of either type of snow tires is the initial cost and having to switch back and forth twice and year.   The cost is not too bad if you consider you are not wearing out your other tires during the winter.   Since you are not using your summer tires part of the year, they will last longer so you won't need to replace them as soon as you would if you used them all year long.  But it will still be a little more expensive than just running all season tires all year long.  But it is a small price to pay for the added performance and safety you will get by matching your tires to the conditions.

The other downside is having to switch them back and forth.  If you buy the snow tires from a major tire chain they will usually switch them back and forth for you for free.  But you still have schedule an appointment twice a year for this.  And they may charge for balancing also.  Another option is to buy another set of wheels to go with your winter tires.  Major retailers have "Winter Wheel and Tire packages" that are economical.  This way your winter tires are already mounted and balanced on wheels and you can switch them back and forth yourself in about 30 minutes.
Once you try true winter tires on your car you will be hooked.  Doesn't matter if you have a rear wheel drive car, front wheel drive car, all wheel drive, or anything else - the performance is so much better that you will never want to use all season tires in the winter ever again.