Winter Vehicles: Choose wisely to survive in the snow

Winter Vehicles: Choose wisely to survive in the snow
[![Choose your next vehicle wisely for the winter season ahead.](]( your next vehicle wisely for the winter season ahead. Photo courtesy of Jeep
If you live in a climate where snow and ice are regular visitors in the winter, you know that these seasonal elements are important to keep in mind when it comes to the type of vehicle you drive and its tires. Do you have a vehicle that has rear- or front-wheel drive? How about all- or four-wheel drive? Do you have winter tires?

These are important items to consider when choosing your next car, truck, minivan or SUV to find the right combination to survive the next winter…and many winters to come.

To guide you through to your next winter vehicle, let explain what you need to know when selecting your winter “warrior.”

When you read about rear-, front-, all- and four-wheel drive, they refer to which set of wheels the power from your engine and transmission will be sent to. For decades, almost every vehicle made had rear-wheel drive. They were simple to build: Connect the rear axle to the end of the transmission by a driveshaft. The car is “pushed” from the rear. This is great when there is no moisture on the ground.

Once rain, snow and ice appear on any road surface, though, there may be a loss of traction. This is a problem for a vehicle that is being pushed from the rear. Those wheels will be the last to feel the wet or icy surface. In many cases, without a weight or traction balance between the front and rear, traction loss will occur.

There are some solutions to this problem. Today’s rear-wheel drive vehicles are equipped with plenty of active safety features, such as traction control, anti-lock braking systems and stability programming. These are all great systems, except power is still being sent to the rear wheels. You may experience even a loss of traction, if these systems are activated late in extreme conditions.

A better solution is to go with front-wheel drive. Instead of the car being pushed, it is now being “pulled.” Power is sent down to the front of the car for improved traction as it bites down on moist and icy surfaces. For a lot of situations, front-drive is ideal. However, you might experience a loss of traction from the rear though you might be equipped with the latest in active safety. With the weight on the front wheels, the rear end could free itself by destabilizing the vehicle in extreme situations

This is where all-wheel drive comes in. Power is sent to all wheels giving the vehicle greater stability on wet and icy surfaces. An electronic transfer system modulates where power will ultimately go, depending on what the sensors at the wheel pick up. However, most systems offer no override to switch off the transfer system for better control on the road. Also, most AWD systems do not offer a Low Gear setting, which provides maximum traction at a lower set of gears.

For trucks and SUVs, four-wheel drive gives you the ability to even control where power will go to which set of wheels. The transfer case is another set of gears allowing power to not go to the front wheels–most four-wheel drive systems are rear-drive biased. You also get a choice of two gears for four-wheel drive. Four-High is for most conditions, giving you control on wet and snowy surfaces. Switch the transfer case to Four-Low, and you have the ability to manage icy surfaces at low speeds or to crawl out of grade–uphill or down–when the road is less than manageable. You cannot use Four-Low for normal driving, even on ice.

The last thing to consider for a winter vehicle is ground clearance. Most SUVs and crossovers go by the rule of eight inches between the driving surface and the chassis. Eight inches should be enough clearance to manage most snowfall, even before the plows come out.

Once you figured out what you want for your next year-round vehicle, log onto under the advanced search and look for Drivetrain. We have all four types available to search.

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